You would think that three and a half years into this grief thing that I would start to learn a thing or two and, I dunno, be better prepared for grief triggers or something?
One of the the things I should know from experience and from talking to other bereaved parents is that the significant date--whether it's a child's birthday or some other anniversary--is often not as brutally difficult as the day that comes before it. Maybe it's because what we're truly grieving is the way things were that day, the day before everything fell apart and the whole world shifted forever.
But the other thing about grief is that no matter how familiar it becomes, it remains both unpredictable and irresistible. My friend Jess recently e-mailed me a link to an excerpt from an interview with Stephen Colbert (the real guy, not "Stephen Colbert" the character). He talks about grief in relation to losing his father and his two older brothers when he was ten years old. This is one of the things he says:
The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I've always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that's really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It's not like it's in me and I'm going to deal with it. It's a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.
That description of grief really resonates with me: "She was visited by grief." Not "She had a bad day." or "She was feeling sad." Grief is its own thing. And it shows up, sometimes when invited and sometimes when totally unexpected. And sometimes its presence is so familiar that it's almost comforting, offering a release of emotions that have been pent-up for too long. And sometimes it's a total bastard that just takes you out at the knees.
34 weeks and 3 days is how far along I was when I went into labor with Eliza. When, despite all my research and preparation, I had no effing idea what was going on with my body or my baby, and I could hardly believe how fast my labor progressed and how quickly my life turned upside down when that doctor looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, "I'm sorry, but there's no heartbeat. I don't know when it happened, but your baby has died."
My baby. My Baby Duck. I had her for 34 weeks and 3 days and then she was gone. A loss completely unexpected and completely unexplained--how do we make this pregnancy go right when we don't know what went wrong?
Naturally, I was afraid today would be hard--34 weeks and 3 days into this pregnancy. Having one healthy baby has helped, but those fears aren't gone by any means. I'm not so naive that I think the worst couldn't happen again. I've dreaded this day of my pregnancy since the moment I saw two pink lines.
But of course I should have known it wouldn't be today, but instead last night when grief showed up and I fell apart. I lay in bed, feeling Rerun kick and squirm and push against me and I sobbed and wailed and bawled because how could I not have known something was wrong? How could my intellect and my intuition fail me and my baby so profoundly? How is it possible that I couldn't save her? How could I have continued to think everything was okay when it was so completely the opposite of that? How have we gone on without her? How did I ever survive losing my baby?
These questions have no answers, and my guilt and regrets have no limits. I can't pinpoint the particular moment with Eliza when everything turned to dust and ashes, but that doesn't mean that I don't wish every day I could go back and do something differently to keep her here with us.
And so grief visited me the day before I expected it (because I'm not good at learning lessons about how grief works, I guess), and it basically kicked my ass.
Today--THE day--was an easier day. I gave a midterm. I felt the baby kicking while my students took their exam. I had lunch and went to an estate sale with a friend. I came home to a napping baby and when she woke up we all walked to the park together. I did a kick count when we got home. We ate stir fry for dinner and Zuzu colored in her high chair and David and I decided to paint the kitchen next week. I cleaned up the little side table I bought at the estate sale. We put Zuzu to bed, and after being quite the daddy's girl these days, tonight when David put her in her crib and tried her pat her back, she said, "No, Daddy. Mama do my back." And so I rubbed her back and sang "Rock-a-bye" and now David's putting together her play kitchen and Cooper's snoozing on the sofa and I'm typing this and Rerun's moving around.
As days go, this was a good one.
Grief is still here, visiting. He's not kicking my ass, but he's made himself at home. I expect he'll linger for a while, probably accompanied by Fear and Dread and Anxiety--like a damn allegorical play. It's exhausting, yes, but you can't ignore grief. If nothing else, at least I've figured out that it's easier to acknowledge its presence than to try to pretend there's not a wolf at the door.