Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Before and After

I can clearly remember who I used to be, before I was a bereaved mother.

I was pretty smart.  I liked to learn about new things.  Except music.  I was always terribly out of the loop when it came to cool music.  I think I was sometimes funny.  Sometimes sarcastic.  Someone who gestured wildly while she talked and who made her eyes get huge to emphasize a point.  I think my most redeeming quality was that even though I'd get really worked up about stupid things, I had no problem laughing at myself later.

I know I felt lucky.  Lucky to have such a great husband who was smart and funny and tidy and kind and looked really cute in a baseball uniform.  Lucky to have two parents and a brother and many friends.  Lucky to have extended family I loved to visit.  Lucky to be pregnant.  The world seemed to me to be full of good things--swimming pools and baseball games and friendly neighbors and bottles of wine and pedicures and novels and etsy shops and Macy's sales and fat babies and cute dogs and seasonal decor and Christmas music and peonies and friends with witty facebook status updates.

I was the sort of person who remembered birthdays, shopped well in advance, and gave thoughtful gifts with the perfect card.

I was the kind of teacher who wore high heels and lipstick everyday.

I was a wife who wasn't a great cook but was always willing to help with after-dinner clean up.

I loved to go shopping and could spend an entire day searching for bargains and then I'd come home and make David guess what I paid for each item, then announce the original price and the sale price so he'd know how much money I'd saved us.

I watched very little TV because I was always busy with "projects."  Sewing.  Writing.  Exercising.  Shopping.  Experimenting with tempeh recipes.  Reading.  Planning our next big vacation.  Researching (read: googling) my latest interest (examples:  puggles, natural birth, Mary Shelley, Paris, juicing, Banksy).

I started planning our summers months in advance.  Barbecues and weekends at the lake and summer vacations and family get-togethers and Shakespeare in the Park and outdoor musical theater and jazz in the botanical gardens.  Could we squeeze in a canoe trip?  A weekend in Louisville?  A visit to KC?

I listened to NPR and started far too many conversations with, "So, I heard on NPR..."  The world was full of information!  And I wanted to share it!

I loved planning parties and showers for other people.  I spent hours looking for the perfect invitations, finding just the right pen to address the invitations in my fancy-style-writing, planning the silly games.

Details mattered.  I delighted in things like tea towels and coasters and ink pens and notepads and perfume and face lotion.  I thought I deserved things like glasses of wine and new shoes and magazine subscriptions.  Clean sheets felt like heaven and I read fashion blogs and I cared about what nail polish color was in.  If I was on top of my teaching/grading, I went to bed at the end of the day feeling content and satisfied and grateful.

And now everything feels different.

The things that used to make me so happy have lost their luster.

I don't feel smart or funny or like a good friend.  I feel broken, like a jagged shell of myself, twisted up so tightly inside that I'm small and mean and I resent being wished Happy Easter (or happy anything) because EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW I HAVE NOTHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT.

Catch me at the right moment, and the mere mention of a baby, or a pregnancy, or that preview of that new Disney movie that shows mama lions with their lion cubs, makes me feel like someone with Freddy Krueger fingernails is ripping apart my insides.

Instead of filling up my planner with lunch dates and happy hours and coffee dates and girls' nights and plays and date nights and lectures and poetry readings and pretentious indie films (or play dates and mommy & me classes and baby swim lessons), I schedule therapy sessions and acupuncture appointments.

If I go shopping, I dread trying things on for fear they won't fit right on my post-baby body.  I can't get the same rush from scoring a great bargain.  I miss that superficial, satisfying, materialistic joy.

Instead of hugging David the moment he walks in the door and making him laugh with a funny story about my day or telling him something I heard on NPR or gossiping about people we know, I'm usually on the couch when he gets home.  When he hugs me, I often start crying because I'm so tense from holding myself together all day and now that he's home I finally feel like I can relax a little, but letting my guard down usually means tears.

When I walk the dogs, I don't think about how the gorgeous weather is and how I'm lucky to be alive at this moment in this place.  I think about that red stroller packed away in our garage.

Things that used to be interesting are  unable to hold my attention because ALL I can think about, no matter what I am thinking about, is how much I miss Eliza.

I don't want to do projects because all my recent projects were baby-related.

I don't want to listen to the news.  Either the pain in the world is too much for me to handle, or I can't stand to hear about things that seem so insignificant compared to my loss.

When I get invited to parties, I can't RSVP because I won't know until that day, that moment, whether or not I'll feel up to going.  Or I think maybe it was a pity-invite and I shouldn't go because people will feel awkward and uncomfortable around me.  Also when I don't get invited to parties, I assume that people feel awkward and uncomfortable around me.

My facebook hiatus is ongoing.

Sometimes I ignore my friends' phone calls because I have absolutely nothing to say.  I don't want to be fake, but I don't want to be honest either.  I crave their sympathy and then I find it unbearable.  Sometimes I'll let their calls go to voicemail.  Then later I'll call a friend who doesn't answer her phone and I feel hurt and abandoned.

I no longer send the funny e-mails, the quick texts, the just-because note in the mail.  And yet I wonder why everyone I know can't text me or call me or e-mail me EVERY DAY to say what I want them to say:  I'm remembering Eliza.

I want to talk about Eliza.  But I find it's easier for me to talk about grief than to talk about her.  What is there left to say?  The broken record of this blog.  I miss Eliza.  I want my baby.  I love her so much.  I just want my baby.  At least I can discuss my grief in a sort of objective way.  When I talk about Eliza, my heart just melts and I always cry.  Sometimes I just can't stand to hear my voice break when I say her name, or I don't want to feel my throat get all thick with tears, so I don't talk about her.  And then I wish I would have.

I used to think I was lucky to be me.  Now I am the person everyone pities.

I miss my old life.

I don't feel like I'm a different person, really.  I feel like a broken, damaged, unpleasant version of my old self.

I'm close enough that I can remember how I would have felt or responded before.

I can still imagine so easily what life would have been like if.

I just can't quite figure out how to live in this now.

And I don't know how I can ever hope to regain all of the ridiculous enthusiasm for life that I had back when I still thought my future held everything I'd ever want.

* * *

I hesitate to publish this because even though it's all absolutely true, the truth is that it changes all the time.

In a single conversation, I can laugh, make plans to see a funny movie with a friend, and then cry because I miss my baby so much it's hard to breathe.

Glancing back over it, everything I've written sounds melodramatic, exaggerated.  I don't feel utterly miserable all of the time--often I feel quite hopeful and lucky to have the people I have in my life (online and in person).  I know I'm looking at the past with rose colored glasses.  I'm sure I was not THAT grateful or funny or enthusiastic before my daughter died.  I'm sure I bitched and moaned and hated life and irritated the people who love me.  

But I did it with much more energy.  I never felt afraid of life before.

I guess that's the difference. It just wasn't so scary before.

And I miss her so much.


  1. I'm remembering Eliza.

    I think you just summed up what we all are feeling about the before and after "us". Often times I write a blog because I am feeling raw and scrambled and hurting and empty, and I will dump it all out in a blog. Then I will look back and read it and think, "Gee, I would hate to be that chick", and then realize that that's ME. When did I become this angry person? When did I stop being so much friggin' FUN?? but the truth is that I'm not that way all the time. But the blog is where I can let it out. To people who will understand (Well, here AND the therapists office).
    And I soooooo hear you when you talk about wanting to talk about Eliza, and not wanting to talk about her at the same time, and the reasons you give. I just wish I could say Love's name without my throat closing up. Or, I wish that everyone I come in contact will know that this is going to happen, and that it's okay, and I NEED to talk about her, and I NEED to be sad.
    I just had a dear friend come and visit this weekend, and she was one of those people who just disappeared when Love died. We stayed up late talking about Love, and her birth, and her death, and my grief. And she went on and on about how she never knows what to say, and so he always gives people "space" when they are going through something difficult b/c she would hate to say the wrong thing (she also has a friend who is recently diagnosed with cancer that she is behaving the same way with). I was finally able to tell her that by giving me space and saying nothing, she was automatically saying the wrong thing. I wanted her to call me, even if I didn't answer. I wanted her to speak Love's name, even if it made me cry. I DID NOT want to be the one to reach out for support, to have to find her when I needed her. I needed her to be right there in the wings, reaching out to me so she would be there when I needed her. I don't know if it helped, or if she will change her ways, but I hope so. But I am right with you with the "feeling abandoned" when your friends either don't call or don't pick up the phone - even if the reason they aren't answering is b/c they aren't home. Shouldn't they have KNOWN I was going to call and been right there by the phone? Is that too much to ask?????

    I am always remembering Eliza with you. I have never noticed before, but I come across the name Eliza more frequently these days, whether in a story or an article or on TV, and when I do I think of you and I think of her. You are both in my thoughts.

  2. I have written a bunch of things and then deleted them. I want to say I understand, that it will get easier, but you know, you need to feel as shitty as you do right now because Eliza is worth every tear, cry and ache. Missing her this much is completely normal and you need to feel all these emotions. It`s an expression of how much you love her. I wish she were here. Missing Eliza with you.

  3. It's hard to get used to the now being so hard and so different than what should have been. Acceptance was (and still is) one of my biggest struggles, and there were so many, many days in the first year after Teddy died that the discrepancies between if and what I was really living knocked me off my feet.

    Thinking of you, and wishing you didn't have to go through this, and sending love.

  4. I don't like the idea of getting used to the new me... I don't like the new me!! I don't want to be this person who lives if not in misery, right next door to misery, and ready to fall back into the darkness at the drop of a hat!
    So here's to the old us, and to hoping that someday we can get a glimpse of that happiness again!
    Thinking of you and Sweet Eliza!

  5. I, too, am remembering Eliza.

    Everything you wrote is so entirely true. I also crave sympathy from friends but them brush it away just as quickly. It's just a cruel, f'd up world/life we have to live.

    Sunny days hurt. I forget sometimes that I'm supposed to be nursing a baby, be cooing and cuddling a little man. Sometimes I catch myself smiling/happy/excited about our next baby and then, when I realize that our next baby won't be our Jack, I'm crushed again.

    Thinking of you.

    Ps. You remain VERY funny. And smart.

  6. again you find the words that i long to say. i'm very broken, and i can vaguely remember the person i was when Julius was here. vaguely.

  7. I am remembering Eliza as well.

    Everything you wrote is so true. I wish all our pain and hurt could be taken away and our babies were with us. It is so unfair and I hope with time you will find some hope.

  8. Not melodramatic. Not exaggerated. Honest. Painful. But the truth.

  9. <3 Eliza.

    Screw the new me. And the new you. And the new all of us.

    You summed it up perfectly and dammit, this sucks.

  10. This new me sucks. I used to be so active and always on the go and was excited to take my son with me everywhere I went- shopping, hiking, etc. I am like you in that I don't ever want to commit to plans in advance because I never know how I am going to feel since my emotions are constantly changing. So often I even make plans for the same day and by nightfall I have to cancel because the sadness has taken over.
    I think this is a great post, everything about it is true, it sucks, but its true
    Thinking about you and your sweet Eliza.

  11. You said exactly what I've been trying to say but struggling to find the right words. It sucks but it's who we are now.

  12. I'm remembering Eliza through your beautiful words.

  13. Wow. SO well said. Every bit of it. I can relate to almost 100% of what you said here. I am such a different person after Cullen. I think we all are- and none of us ever expected it. WHat hurts is watching otherso around us go on with their 'regular' lives- oblivious to how every fiber of our being has changed.
    It is all a work in process... getting through this and getting to know the new people that we are. They don't call us Medusas for nothing...

  14. So much going through my head. Perfect, all of it. Walking beside you and sharing in your pain mama. Much love~

  15. Oh my god. Wow. Oh my god. Wow. This is just one of those posts that stopped me dead in my tracks that literally had me nodding along with each word. I often say of posts like this, I'd like to send them to every single person I know, just to try and show that I'm not alone, and not as big of a freak as people think I am. Other mothers feel this way, too. Not just me.
    Sounds like we were very similar people in our before lives. I'm sure we would have got along great.
    And the aftermath of the catastrophe that was losing our firstborn girls has left our lives in a similar state of disarray. I can only hope that one day down the track, you join me in this caper of parenting a little one who lives.
    Thank you so much for writing this. I know I'll be back to re-read this.