...it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how thing once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.
--Robert Penn Waren, All the King's Men
I read this quotation recently and I've been thinking a lot about what "might have been yet if what happened had not happened." This must be way the passage of time helps with grief more than anything else. In the early days, I knew EXACTLY what I'd be doing if Eliza were alive. As time goes by, it gets harder and harder to know what path my life would have taken if Eliza were here. It's becoming almost impossible. And while I can still imagine life with Eliza and Zuzu both, it doesn't feel like an alternate reality that was almost within my reach as much as a vague and hazy dream. The before and after of Eliza is not as black and white as it once was. The ache is still there, all the same.
We organized the garage over the weekend. It hadn't really been touched since we moved. We came across a cardboard box full of board games. I love board games. We haven't had people over for a game night in three years. David's grandma was here. She remarked that we had so many games. I said, "Yeah, we used to be fun people."
It reminded me of meeting up with Molly. At one point in the evening she said, "Ya'll think I'm fun now? You should have met me before my baby died."
I know I'm different than I was before Eliza, and some of those differences are good and some of those are bad/sad. It's getting harder to parse out what changes happened because Eliza died and what changes might have happened anyway. I wonder if I'm the same kind of mom to Zuzu that I would have been to Eliza--better? worse? more patient? more paranoid?
We took Zuzu to a wading pool on Saturday. She loves the water. She constantly wants to float on her back, has no problem putting her face under water, delights in kicking and splashing. Several other parents came up to me to comment that they'd never seen a toddler so fearless in the water. As I hovered over her, letting her splash but not letting her get more than a few inches from me, it was like a living metaphor for parenting her--revelling in the good times and far too aware of how tragically things can go bad. My experience with Zuzu in the pool is a constant internal battle between a logical understanding that I need to relax and let her explore and enjoy herself and be confident in the water and a sheer, adrenaline-fueled panic every time her face is the least bit submerged.
I know losing Eliza has great affected how I feel as a parent--heightened anxiety matched by heightened appreciation is perhaps the easiest way to summarize it. But I wonder if it's affected how I act as a parent. Would I have been as patient with Eliza? Would I have been more or less relaxed? Would I have been kind of the same?
I think my general philosophies about parenting are probably the same, but I know we wouldn't have had an Angel-Care monitor for Eliza. Zuzu woke up twice the night before last (argh), and while it's never fun to drag my ass out of bed in the middle of the night, I rocked the baby back to sleep and told myself that this moment of holding her sweet little body and breathing in her baby smell and feeling her little face nuzzling into my neck is so fleeting that I should be happy to take it when it comes--even when it comes at 3am. Would I have thought such things if I didn't know first hand that it's possible for babies to slip away?
Here's the thing: I think I would have.
As much as I love and appreciate Zuzu, I did not need to lose Eliza to learn that lesson. There is no life lesson that could be compensation for such a loss. I already knew that babies don't keep, that the days are long but the years are short, that we don't need to sweat the small stuff. All these cliches are true, and my daughter didn't have to die for me to know that.
I do appreciate the little moments because I know I can't take them for granted--but I never took Eliza for granted, either. Yes, I thought she was a sure thing--I thought that after 34 weeks of a healthy, uneventful pregnancy that it was a sure thing I'd bring home a healthy baby. But I also felt incredibly lucky that I got to have that chance. I did not need to lose a baby to learn how precious babies are. I already appreciated the marvel that was this child, my first daughter, my baby duck. I was in awe at the incredible miracle that there was a baby growing inside me. The universe didn't teach me anything when Eliza died. It simply reminded me in the most painful, traumatic way possible that life is incredibly fragile and also really effing unfair.
Most of the time, I think I am pretty close to the same kind of parent to Zuzu that I would have been to Eliza. Maybe a little more patient (I hope?). More easy going about schedules and bedtimes, for sure. It's certainly not the end of the world if we go swimming instead of napping. I'm definitely quicker to leap to worst-case scenario fears when it comes to fevers, bug bites, an unusually long naptime. But most of the time we're just making up this parenting thing as we go, and I think we would have hit the same kind of trials and errors and moments of sweetness and hilarity three years ago that we're experiencing right now.
It might be accurate to say that our sorrow for Eliza is matched only by our happiness in Zuzu. That doesn't mean there's a balance though. We're still profoundly heartbroken about our first baby. We just got lucky this time around. So yeah, we're happy. Around and in spite and--I have to admit this--because of our ache for Eliza. Too much time has gone by and now I can't unravel what's happened to me because Eliza was born and what's happened to me because Eliza died and what's happened that would have happened anyway and what's happened that would never have happened if Eliza were here, and there's absolutely no way I can categorize those things simply in terms of good and bad anymore, either. And yet, I still can't help but imagine sometimes how happy I'd be if what happened had not happened. How happy I'd be if both my babies were here. How fun I would be if my baby hadn't died.