26 November 2012

Grief does not change you...or does it...

I read an amazing book recently: The Fault in our Stars by John Green. And if you haven't read it, well, you are missing out. It has it all: Love, live and death. Oh, yeah and the C word--Cancer.

One of the best quotes in the book requires repeating:

"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you."

I have been thinking about this quote a lot in the days and months since I read the book because for a long time after Grace died, I simply said, "Oh, I'm a different person now." But was that an easy escape? An easy answer?

Am I really a different person? Yes, in some ways I very much am.

Yes, to a certain extent grief has changed me, but not as much as it has revealed me perhaps.

See, because really, I have been grieving since I was five years old, since my father died, only I wasn't aware that I was grieving because 40 years ago, grief was dealt with differently.

But it was revealing me. In fact, there was no better way that grief revealed me than in high school when I did all kinds of things that would be considered dangerous. But I hid them pretty well, I think, from the people who cared about me.

I tried cutting, but I didn't really like it much. I smoked weed, I drank alcohol, I starved myself--500 calories a day for six months until I was in the low 90s. I stood in the middle of the street once willing myself to be hit by a car. I slept many nights with bottles of pills under my pillow wondering if I should just take them and get it all over with.

I prayed every night for death to find me. I was convinced I didn't want to live.

I did all those things thinking I was a bad person, I was an unlovable person, I was a person who wasn't likable. I wasn't the most popular, nor was I the most unpopular. But I didn't do them because I thought I was grieving. I did them because I thought I was unlovable.

No one should be made to feel unlovable. It is one of the most lonely, isolating, scary, horrible emotions to feel. And lucky for me, there were just a few people who revealed themselves to me during those lonely years that I think really kept me afloat. People who appeared in my life at the time when I really needed them to even though I didn't know it back then.

So I stayed afloat, barely. But I did, and as soon as I could, I left home to go as far away as possible from my unlovable self that I could.

I spent a lot of time running in my 20s, though I still didn't know what I was running from.

And then in my 30s, I thought everything was fine. My past seemed some distant shadow of myself that I wanted to forget.

Except then the unthinkable happened. The unstoppable.

My child died.

My daughter died, and I couldn't save her.

My daughter died, and I couldn't hide grief behind myself any longer.

Suddenly, I was a fatherless daughter and a daughterless mother.

And then my childhood revealed itself to me again in the form of so many dark and unbearable nights.

Saint John of the Cross speaks about dark night of the soul in his 16th-century poem titled the same. It has to do with God, with light, with soul, with detachment, with all of the confusion and sorrow I had been experiencing my whole life. And where in the world was God in all of this?

Only what if my dark night was a gift? What if my dark nights were a revealing of a gracious God? Were a revealing of the self?

It is hard to think about the unthinkable.

Still, when I think back to those days in high school, I mostly feel grateful now that I survived them.

There are no high school prom pictures to remember those days by.

I didn't go.

What I remember are a lot of lonely nights, a lot of pretending to be someone I never was, a lot of missing my father and being unable to talk about him.

With Grace, at least, I did grief differently. Oh, I spend a lot of days and nights missing her, but I didn't hide behind any kind of other self. (Okay, maybe, occasionally, at a dinner party in the early years when people asked how I was and I knew they didn't really want to know), but not on most days.

Because Grace has revealed a better sort of self in me, a self that is empowered by my grief, a self that is happy to talk to you about my sorrow and to listen to the sorrow of others.

A self that will fully admit it completely sucks to have a dead daughter. And it really sucks to have a dead father that I don't even remember.

Yes, indeed, grief did in fact change me.

But it also has revealed me.

And I imagine in the years to come (I hope) it continues to reveal who I am, who I am going to become, who I am continuing to be.

14 November 2012

The top nine things Grace has taught me during the last nine years

1. Grief is not something you get over, you move on from, you lose, misplace or forget about. It doesn't just disappear from your self. It is complicated, vibrant, fluid and takes you on a journey to places you never, ever expected to ever go. Some of those places you never want to return to but others are filled with light and beauty.

2. I will always miss Grace, and nearly each day, upon waking and falling asleep Grace is on my mind just as my other children are.

3. My relationship with Grace never dies, simply because she cannot be here in person. Our relationship has grown and changed over the last nine years. 

4. Grace has taught me more about love, joy and happiness in these grief-filled nine years than all the other 36 years I lived without her. 

5. Grief is way more complicated than I ever imagined even though since the age of five, I'd been grieving the death of my father.

6. Grace taught me that my behavior in high school wasn't bad or wrong--my behavior was misdirected grief for the death of my father ten years earlier. Learning that in my 30s was eye opening.

7. I haven't perfected letting go or giving up control, but these last nine years have forced me toward trying to do that more often. Most days I still fail, but Grace shows me that really so very little is in my control. I'm still grappling with that.

8. Losing a daughter sucks. Big time. And leaves a big fucking hole in your heart. And once in a while a self-pity party is just fine thank you very much.

9. Nine years of missing her is no less painful than all the other years. It's different, yes. But I miss her. Every. Single. Day. And that will never change. So don't try to change that.

28 May 2012

fragile...handle with care

The clock ticks and the days pass, and I am keenly, keenly aware that these are the final days and final moments in which I held her inside me, in which she floated freely in my body. These are the days...and then "the day" arrives which becomes a series of days.

The day I woke up and knew.
The day I found out.
The day I was induced.
The day she was born.

These days arrive, and the hair on my body stands on end.

I know it is time because everything, everything my husband says to me, I second guess. I become sensitive, fragile, breakable at any given moment. I am on edge.

Handle me with care. Tread lightly. Walk slowly. Be patient. Or not. But then stay out of my way.

I walk down the street looking at girls and wonder, "Is she nine? She looks nine." I've even asked a few girls, "How old are you?"

Nine. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.

Nine impossible years without. And still, and yet...

It is not impossible to find joy for joy exists. It is not impossible to find happiness and love and laughter.

All of these things exist within and without, but what never goes away, what never disappears is that deep ache, that pull toward longing.

If I were to ask you, do you expect that one day you will wake up joyless for the rest of your life? That one day, you may wake up to find happiness has left you never to return? Of course not. So too, does grief never leave. So too does my longing and aching and pining for Grace never leave. It is there side by side next to the joy and happiness that my other children bring. And this time of year, this time of remembering, of experiencing, of waiting, it returns and I am once again drawn back toward that darkness, toward that dark week of waiting, of asking hard questions, of wondering, what could possibly have gone wrong and when, if ever, will anything be right again.

Yes, yes, things are right and lovely and beautiful and exciting and fun, and yes, things are still longing, and aching and missing and vacuous.

The hole in my heart will never completely close; it will always feel broken, feel without, feel not fully whole and still, there if you peer inside, you will see indescribable joy, you will notice unbelievable love.

You will find me still broken and still grieving and still madly, deeply in love with all of my children.

So when you see me this week, when you notice my eyes fill with tears, let me have my moment, my remembering, my pain. Because that pain is one way to express my deep longing, my love for Grace, this ache inside of me that this week shouts out, I am fragile, I am broken, please tread lightly in my presence. 

I am a bereaved mother who desperately misses her daughter. I am the mother of four children, and I selfishly still want all four of my children here.

I miss her every single day of my entire life. 

I am and will always be Grace's mommy. And I will always long for her back in my arms.


23 May 2012

With and without

The juxtaposition of joy and sadness, darkness and light, satisfaction and desire. It is all there at once, sitting side by side, sometimes one looms larger than the other. And this is my heart, this is the deep aching inside, the crux of the emotional undulating of my body. I am a mother. I am with and without.

With and and without my children.

Mother's day opens the month for me with a reminder of what is coming, the ever present tug, the feeling of not enough and yet how can this be with so much? How can this feeling of not enough loom so large when so much around me says fullness, light, love and beauty?

And yet, and still, and always.

It is May, and with it yet again comes another few weeks of holding my breath, of remembering, of aching, of longing. Who ever knew that this kind of longing never goes away, that this kind of tug on the heart remains. And for as often as I have said yes to the world, there is always a pause. Yes, but...

It is in this time of year when darkness comes early for me and remains long. It is the night of winter, the time of waiting, of wondering, of longing. The nights are often longer than the days with the smallest of noises wakening me, and the easiest distractions pulling me toward the memories.

If I were able to describe my longing, I would, but it is a deep and cavernous longing filled with the sort of ache that no amount of love, of exercise, of companionship, of hope, of food, of conversation, of joy can fill. It is a longing that burrows deep within the interior of my heart and mind and can only be understood through some kind of emotional experience that can only be felt.

Nine years this has gone on and finally, finally after nine years, I am beginning to understand that my grief has no middle or end. Certainly, by all means, there is the beginning, there is always the beginning because that is the place from which all of this cracks wide open. Which brings me back at once to May, to the start, to the last Mother's Day with and the first Mother's Day without. To the last week of May with, to the first day of June without.

And it is in this emptiness, the place from which this longing springs deep and eternal.

Why is it that I can no more remember what I ate for dinner last night, but I can remember these last few days with and without? I can remember the smells, the temperature of the air, the eyes of the doctor, the hands of the technician, the sad look on my midwife's face. The sadder look on my husband's face. The confused look on Carver and Sophia's faces. I can remember the cold feeling of the gel from the ultrasound machine, the colors of the walls, the meager bar of soap in the bathroom, the plastic flower on the door, the feel of the thin string in the bathroom to pull on in case of emergency. In case of emergency, the oxygen mask will fall and you will never be able to breath again in quite the same way.

In case of an emergency, place the mask over the mouth of your child first and then yourself. Yes, yes, I would place the mask over my child's mouth first. I swear to god I would if you would have let the damn mask fall. I would have placed it over her mouth first, and held my breath until the chambers of her heart were beating again. And only then would I have placed the mask to my mouth. Only then.

May 23rd. And in these last days, hope still remains because she still remained tucked inside of me floating in that comfortable chamber, no mask necessary for breathing.

May 23rd and birthdays and Mother's day have passed, and while I can't seem to get comfortable in bed, I know that these last few months are always the hardest.

May 23rd and still for seven more days, Grace remains suspended in my body alive, and I remain suspended in a kind of ignorant bliss that my body is about to rape me of.

With and without.

Forever and ever.

This is my grief. This is my love.

This is who I am.