Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This One's for the Girls

I saw Bridesmaids a couple nights ago.  Loved it.  Especially loved the part where Annie makes a toast to her best friend, Lillian, and ends up singing, "That's what friends are for..." (I still know every word of that song and also the accompanying sign language, thank you 6th grade music class).

Since losing Eliza, I've met some amazing women who are also walking this path and have forged genuine and meaningful friendships with them.  These relationships are true lifelines and I can't say enough about the way they have lifted me up.

But this post isn't about that.

This post is about my old friends.  My high school friends, my college friends, my grad school friends, my friends from my previous life, my lucky life, the life in which I expected a lovely, screaming, wiggly baby instead of a lovely, silent, still one.

I have chosen good friends throughout my life.  And I think that I've been a good friend, too, because I've managed to hang on to most of them.  My closest friends and I have been there for each other through the best and worst of life experiences, and all of the complicated stuff in between:  parties, concerts, canoe trips, vacations, sleepovers, and nights out dancing.  Boyfriends, engagements, weddings, the ups and downs of married life, and mother-in-law drama.  Also, co-worker drama, new jobs, new homes, graduate school, unemployment, and job promotions.  We've seen each other through parents divorcing, grandparents dying, parents coming out of the closet, and parents dying.  The last couple of years have seen struggles with fertility, planned pregnancies, surprise pregnancies, and new babies.  And now, the death of a baby.

We've stuck by each other through all of it.  Of course.  That's what friends are for. 

When Eliza died and I plunged into that black pit of grief (from which depths I am ever-so-slowly emerging, but prone to slip back into pretty often), in those early days, my friends would often say, "I miss you."

I was very absent from all the places I used to be--happy hour, shopping trips, dinner parties, chatty phone calls, rambling voice mails.  I didn't think I'd ever get back there again.  I felt so completely altered.  I wasn't sure how my friendships would last because I felt like I had turned into someone else and the qualities that made me a good friend--being thoughtful, being funny, genuinely caring about other people's problems, being able to hold a conversation about something other than Eliza or my grief or the plot of a TV show--these are qualities I seem to no longer possess.  I'm sad about that, but I can't see any way around it.

I am a bad friend right now.
I don't call.  I don't write.  I almost always depend on other people to initiate an e-mail exchange, a coffee date, lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  I make plans that I may or may not cancel at the last minute.  I don't inquire about babies.  I would rather rip out my own fingernails than hear about a baby shower or a baby's newest milestone.  I don't remember anniversaries.  I don't send birthday cards.  I can't remember other people's schedules (I can barely remember my own).  I can chatter about superficial nonsense or I can cry about Eliza.  There is little in between.  It takes great effort for me to remember that I should ask, "And how have you been?" when someone asks me how I'm doing.  When I have "normal" conversations, I mostly feel like I am running on autopilot.  I love my friends, but I feel like I am too tired to care.

My friend Jamie said to me once, "It sucks that this happened to my best friend."  She said that because she loves me and she hates to see me hurting like this, but also because it sucks for her, too.  As my friend Beth said, they loved and lost Eliza, too.  And complicating that grief is the haunting idea that in losing her, they also lost me.  The friend I used to be.

Jamie had a baby boy in October.  I have seen him three times since he was born.  If Eliza had lived, I would have seen him at least every couple of weeks.  I still haven't even met my friend Carol's baby who was born on Christmas day.  And I feel guilty about that--guilty that I don't want to see pictures, guilty that I don't want to hear stories, guilty that when Jamie tells me Owen has gotten so fat, it makes my stomach feel cold and tight because all I want is MY fat, happy baby.

It sucks.  It sucks that I can't bear to hear the play-by-play of the baby minutia that would have otherwise enthralled me.  It sucks that I am essentially missing out on Owen's first year.  I'm not attending his baptism next weekend.  I don't know how I'll feel this fall when the birthday parties start, but I can't guarantee that I'll go to them.  It fucking sucks.  It sucks for me, because I'm sad to miss out on this stuff, but it also really sucks for Jamie because she deserves to have her best friend there, and she deserves to have a best friend who can put her own problems aside and celebrate with her and be happy for the life of her beautiful baby boy.

But, because she's my best friend, she will forgive me for being in too much pain to do that.  She will forgive me for being small and mean and self-centered about my grief.  She will forgive me for putting up limits in order to protect my broken heart. 

She has to, or we won't stay friends.  Because my baby fucking died and I simply do not have the capacity to be strong or generous or brave or considerate of other people's feelings. 

I am a bad friend because right now I am first and foremost a bereaved mother.  My baby died, and I am absorbed in my grief.  I don't know how long I will be like this, but my friends have to learn to accommodate my pain just like I do.  It's what friendship means.  I am sorry it has to be this way, and I know it isn't easy for them, and I know they won't be able to do it perfectly all the time.  But I love them for trying. 

And when I look at this objectively, even though I feel guilty about my absence, I know that if they didn't try--well, that's on them.  The thing is, I need a friend but I can't really be one right now.  Most of my friends get that, and I'm so grateful. 

My best friend Monica sent me a text one day that said, "My sympathy will last as long as your grief."  I wonder if she realizes what a commitment that is.  Because my grief has no end in sight, and I know that it is hard to feel sorry for someone for an extended period of time.  After a while, we want them to buck up, to put on their big girl pants, suck it up, and get on with life.  I dread the day that my friends lose patience with me.  Because I am coming up on six months, and although I feel better, better still feels really shitty.  I worry about becoming a broken record.  I miss Eliza.  I want my baby.  There's nothing I want in life as much as I want that baby.  When will people finally get tired of hearing it? 

Yes, there is an extent to which we grow accustomed to this sorrow and the constant underlying presence of grief in our lives, and we find our old, frivolous selves emerging around it.  I went to dinner with Jamie on Saturday and when when the waiter recommended the "Ewephoria cheese" (a sheep cheese pronounced "euphoria") and I laughed and said "Yes! I want the cheese that is a pun!" and I felt for a second just like my old self, the self who regularly went to dinner with friends and loved puns and cheese.  I think, in those moments, that I will be okay eventually, and that when I am, my friends will be there--they will have never left. 

But I wonder if they are impatient with me, not that they want me to forget my grief (they would never expect that), but if they are ready for me to become better at navigating around and through it.  I wonder if they are impatient for me to be a good friend again.

I'm asking a lot of my friends right now.  Because of me, they're having to face truths no one wants to admit--that babies die, that the universe is random and scary, that bad things happen for no reason at all.  They're grieving Eliza's absence in our little world.  And they're having to figure out how to be there for a friend who is alternately sad and angry and sort of okay.

I worry that my friends will resent that I have such trouble celebrating their babies' lives even though I wish nothing but happiness for them.  I know that this sucks for them, too.  Their pain is not like my pain, but it's real and it's sad, too.

I have to remember that friendship isn't just about the good times.  It's about love and support and trust.

So I trust my friends to hold up their end of the deal while I keep trying to drag myself up out of this pit of grief.  I trust them to make me believe that however this has changed me, for better or worse, they still want me to show up for happy hour, to go to dinner, to offer my opinion about an outfit or a recipe or a crazy mother-in-law.  Right now, I have a hard time believing that anyone would hang out with me for any reason other than pity.  I trust them to remind me that I can still be fun.  I trust them to be patient with me, to keep calling even when they just get my voicemail, to continue not to talk about their babies until I mention them first. 

In this moment, even though I'm a bad friend, I trust my friends to be good ones.  To help me honor Eliza's memory, and to extend their sympathy as long as I grieve--which is to say, forever. 

Because (as I could sing for you while simultaneously doing sign-language) that's what friends are for.


  1. I need a friend, too, and I can't really be one right now either.

    I feel like the very words that were streaming in my head all last night and all day today (regarding friends and my utter incapacitation to actually be one) were just thrown on a page-- and they were. You wrote them. I was thinking them.

    Incredible. I'm a terrible friend and I'm selfishly stuck in my grief and fear that I'll be a broken record for all of eternity. I'm pretty sure anyone and everyone who has ever heard of me, known me, or seen me knows I lost my baby, but for some reason I can't stop this repetitious madness.

    Love what your friend Jamie said about you losing Eliza. "It sucks that this happened to my best friend"-- and you're right. In many ways, it greatly affected her, too. It's hard to see the outside of grief when we're literally drowning in it, huh?

    I'm particularly angry today and feel like creating new and more terrible curse words. Too bad I'd just be entertaining in doing so when my intention would be to hate.

  2. Don't think I'm not sitting in my little cube in the library doing the sign language. The text is true...and you would do the same for any of us. Love you. Come finish this paper for me.

  3. I have been thinking for some time now about what a bad friend I am now and how I wish it were different, but not enough for me to change anything. I love my friends, but you are right, I am too tired to really care. I hate that I lost Addison and I hate my friends/family lost me or at least the fun/happy/optimistic me. I believe Addison made me a better person, but losing her made me bitter/angry...all those bad things. Your post sums up so many of my feelings as well.

    Brandy, I would love to hear if you come up with any new curse words...it could be entertaining at the very least :) Brian had someone tell him our story was "fucking sad as hell, dude" it's a phrase we use quite often around our house. I can't help, but laugh (in the it's so inappropriate, but oh so appropriate kind of way) when I hear it because all of our stories are fucking sad as hell, dude!

  4. Thank you for this. Thank you for reminding me of what I'm hoping/banking/wishing to be true for my friendships as well. As you know all too well, I am suffering a lot of guilt about not holding up my fair share of the bargain on my friendships - thank you for helping me to see/remember it's not all about equal load sharing at all times.


  5. Try not to worry too much about losing friends...it may sound crappy but the ones you lose aren't worth keeping, I can't think of anyone who didn't lose at least one friend. I guess the "good" part of this is you see who truly does have the staying power. One of my best friend's has a baby born a few wks before I was due with olivia, I still haven't met her (they do live in dc though). I have to force myself to ask about her, a lot of the time, not because i don't care but even now its hard.

    Try not to beat yourself up on being a bad friend...the ones who matter will understand and forgive you.

  6. I am fucking sad for you, dude. I am fucking sad for me. I am fucking sad for all of us. Duuuuude.

    I remember reading the blog "So Dear Yet So Far", and the couple when fresh in their grief, would say "I'd do the dishes, but dead babies", or "I meant to vacuum today, but, dead babies". I remember thinking it was horrifying and hilarious at the same time. But that's how I feel as a friend: "I meant to call, but, dead baby", or "I meant to ask you about your alive baby, but, dead baby". sometimes I have the strength to take a deep breath and ask about a baby, but it is draining. Mostly I don't. And I friggin' hang out with three (count'em: THREE) brand new babies almost every friggin' day! But, I talk to the mother OVER or AROUND the baby. I don't talk TO the baby, or ABOUT the baby if I can at all help it. And it makes me feel like a shiteous friend. But that's all I got right now. The tank is pretty much empty, so they can take it or leave it. But, like you, I am lucky that so far, they are taking it and seem pretty okay with it.

    Through good times, through bad times, I'll be by your side for ever moooooooore....


  7. Once again, you have taken the words from my mouth. The need arose just this afternoon for me to sit and write a friendship post, and I got your notification email while I was pondering today's topic. Had to refernce and link up to you again... http://everythingebach.blogspot.com/2011/05/friendships.html

  8. I think at almost three years out, I have reached the point with some friendships that you are now worried about. I am better, but I'm not completely healed (and of course never will be) and I think my grace period is well and truly up. A very dear friendship of mine fell to pieces just a few weeks ago. Final nail in the coffin was finding out I'd been unfriended on Facebook just last week.
    I am trying. I am doing my best. I am a better friend than I was six months ago (at least I'd like to think so) but I'll never be the same. It is only the very precious ones who have been able to stand the test of time and the test of my grief.
    Grief does last longer than sympathy, so I hope your friend can stick it out. Sounds like you have some magical people in your life and right now, you really need that.
    Missing our babies and our before lives with you.

  9. You're lucky to have those people. I really hope they can remain and abide. It`s hard to negotiate, this dead baby world. Remembering Eliza.

  10. Wow, you said it SO well!! And can I just say you are so blessed to have such good friends in your life. At barely 5 months out after my son died, my best friend (who was there for his birth & had a part in his funeral) turned her back on me because I couldn't be how she wanted me to be. It didn't matter how much I tried to educate her that grief is a long process & I need others around me to help me. Why do people think that we should be not only back to ourselves but be "normal" in a matter of months? Losing your baby forever changes you. Unfortunately the only ones who have stuck by my side, are 2 other baby loss mamas who "get it". I just wish others would & that I wouldn't have lost friends all because my son died. It's not like I had any control over it.

  11. I think your friend Monica sounds amazing. And I am sure she will be there for you always.

    Hugs to you!!

  12. This part:
    She has to, or we won't stay friends. Because my baby fucking died and I simply do not have the capacity to be strong or generous or brave or considerate of other people's feelings.

    is the part I just had to come back and read. I thoroughly admire and respect your ability to grant yourself this truth instead of beating yourself up over it.

    Thank you, again.

  13. It sounds like you have some amazing friends, but yeah, totally. I'm a terrible friend too.

    Much like the Honey Badger, I don't get a F*.

    Ps you continue to be hilarious.

  14. If there were some sad baby-loss convention, I would nominate you to be the guest speaker.

    I couldn't agree more! I had a friend say how she felt like she didn't just lose Cale as well, but she lost her best friend. She didn't mean it as a permanent thing, but just that she knew it changed me. Fortunately she's hanging on for the ride and has been so wonderful, but I'm glad she knows that I'm different and can't ever really be the same again.

  15. It does fucking suck. It all sucks. I think the part that gets me the most is that I feel left behind and the farther behind I get the less chance I feel I can "catch up." Thinking of you and Eliza~

  16. This is so so true. I am nearly 4 years into this journey of deadbabymomness and I feel like I will always be a lesser friend than before. Because grief is a selfish fucker and there are days where I can't deal with anything less than my dead son. I loved what your friend Monica said. Priceless to have people like her in our new normal.

    Wishing Eliza could be in your arms...

  17. I too hope your friends will stick with you too. Sadly, I haven't had a lot of really close girlfriends since I got married & moved here -- most of my childhood friends live at least 1,000 miles away. We socialized a lot with dh's cousins, & I have written a lot on my blog about our cousin-neighbours, & how we have sadly drifted apart in the years since we lost Katie. Their oldest daughter's 20th birthday was last weekend & I was thinking of her & how much fun we had with her when she was little, & how we never see them anymore, maybe once or twice a year tops. :(

    I was very fortunate to have a good friend at work (who sadly for me retired about five years ago). Katie was actually born on her birthday, & she was one of the very few people who made a point of coming out to see us. We sat on the porch with glasses of iced tea & talked & cried together, & she was always, always there to listen in the months & years ahead. About a year or two ago, her stepson & his wife had a stillborn. She was with them when the baby was delivered, & she wrote me to say, "I now understand a little of what you must have gone through." I wrote her back to say I always thought she understood better than anyone else even before this, & it was so true.

    One of our friends from our support group had a friend who, sadly, also had a stillborn daughter, & they started coming to group together. I remember the new girl looked at her friend once & said directly to her, "I didn't realize until now what a crappy friend I was. I thought I was being a good friend, but I really wasn't." Then they both laughed & hugged each other.

  18. This was such a wonderful post Brooke. So many things it makes me think about, and that I can relate to. Things have been tough in the friendship department lately.. but I suppose that is to be expected. Nothing is as it should be, so why would friendships be exempt form this reality?
    Sending you my thoughts..

  19. I could have written this myself. You got it exactly right. Praying for your heart.

  20. The day after Lydie died, my best friend told me, "I'm afraid we're never going to be able to share a bottle of wine again." I was like, "That's your biggest worry?" I couldn't relate to that when I was so very broken. But now I get it - she was so worried that I'd never be the same again (And I won't). Another good friend has told me multiple times that she misses me. And I miss me too! I can't talk about things the way I used to, and to be honest, since she has a baby and a toddler and lives across the street, right now I am just avoiding her at all costs. I hope I won't always feel this way but right now I feel completely selfish and unable to give anything to my friends, even asking how they are. Because I don't want to hear about how they had a great weekend or how their baby is teething. How have these friendships survived through your grief, Brooke, now that you're a few years out from losing Eliza?