Thursday, July 7, 2016

But She Was Always On My Mind...

We went to a BBQ on the fourth of July. There was a family there whose oldest daughter is the age Eliza would have been--five and a half. Their younger daughter is two and a half. And the mom is pregnant again (expecting a boy this time).

I was able to be "normal" and talk a little bit about pregnancy (feeling good? boy names?), and although my heart definitely felt a twinge watching their oldest daughter run around as the "boss" of the younger kids, it was manageable. I could be there and miss Eliza and still enjoy the BBQ and our friends and all the kids. Eliza was constantly on my mind, but I never mentioned her.

The kind of weird thing is that part of me wanted to talk about Eliza, to say that she would be the same age as their daughter, to note that I've had three pregnancies and three babies, too... but I didn't. I just didn't find a way to work her into conversation. It wasn't my party or my guests, and I didn't want to take the conversation in a direction that felt a little bit selfish, somehow. But I also felt guilty for not talking about her. It feels almost dishonest to omit her from a conversation about my family, even though I didn't dodge any direct questions, and I definitely would have mentioned her if they conversation had moved in the right direction--I think I was hoping that it would without me having to force it. But I suppose that Fourth of July BBQ conversations with a group of friendly-but-casual acquaintances don't typically generate honest discussions about grief or loss, and so nobody asked me if I had a dead baby and I didn't talk about her.

Sometimes people ask if we're going to have another baby (though no one at this BBQ did), and I usually just laugh or say, "I don't think so!" Sometimes, though, it's an opportunity to talk about Eliza, to try to briefly explain that the incompleteness of my family is something that another baby wouldn't fix. But somehow it almost feels a little bit harder to talk about Eliza now that it's been more than five years. Unless the conversation is specifically about pregnancy, it's almost always about my living kids, and I just don't know how to talk about a baby whom I never got to know alive.

At the same time, talking about Eliza is easier in the sense that it's only in the last year or two that I've been able to talk about her without crying (although the tears are still surprisingly close to the surface sometimes).

My feelings about all of this are complicated. I want to be able to talk about her, but I also still want to protect my heart from that awkward situation where I either have to acknowledge how immensely shitty and heartbreaking it is to lose a baby, or I find myself downplaying it in order to not make the conversation all about my grief, "Oh, well, you know, we're doing okay now..." which is maybe sort of true but also oversimplifying things enormously. It's something I have to have a lot of energy to tackle, or I need to be in a smaller group of people so I don't feel like I'm putting my grief on display.

I was talking about this with a friend whose loss was more recent--she's approaching the one-year anniversary of her son's death--and she said she couldn't imagine not telling everyone about her first baby. I understand that need for acknowledgement, and I still feel desperate for Eliza to be acknowledged. (My cousin mentioned to me that when she was working as a camp counselor, she had a student in her group named Eliza and she thought of my Eliza every time, and it was like a balm to my heart to hear that.) And yet even so, I still find myself talking about her with caution if I meet people who don't already know, or if I'm not sure if friends-of-friends know (or remember). I don't know if this is normal, or if it's something that I wish were different. I don't even know for sure if I'm trying to protect them or me from my heartache.

A lot of things about grief have changed in five and a half years, and I am not sure I will ever be satisfied with any of it. What hasn't changed is how much I miss her, and how much I wish I knew the girl she would have been.

11 comments:

  1. Exactly. "A lot of things about grief have changed... and I am not sure I will ever be satisfied with any of it."

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  2. Oh my gosh, everything you have written here reflects how I feel. We lost Scarlett almost 11 months ago and I am currently pregnant, due in September. People so quickly mention our new little bundle but don't bring Scarlett up that much. I just wish people would understand that no, I'm still really sad and that yes, I still want to talk about the baby I never knew alive. I want to talk about her all the time but don't know how with people who have never lost a baby. It's either incredibly awkward or they say some really shitty thing like "God has a purpose for everything" or "Some people are chosen to go through things like this because they turn it around and make something positive out of it". I'm sorry you never got to meet Eliza alive. I'm just so sorry and heartbroken for all of us.

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    1. I want to punch people who say things like that. I'll be thinking of Scarlett as the one-year mark approaches.

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  3. My mom and dad's first child was born sleeping in 1981. 35 years ago. To this day, my parents and I do our best to keep talking about her, our Amanda, because her life mattered. Because over time, less and less people know about her. On her birthday, it may be a small thing but on social media, I wish my sister a happy birthday, publicly, and I tag my parents - so they can be a part of the happy birthday's that people post, and so they can read the comments their friends post about how they still remember her and honor her memory. The first time I did this, I was unsure how my parents (especially my mom) would react. I didn't want to make her sad, but we'd had so many conversations about her wishing she could talk about Amanda without feeling like she shouldn't, without it being awkward - many of the feelings you've described here in your own post. So I was pretty confident she would be open to a public "happy birthday" in honor of Amanda. And she was. She cried tears of joy at the many, many people who helped us remember her and honored her memory - even if those people were my friends and not hers. Because for one whole day, she got to talk about her baby girl, without fear of feeling like she shouldn't, or wondering if it would be "too weird" for other people. And that was a huge gift. Sometimes I sent my mom flowers on Amanda's birthday, other times I send a card or find another way to make sure my parents know I still remember my sister who came before me. But now I always make sure to post a happy birthday on Facebook - because the conversation about Amanda - remembering her life and celebrating it with others - is what matters most all these years later.

    In time, Eliza's role in your family will undoubtedly shift. Time has a way of doing that. But she will never, ever be forgotten. And you have every right to want to talk about her and honor her memory. I hope you can always find ways to do that, that feel right and good to you <3 Hugs to you.

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    1. I love that you recognize your sister's birthday so openly. And I'm sure it means a lot to your parents. I need to remember that things will continue to shift... Grief is a lot of things, but it is never static for long.

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    2. You're a wonderful daughter and sister and I can only hope my (living) children remember and honor their brother the way you lovingly honor your sister

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    3. This made me cry, and unlike Brooke, I usually talk about my daughter Lydie who was born still without any tears. But I also hope Lydie's siblings, my son and my living daughter, honor their sister the way your honor yours. This is just beautiful.

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  4. Grief is so complicated, isn't it? We are experts, and yet there's no right way to handle some situations.

    A few weeks ago, I was out to dinner with a group of friends and friends-of-friends. Someone who I didn't know well asked whether I was done having kids, and I had to talk about Genevieve. Given that most people there knew my situation, it would have felt too strange to leave her out. Once I mentioned her, a lot of my friends asked other questions, and it turned into a big grief-fest. I felt a bit sick afterward. I hadn't wanted to share so much.

    I think it will be a relief when we get past the baby years, but then I wonder whether I will ever have opportunities to talk about Genevieve.

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  5. Grief is just a hot mess of complicated emotions isn't it?!

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  6. I love when you write about Eliza.

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