This post is part of a blog tour to mark October as the month of pregnancy and infant loss awareness. You can read more about it and view all the bloggers who are participating by clicking here.
When Eliza died, I stopped moving. I left the hospital and somehow I walked in my house, but then I kept still. I sat, stunned, in a frozen stupor for a long time. I did that thing where you stare and stare and you don't have to blink because your eyes are full of tears. I did that thing where you can't get off the couch and you can't change your clothes and you can't eat because when life is unbearable everything makes you want to vomit, and you especially can't eat one more godforsaken pan of sympathy-laden lasagna, or choke down one more piece of pineapple from an arrangement of condolence fruit (mostly because pineapple tastes like happiness and happiness tastes like ashes in your mouth). I resented gentle suggestions that I should take a walk, open the blinds, allow the blood to circulate in my veins. I was in shock, perhaps, but I think I was also convinced that if I just held completely still, I could stop time from going on without my baby.
I recently reread a Mary Oliver poem that made me think a lot about those early grief days, when all I wanted was to turn back time and get everything back to the way it was before. I was still clinging to Plan A with everything I had. Plan B was a dark hellhole and I wanted no part of it. I tried not to move, tried not to live Plan B. Instead, I would sit still and read poetry and avoid thinking about seasons changing without Eliza here.
Oliver ends her poem "In Blackwater Woods" like this:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the times comes to let it go,
to let it go.
The first time I read this poem, I wanted to shred it. Or spit on it. Or slash it out with a black marker. My baby was dead and I'd held her in my arms and I'd touched her cold, tiny fingers with their tiny purple fingernails and I would have traded my life for hers and this fucking poem is telling me to let it go?
It wasn't just impossible. It was completely offensive.
This poem knew nothing of my grief, of the particular brand of grief that spins into existence when the timing of a loss is completely wrong and backwards and the only explanation is that we've entered an alternate reality and we have to stop moving forward so that we can go back and fix it. I shouldn't have let her go. I should have held her tighter and slipped through a wormhole with her into an alternate dimension--back into the real world, my world--where everything was working out the way it was supposed to.
In other words: You say let it go, I say go fuck yourself.
And now... It's been six years. And yes, I see the poem differently. Mostly because I'm looking forward again, and six years ago I couldn't imagine anything but trying to undo the timeline of my life.
Now I think, this poem isn't offering advice. It is simply presenting the rules for survival. I hated the poem for being right about what I needed to do, because I was nowhere near ready to do it.
I've got the loving-what-is-mortal part down. And I know--perhaps better than most--what it is to hold that tiny, mortal being against my bones.
I struggle with the letting go.
How can I possibly let go of my dream, my plan, my life, my baby?
The answer is that we don't have to let go of the important stuff. Not the love and not the grief. But we do have to let go that desperate, breath-holding, fist-clenching hope that we are about to get a do-over. That unspeakable belief that somewhere, someone will realize this terrible, horrifying mistake and make it right. Eventually, we have to stop digging in our heels and turning our faces away from the sun. Eventually, we start walking down a new path, and we start opening our eyes not just to an unfamiliar landscape that holds both terror and beauty, but also to the community of people who join us there.
I don't like the word "acceptance" with all its implications that we can just sort of shrug and "c'est la vie" our way forward when the world has crumbled to ruins around us.
But I am starting--slowly and begrudgingly (and, mercy, it's already been almost six years so maybe I'm slower than most)--to come around to the idea of letting go of Plan A and all the preconceived notions and confident expectations that went along with it. I can't change Eliza's death. I can't turn back time and right the wrong and become the person I was before. And although I'll never stop missing her and wanting her here, I have to let go of what I thought my life would be with her here.
To do otherwise would be to freeze myself in the most devastating moment of my life, and to do that, supposing I could stand it, would fail to acknowledge all the good that has come into my life alongside the grief--including Eliza's sisters.
None of this justifies Eliza's death or makes it acceptable. But six years has allowed gratitude to interweave itself with grief in a way that I could never have predicted or imagined. I know now--though it still makes my heart itch to think about it--that I have had to let go of my old life (the life without babyloss) to make the space for this one.
This is the price we pay for being human and existing in this world: we will have our hearts broken. Life will be impossibly unfair and disappointing. Where there is love, there will be grief. Some of us will experience it more often, more harshly, more unexpectedly than others. Some of us will feel so broken that we think with absolute certainty we'll never recover. And I'm not saying that we should stop trying to right the wrongs. But grief is its own form of love.
And to love what is mortal, to hold it against our bones knowing that we may have to give it up without warning, is to live the biggest life possible.
We must--eventually--let go of old expectations to make room for a new version of happiness. It happens slowly (painfully slowly). And it's not perfect. It's not abundant recompense. It's not even a consolation prize. It's just the truth of this world. We only get this one life. It's fragile and it's full of uncertainty. Just when we think we know the next step, we're exposed as fools (and I really hate feeling foolish). The best we can do is let go of the fear, open ourselves up to love, and do it again.
None of us will get through this life unscathed, and yet still we love what is mortal as though our lives depended on it.
Because, of course, they do.
Thank you for reading about babyloss and not just pretending that life is awesome and that bad things don't happen all the time.
Special thanks to those friends and kindred spirits who showed up in person or emerged from the ether of the internet to help nudge me out of that frozen stupor in the very early days of grief--Abby, Keya, Cailin, Monica, Kate, Jill, Sarah, Brandy, Laura, and Angie.
I hope you'll all take a moment to read what Christine wrote earlier this week about grief and rainbows and highs and lows of grieving one son while parenting another. Also, please check Justine's blog tomorrow--she organized this whole blog tour and I'm grateful that she let me be a part of it.
If you participate in the Share walk this weekend, look for me there (!) and post your photos using #ShareWalk2016.
If you have a candle, a lighter/match/piece of flint, and a social media account, it would mean so much to me if you would be part of the Wave of Light at 7:00pm by posting a photo with #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness (hashtags for terrible things are, by definition, kind of terrible).
And, finally, if you're missing your baby, or having trouble letting go of the life that you expected, I hope you feel the love and light coming your way.