Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Four Month Mark

On December 6th, this day was so far away it might as well have not existed.  Because surely we would never to get April without our baby.  Spring wasn't actually going to come this year.  There was no way to just continue to live after she died.

It turns out there is.  I'm as shocked as anyone about that.

And although the natural world is clearly indifferent to the havoc it wreaks on human life, I now miss the comfort of snow blankets as much as I need the warmth of sunshine.  It was pure coincidence that the winter our baby died was the snowiest winter I can remember, but I was so grateful for the snow that kept people inside.  It felt like an extra layer of protection. 

When we moved to this house, one of the things I loved most about it was a magnolia tree that blooms these huge, exuberant pink blossoms in late March or early April.

picture taken last year - March 2010

This year, they started budding right before our last snowfall.  Then came the snow and it killed all the blooms--they turned from pink to brown and fell from the tree before they ever flowered.

It was sad because I love that tree.  But it also kind of made me love that tree more.  Yards on our block are frilled out with the white flowers of Bradford pears, but our tree is all bare, brown branches and ugly, dead flowers.  Thank you, Tree, for having the good sense not to bloom happy pink blossoms all over our front yard.  Thank you for wearing your ugly, wilty, brown mourning clothes for my daughter.

* * *

It has been four months and I know that I am doing better than I was.  When I leave the house, I don't feel raw and exposed and fragile the way I used to.  I mostly feel like I can deal with the ordinary requirements of life.  Stuff makes me laugh.  David makes me laugh.  I don't think strangers who meet me have any idea that I am still mired in grief.  It is manageable enough that I can push it down or push it away at least for a little while.  I often repeat one phrase from a country song to myself:  Hold yourself together like a pair of bookends.

I am getting pretty good at holding myself together.

But sometimes the grief takes over still.  And the unfairness still suffocates me and leaves me reeling and gasping.  These last few days have found me crying harder and longer than I have in weeks--those deep sobs that sound like they are coming from somewhere else and that threaten to choke you when you try to cut them off.  I don't know if it's because of the anniversary or because my cycles are still kind of wonky or because four months is such a weird moment--a moment of feeling better and worse.

The worst days might be behind us, but the anniversaries are looming and holidays abound in all the months to come.  I tell myself I don't care about the dates and the 6th of the month is really no worse than the 5th or the 7th but I don't know.  I don't know how we'll get through the rest of this year any more than I know how we got through these last four months.

I know that I can now go to yoga class with a friend and chat with her and smile and feel genuine about it.  I know that I can teach class and come home without having to burst into tears in the car from the sheer exhaustion of keeping up a facade of competency.  These measures tell me that things have gotten easier.

So how can it still be this hard?

* * *

Today is my mom's birthday.

I sent her a card that I bought over a year ago.  Is that crazy?  I totally buy birthday cards out of season for people.  One time I bought a birthday card months ahead of time for my friend Jamie.  It was because she had told me a story about a high school class she'd taken in which they had to do Lincoln-Douglas style debates about whether or not to have premarital sex (Catholic high school, they'd declared a winner before the debate began).  The one team presented as an argument, "Why buy the cow when you're getting the milk for free?"  The Jamie's friend got up for the rebuttal:  "Would you buy a car before test driving it?"  (This debate was clearly a teaching moment, I'm sure the priest made the most of it.)

Jamie told me this story and we both died laughing.  I don't know...  maybe you had to be there.

So I was at the grocery store one day and I spotted this card that said something like,  

My mother always said why would a man buy the cow if he's getting the milk for free?

and the inside of the card said,  

Well, I always say, why buy a pig when all you want is a little sausage?

This had me CRACKING up in the aisle at the grocery store and I think I laughed even harder than Jamie did when I gave her the card at her birthday party.

The point of that story is, when I see a card I can't resist, I purchase it right then and save it for the perfect occasion. 

And I did that over a year ago with a birthday card for my mom.  I found one that said,

Everyone wonders what kind of mom they'll be.

[and on the inside]   

You're the kind they're hoping for.

We were trying to get pregnant at the time and I thought it would be perfect to give her if I was pregnant or had a new baby on her next birthday.  So I bought it and put it away to save for later.

Because, you guys, it's so true.  When I imagined the kind of mom I wanted to be for Eliza, I didn't have to think very hard.  Everything I would want to give a child was exactly what my mom gave me--unconditional love, lots of laughter and silliness, immeasurable patience, an easily impressed audience ("Watch me, Mom!  Watch me!"), homemade Halloween costumes, elaborately themed birthday parties, really special Christmas dresses, and bedtime stories every night, even when I could have read them myself.

So this year I sent my mom that card.  Because I still want to be a mom just like her.

And I want to see her be a grandma.

When we were still early pregnant and hadn't told anybody else yet, we were making plans to tell my parents when we saw them in June.  David said to me, "You know what I'm really excited about?"  I said, "What?"  And he said, "How your parents are going to be really awesome grandparents."

I was so touched that he thought that, and of course I agreed completely.  Our Baby Duck was going to be so lucky.

* * *

I got a letter in the mail several weeks ago that was not a sympathy card.  It was a "Your Mom is Awesome" card and it was from the principal at my mom's school.  It had a photo of my mom at her desk and a handwritten note telling me how great my mom is.  Which of course, I already knew, but it was still such a treat to receive that unexpected note in the mail and to know that my mom is loved and appreciated by her co-workers.

I am always glad to hear when someone has expressed their condolences to my parents because I know that Eliza's death broke their hearts too.

* * *

None of this is how it is supposed to be.  And I've been struggling and fighting with the truth of it for four long months.

My goal now is to try to do more looking forward.  More appreciating what I have in this moment instead of being scared I'm going to lose it all any second now.  More hoping that better days are on their way.

A little more living, a little less crying.

But you know what?  Today is really hard.  I think I might have to start all that tomorrow.


  1. For what its worth, I was a mess pretty much the whole first year. I had lots of moments of being okay, but still broke down a lot and ached and yearned for it all to be different most of the time (I still want it to be different but know that it will never be).

    Four months is such a short time. Be gentle with yourself. Remembering Eliza with you.

  2. I was a mess the first year, too, but I remember months 3, 4, and 5 as being especially rough somehow. Maybe it was adjusting to moments of being mostly okay followed by moments of not being okay at all.

    I think I love your tree, too.

    And I'm glad you sent your mom that card, glad you have such great family supporting you, though I'm sorry you're all missing Eliza.

  3. Blogger ate my comment, ffs. Argh!

    And now I'm rushing out the door, but I will try to quickly recreate it.

    It basically said that months 2-4 were my lowest so far, as you know. And I remember sitting in my therapist's office at the four month mark wondering how I was ever going to be able to want to live again. (You can check back on my blog, the "Oh Who Are We Fooling" post.) It was really tough.

    Sending you much love. WIshing Eliza were here with you today, and everyday, in your arms as she should be.


  4. Mom's are the best. It was a little bizarre that both my mom and dad received WAY more cards and condolences for losing Olivia than Joe and I did. (Granted, we both had really really horrible jobs with crappy people at the time. Losing Olivia gave me an excuse to quit even in October with a yearlong teaching contract, at least.)

    I'm glad the tree is being cooperative this year. Maybe next year you'll be ready for blooms again.

    Four months is such a weird milestone, you are so right about that. It was still a pretty raw time for me especially since it was January and we were still kind of reeling from the holidays. Just keep going the best you can, the time will start going faster soon, or at least it did for me.

    I really need to stop by the angel of hope soon, but my guess is they probably have the new bricks out by now or will very soon. I'll let you know.

  5. 4 months knocked me sideways, it was a really difficult time for me. Somewhere in the three to four month range I sobbed throughout an entire appointment with my naturopath, just wailed and cried about how it was never going to get better, it was always going to hurt too much to live. My midwife said four months is hard because you are exiting "the fourth trimester" which is a difficult time for women anyway.

    Thinking of you and your Eliza girl. Be gentle and kind with yourself.

  6. When my dh & I were support group facilitators, in our training materials, there was a chart showing how grief levels fluctuated over time. For whatever reason,there was a real surge around the 4-month mark, again around 6 months & (understandably) at 1 year.

    So your feelings are perfectly normal. But that doesn't mean it sucks any less. :p I'm sorry it was a hard day. (((hugs)))

    (Word verification: "chomp")(!!)

  7. I think you are right about the last lines... it is hard, so hard. There was a definite difficulty about making it through the four month mark.. and now here I am facing it again at almost 7 months. I wish I could make sense of it but I know that is a useless search.

    I wish your days were easier, but I am glad you have the support of you mom to help pull you through. Sending love and light...

  8. Yes, I agree with the other more long-term grievers here. Four months is nothing. Still so new and raw and fresh, yet you are starting to live again, but it is not the way it is supposed to be. It is all so painfully obvious.
    Four months was really hard for me. It was also Christmas and were so desperately TTC.
    I am thinking of you so much.

  9. 3 months and 4 months were especially hard for me, too.

    And the winter of 2009-10 was an extremely cold, hard, snowy winter here. And it was such a relief that the weather reflected what I was going through. But it made spring harder to bear.

    I bought a birthday card for one of my sisters to give to our other sister 8 months before her birthday. It was perfect :)

    I'm sorry today is hard :(

  10. Although unlucky in some things, we're both pretty damn lucky to have the moms we have. They make the bad moments not "as" bad. Miss you, friend.