Friday, February 1, 2013

Grief Paradox

I've been feeling the need to write something about Eliza.

I've also been wondering if I've gotten to the point where I don't have anything new to say.

I still miss her.

It still sucks.

My heart still aches.

I'm carrying my grief better, but I'll never leave it behind.

And so it goes.

When I watched the inauguration, seeing the Obama sisters made me sad.  Because they are so cute and they look like sisters but they also look so different--one looks more like their dad, one looks more like their mom.  And I wonder.  What would it be like to see Eliza and Zuzu side by side?  Which one would look more like me and more like David?  Zuzu's eyes have changed from blue to green--would Eliza's have done the same?

Down at the bottom of my blog is a list of "labels"--I've labeled blog entries according to topic.  The number one blogged topic?  Grief.  Number two?  Eliza.  Then pregnancy.  Coming in fourth?  Caroline Audrey.

She's gaining on her sister, and let's be honest, she's going to surpass her.  I'm going to have more to say about Caro than I'll ever be able to say about Eliza.  Talk about bittersweet.  I feel like it's some kind of symbolism--Caroline's going to get bigger and bigger, and Eliza will stay about the same, but her name will inevitably grow smaller in comparison, just as it's the name that is spoken less often than her living, breathing sister's name.

When Eliza died, I was sort of embarrassed.  I don't think I've written very much about that emotion because I'm not sure I recognized it for what it was.  But I was ashamed that it had happened to me, that people might assume I'd done something wrong.  I initially felt a huge sense of dread at the idea of being "known for" having a stillborn baby.  Like people would think about me, and all they'd think about is the fact that my baby died.  Of all the facets of my life and personality, that's the one that would stick.  I was scared that that one event, and all the subsequent grief, would be the defining moment in my life, would take over my identity.  I'd be lost in grief forever.  I hated the idea that my entire life was going to be overshadowed by the tragedy of my baby's death.  As much as I missed her, I was desperately afraid of that being ALL there was to my life.  It seemed so terrible and suffocating.

Now I'm afraid that her loss is something people will forget.  That my current happiness will allow people to diminish the enormity of my grief.  That it will get rationalized away as a hardship we endured or an unfortunate thing we got over or made our way through instead of being recognized as the horrifying reality of experiencing and continuing to live with the death of of firstborn and much-loved child.

In December of 2010, I was desperate for time to pass.  I just wanted enough time to go by that I could take a deep breath again.  I craved distance from the pain.  It was so sharp and so deep and I had to believe it wouldn't hurt so bad forever, but I didn't know how long I could stand it to hurt as much as it did.

Now it still hurts, but I can take a deep breath.  The passage of time has made things easier to manage and although I don't miss the pain of those early days, I miss the proximity to Eliza.  The closeness.  The tangible memory of being pregnant with her when she was alive and squirmy and kicking and we were so ridiculously happy and optimistic.  So much has happened between then and now.

I quit planning ahead after Eliza.  I didn't make plans because (1) I didn't do anything (2) I didn't know if I'd ever feel like doing anything and (3) how the hell could I plan ahead when there's nothing you can count on in life?

I'm making plans again now.  We bought plane tickets for spring break.  We're making travel plans for the summer.  I'm even thinking a little bit about Zuzu's first birthday party--although that feels dangerous and I worry about jinxing myself even though I don't believe in that stuff (do I?).  When did I get so brave and so bold as to look forward to the future and assume things will work out the way I want them to?  Am I crazy for allowing myself to think months ahead, for counting on Zuzu still being here?

I still have to take a deep breath before I buy clothes for her to grow into.

Oh, I buy them, because I love a good deal.  But I think about it in a way I never would have before.

I wish I could say that Eliza's life changed me in all good ways.  I wish I could say that because of her I don't take things for granted and I appreciate the good things so much more and I make the most of ordinary moments and blah blah blah.

A lot of that is true.  But a lot of that was true before Eliza died, too.  I was lucky and appreciative then.  I didn't need a lesson in gratitude.  Not that kind of lesson, anyway.

I'm sighing now because I think I'm repeating myself.  I know I've said so much of this before... Like this:  Eliza's life--and loss--came with its own share of gifts.  It's true.  As much as I hate it, I can't deny that good came from it, came from loving her, and even from the experience of losing her.  (Nothing good enough to make up for it, that goes without saying.  But gifts, nonetheless.)

Still, grief carries its own baggage and takes its own prisoners.  For every new friend I have (and I have some lovely new friends), another friendship has been changed or complicated or scaled back in a way I never would have wished.  I've missed birthday parties and get-togethers and backyard barbecues because other people's celebrations (and children) made (make?) me jealous and selfishly sad.  I'm still hypersensitive about certain things--talk of the "difficulty" of having two kids close together in age, in particular.  Over Christmas some of David's cousins were talking about family plans--when they want to start having kids, how many they want to have--and I felt like I was going to vomit.  How can anyone think they can make plans and control such things?  How can people talk about that when I'm sitting right there--living proof of the best laid plans gone so terribly awry?  (Perfect example of me having worried that people would only see a dead baby when they looked at me and therefore would act differently--now I hate that they seem to forget all about the baby who isn't here and don't filter themselves at all).

There's a dark, twisty, bitter side of me that would have never existed if Eliza had lived. I feel differently about so many things--death, God, my marriage, Christmas.  Changes that are both good and bad.  Everything is just more complicated than it used to be.

Sometimes I let myself look forward to the idea of Zuzu doing certain things--taking gymnastics, going to see Sesame Street Live, really caring about the story I'm reading out loud--and I think, if Eliza were here, those events would be happening NOW, or a year from now, instead of two or three years down the line.

I'm so lucky to have a baby girl whose smile lights up my life.  I'm so incredibly lucky, and I know that.

But even now, I still miss what might have been, what should have been.  I can't even tell you how much I miss it.

This is maybe the biggest paradox of all--how much I love the life I have now, and how much I miss the life I should have had, and how impossible it would be to have both those things.


  1. I was laying in bed the other night, snuggling Caitlin, thinking of how many times I laid in that very same bed crying, aching for my sweet Monica. It's hard to lead this "double life". Grief for our loved and missed children changes, but never goes away. Thank you for so beautifully writing about the paradox.

  2. It's ok to keep repeating yourself, sometimes we need to do that to feel close to our babies or to try to make sense of everything. I was thinking the other day/wondering if Livia's personality would be different if she were the second instead of the first (living)...our lives would be so different...but then of course if Kayla had lived we might not have had Livia so quickly, so like you said, I can't have both lives.

  3. I still struggle with a lot of (all of) what you've mentioned. About wanting to go back to the proximity of Cale. I don't want the grief to consume me like it did, but I always worry about finding the balance of missing Cale and ensuring others know that and remember how important he is in our lives, but of also being ok. Not being ok with what happened, but ok with our life as a result - of being happy with what we have, and we are so happy because we are so damn lucky to have what we do.

    For what it's worth - I think that even though you may worry about the balance, you've done a great job figuring it out. Look at your last post alone. All about your cute Zuzu, right? No, she's reading Eliza and the Dragonfly (and knowing your daughter - she probably is legitimately reading at 6 months). But it shows the perfect mix of happy and lucky and still missing and loving your first born daughter.


    1. Caroline- exactly... Reading your baby a book about Eliza and tge dragon fly... Exactly. Love for your first daughter is always there, ever present even when you are present with your living breathing baby.

  4. Brooke,

    Thank you for writing, word for word, what I have been feeling lately but unable to say. You and I share similar timelines in our grief journey. We had both of our babies around the same time. I constantly think about everything you wrote, from Lillian outgrowing her sister to those things I SHOULD be doing right now with Ava. Such truth.

    I also appreciated Caroline's comment about the book. Yes, your last post was about Caro and her beautiful pictures but Eliza was there, ever present.

    I take a deep breath each time I "buy ahead" and still cannot wrap my head around planning for the future quite yet. That latter may be because my baby is only 3 months old and we are just beginning to settle in a bit.

    Thank you for saying, so perfectly, what I needed to hear.

  5. You are such a beautiful writer. and you've written the same things I've been thinking and been unable to articulate.

    I'm so thrilled my days are brighter and in fact WORTH something to me now (worth living, happy outweighing the sad, meaningful) in comparison to the dark days which followed Jack's death.. But I don't want people to think that what Grace brings to my life "fixes" all the things that Jack took with him. Does that even make sense? I have no idea.

    And I agree with Caroline above- both about Caro legitimately reading because she's a baby genius, AND re: your balancing of both. Including Eliza in Caroline's upbringing... So important to you for both your babies to be known and acknowledged- I feel so much the same way.

  6. When I think about you and David, I think about how great you both are and your talents. I always think about both of your girls too. This is such an honest, poignant post.

  7. I was nodding throughout this whole post because like the other ladies said, you so beautifully express what so many of us feel. I am sorry you have such sadness (and sorry I do too) but I appreciate you writing about it because I need to hear it over and over.

  8. I know I am so grateful for Ishani today. However, when I compare this happiness with the unbridled ecstasy of the first pregnancy, it feels less. I still measure and calculate before allowing to be "happy" these days. Especially with letting her go to daycare, every single day I debate if she needs to be there, even if it is just a block away! But, so true. I too have started looking ahead, planning again, because I want to fight this fear. I want to prove that this will not happen again and then, I do say a prayer 'please protect my happiness and watch my baby girl' Somehow, it helps and I find courage to buy that 14$ snowsuit in babiesrus!

  9. I can't put into words how glad I am that you wrote this, how it's a comfort as well as a dread to me that I will never truly leave my grief, and therefore memory, of my daughter behind.

  10. I just wrote something this morning about repeating myself and about paradoxes and contradictions. I also realized reading this today that I started reading your blog just after A died, in January last year when you were at about the same point out from Eliza's death as I am now from A's. That seems astounding. That so quickly I have moved from 'newbie' to 'seasoned griever' - which is how, I admit, I perceived anyone having been at this for a year when I was so new to it. So much changes and so much stays the same and the need to keep saying it all persists. Keep saying it all.

  11. I know. I couldn't have written it as eloquently as you, but I know.

  12. It's like you took this right out of my brain. Except you put it like I never could out loud, or even just to myself, every single bit if it.

  13. I really don't know what else to say that others already haven't.

    I was also embarrassed and now? Now I want everyone reminded of all we've lost because it seems like Benjamin is far surpassed Andrew's ground and many are forgetting. Or maybe it's my over-sensitivity toward all things Andrew that make me assume what others are thinking (or not thinking).

    A paradox is exactly how I see the rest of my life. Who would've thought it would be so complex? Before 12/5/10, I sure didn't.

  14. It's so hard to balance what I want these days so I can totally relate to all you've written here. I want people to know how much joy Mason brings us but also to never forget how much we lost when Aiden died. How much we we will always miss him.

    I too feel like I say the same things-I miss him, I'm sad, it sucks. I hate that I won't have new things to share with the world about Aiden.

  15. Yes, to all of this. I absolutely loved this post. So much of what you said resonated and yet I never could have put it as eloquently as you did. I think about this a LOT - the concept of identity and what part of it is made up of our losses. I've always found those shifting feelings to be fascinating - the early days versus two years out. You're right everything is SO complicated after loss. The way you wrote about it was insightful and spot-on. Reading it, I feel like I just sat down and had coffee with someone who really "gets me". : )

  16. I agree with the embarrassment feeling. When I pull into our driveway, I sometimes think of our house as the neighbors must see it, "The house where the baby died." Every other house on our street has two children inside.

    As much as I want people to remember Genevieve, I'm reaching a point where I wish they could forget. I wish every single day that I could just get pregnant again so everyone could focus on something else.

  17. Brooke, your post is moving and beautiful, as is so often the case.

    I worry that my comment doesn't belong here but I wanted to share it, and hope you understand how very much you sharing your journey has helped me. My losses were early, my live babies 'numerous' (well, four) and they're now 19-7 yo. People mostly said very unhelpful things to 'support' me (EVERY TIME) and then moved on, leaving me sad but not feeling entitled to be (early losses, live babies and all).

    I've a new Kindy year starting tomorrow and while meeting with the Mum of an anaphylactic child she confided that she is extra fragile about being away from the Kindy child (first schooling here) because she 'had a baby die last year'. Because of you I was able to say 'I'm sorry' without rushing on. Of course I was genuinely sorry, but I didn't offer the same trash I received. Mum went on to share some simple details, we both used her daughter's beautiful name and I sympathised about awful, impossible choices.

    I am the only one who thinks about the babies we lost, but I think about Eliza often and your writing has helped me not be entirely clueless when dealing with others.

    Sorry about the long-winded, waffling, and off-topic post. Thank you for everything else!


  18. Very well said. I remember feeling embarrassed and like a failure. I still do sometimes. Like I have let my family down, especially my parents, by losing their grand daughters. I feel the same way about repeating myself which I why I rarely blog about Reese and Scotlyn. I feel like I am living the same life over and over, the same pain over and over. When I blog about Brennan, it is him growing and changing and something new he is into or something we have done as a family. My grief and pain from losing Reese and Scotlyn is still very present, changing but present. Thank you for sharing. I agree that you have a good balance of keeping Eliza in your present day life. I always think about your whole family when I think of you♥

  19. Thank you for bringing up the "embarrassment" factor. I still feel like people look at me and think "she could only get one baby out alive." I feel embarrassed when I bring Caleb's name up because it feels like such a big failure.

    I also loved, " How can anyone think they can make plans and control such things? How can people talk about that when I'm sitting right there--living proof of the best laid plans gone so terribly awry? "
    Exactly! Like did everyone forget all the plans we made and how they just ended? Don't make plans people, or if you do, don't be surprised if/when they don't happen. Such a strange mix of trying to live normal again but always having that crazy come up in your head because of our losses.

  20. Child loss isn't just the loss of a child, it is the loss of a future. The loss of first words, first steps, first everything. I am struggling with the loss and grief of my beautiful twin daughters. Be gentle with yourself.

  21. Thank you for putting into words everything I've been feeling. I couldn't have my boys if Miller were still here, and that is hard for me to swallow, I guess. Does being thrilled about my boys mean that I'm okay Miller not being here? Well, no... Ugh. I've tried to tell myself it's not binary like that. He was here, and they are here, and I can miss him, and love them all, and life is just messed up some times. But it's not super comforting, it's more just something I have to accept.