Five Years of Going On

Trigger warning: stillbirth, including a photograph.

Tonight my brother Evans is coming over for dinner. It's his birthday, so we'll feed him nachos and birthday cake and do our best not to totally embarrass him. He will fall asleep on the couch at least twice. He will read a novel on his Kindle and awkwardly goof off with my children.

And it will be really, really perfect.

Okay, so maybe not all of it will be perfect.

Today is the anniversary of the last day I was expectantly pregnant with my second, eternally missing child. The fifth painful anniversary of my son's prematurely ruptured membranes.

The fifth anniversary of a new relationship with loss.

This is also, not coincidentally, my fifth year of healing. My son's death, of course, was the event that finally forced me back into therapy. The hellish aftermath of his stillbirth was too intense, too unbearable for even me to manage. And so, despite every wailing urge to the contrary, I grudgingly asked for help.

It wasn't immediate, of course. It took me almost until Christopher Robin's January due date to make an appointment with the therapist who has been helping me untangle these long, sticky threads of heartache. And ever since that first reluctant meeting, my walk towards recovery has been one of resentment and outright challenge.

Everybody reacts to it differently, but for me stillbirth was far more than just losing my son; the vanished blessing of his potential. It was an angry reminder of death; the unavoidable stench of its reality. The knowledge that there is a limit to the breaths and heartbeats and quiet touches of fingertips on faces that any of us can hope to experience.

And if therapy was going to help me come to terms with that, well, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I don't want to recover, I said. I keep saying that even now, to tell you the truth. I don't want to find a way to survive. I don't want to find a way to accept my dead baby.

But despite all of my bitter foot-dragging, my life five years after stillbirth really is a life of acceptance and recovery. It is coming to terms, not with death, but with this life that goes on, brutal and disinterested, in the face of death. With the body's need to breathe and eat and weep and be while the heart feels defunct and rotten.

It is grappling with the ridiculous taskmaster of going on when there is nowhere on Earth that you want to go.

Then one day realizing all of the ways that life - your life - has indeed gone on.

These days, mine is a life filled with an unflinchingly ability to talk reverently, or angrily, or tearfully, but always truthfully about my stillborn son. It is finding solace in the remarkable people who can sit with me, not in pity, but in support. Learning that people who can sit in remembrance aren't nearly as rare as I thought they were when we first laid our son to rest. They're everywhere, it seems, if you only know how to look.

Sure, there are some unable to listen to our story with the empathy and love that our son's life deserves. Some are uncaring, while others are merely unthinking. But whatever the reason, there will always be interactions that wound and rile. Friendships that fade, or even buckle, beneath all this endless grieving. That is a part of life, I think. That is a part of death.

But now, five years into the long, boggy road of healing, I know how to look for solace in the relationships that have thrived in the wake of loss. I finally understand that solace isn't forgetting my son, or leaving his small, quiet memory behind. It is, in fact, the opposite. I go on so that I can carry him with me. So that I can share him with others. So that I can remember him, always.

I carry all of them with me, those ones I have loved and lost and miss every day of my life. It hurts so much to carry them; I feel crushed by the weighty emptiness they've left behind. Sometimes I am so heavy I barely move across my land of healing. Other days, I don't feel like I'm moving at all.

But even though it is hard, even though I hate it and wish that I didn't have to do it...I do it. I carry, and remember, and I refuse to let this grief end me. I know eventually those who love me will have to to carry the weight of my empty, but not yet. Not yet.

Every single day for the past five years, and I'm not entirely sure how, I have found ways to put my feet on the floor and go on. So that's what I'll keep doing.

I'll keep going on.

Christopher Robin Kealakaiolohia Cote - September 25, 2009

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Comments

celeste noelani said:

Thank you, cyn.

Sherry said:

Beautifully written! I am only a little over a year into our journey after the stillbirth of our daughter and your perspective is much appreciated. I use my blog to remember and write about my grief journey as well as our family. Thank you for sharing and "breaking the silence!"

celeste noelani said:

I am so sorry for your loss, Sherry. And thank you so much for taking the time to visit me and comment. It means so much to have a network of parents who know this road of sorrow and recovery. I wish you all the best as you continue your journey. And I am glad that you found me. Looking forward to getting to know you through your writing.

Susan Kishel said:

His feet are so very beautiful. I can't get over the wrinkles and toes. So precious.

celeste noelani said:

SO much love to you, Sue. I am so grateful. His feet! I can't get over how beautiful and perfect he was. I am lucky to have these photos. :)

celeste noelani said:

Thanks, Rachel.

Kristi Campbell said:

Beautiful and heartbreaking. Your son's little toes are absolutely precious. I am so so sorry for your loss. These words, though... these words... "I finally understand that solace isn't forgetting my son, or leaving his small, quiet memory behind. It is, in fact, the opposite. I go on so that I can carry him with me. So that I can share him with others. So that I can remember him, always." yes, go on and carry him always...

celeste noelani said:

Thank you, Kristi. Carrying can be so difficult at times, but it is made easier by people who are willing to bear witness. Thank you for being one of those people. Much love.

Cristi Comes said:

I don't think if want to recover either but I'm so proud of your strength in recovering and continuing to fight to heal. I'm so sorry for the loss of your son and all of his potential. You really are a beautiful writer.

celeste noelani said:

So much love to you, Mama. I can't tell you how much your presence has helped me over these past few years. Thank you for everything.

Misty said:

What a sweet little baby. Wish I could give him and you a kiss.

celeste noelani said:

Oh Misty, thank you so much! I appreciate your friendship times a million.

celeste noelani said:

Thank you so much, Tamara, for coming to be with me for a moment. It means so much to me.

Lauren said:

In awe, as usual, of how eloquently and beautifully you talk about a heart-wrenching subject matter. You're a pioneer in breaking the silence that surrounds pregnancy loss of all kinds. Your second son will never be forgotten.

And his feet are so sweet. What a lovely photo xx

celeste noelani said:

So much love to you, Lauren. And thank you so much. Rather than being a pioneer, I think I'm standing on the shoulder of some beloved giants. And in the midst of even more beloved comrades.

Mali said:

I'm here from the Creme de la Creme. I loved this" "I finally understand that solace isn't forgetting my son, or leaving his small, quiet memory behind. It is, in fact, the opposite. I go on so that I can carry him with me. So that I can share him with others. So that I can remember him, always."

I see so often women fear that they will forget if they accept and heal. But as you say, you'll never forget. Healing is going on, and by continuing on, and by talking about him to those about you, you honour the life of your son.

celeste noelani said:

Thank you so much, Mali. I do my best. Some days it's easier than others to remember I carry him with me no matter what. And I may not ever like it, but I do try.

Donna said:

"I feel crushed by the weighty emptiness they've left behind" - what a poignant sentiment. I felt that way about losing my daughter and am so touched by how you remember and share your son.

celeste noelani said:

Thank you so much, Donna. I am so sorry for your loss.

Jessica said:

Here from Creme de la creme
I lost my son at 32 weeks in 2012 and I can relate so much to your post.
Thank you for talking about Christopher Robin and helping people understand the pain of a stillbirth.

celeste noelani said:

I am so sorry for your loss, Jessica. I was just reading your latest post about stillbirth statistics and the anguish over why your loss couldn't protect those around you. I am so grateful that you breathed these thoughts into the internet! I think that all the time! I know it's actually irrational and the world doesn't work like that, but dang if it doesn't still feel like it should.

Thank you for reading and for commenting. It means so much.

Sarah said:

I take comfort knowing that others moms have managed to push through to the five year marker. I am coming up on six months soon. Some days are easier than others.

celeste noelani said:

I am so sorry for your loss, Sarah. Your daughter was so beautiful, and it is such a tragedy that she was taken so soon. I am glad that you have a strong, wonderful support network around you.

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