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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