Monday, June 6, 2011

Before I Write About Sunday

This daily diary is getting a bit tedious (and all heads reading this nod simultaneously) but!  Only three more days.  I don't like to be a quitter so I'll post Sunday later.

Before I start, though, I want to say that I read a post today by a mother whose daughter had a damaged brain when she was born and who has has grown up with many physical and mental challenges and who returns to the hospital for another round of treatment/surgery/tests today.  I can sympathize with that because as much as I wish I could have Eliza here under almost any circumstances, I know there are fates and difficulties that no child should have to face.  As I read her post, (you can read it here), I realized how much I could sympathize with what she's going through because some of the words fit my own situation exactly.

Like the impossibility of being blindly optimistic, even when we hope for a better future.  Because, as Jennifer writes, "You cannot say, in an overly hearty voice, Oh, that will never happen, because it has, and it took you by surprise and the only thing worse than bad news is being too dumb to expect it, and to sit there stunned to hear it, your mouth hanging open, and not the first clue how to cope."

When the doctor told me that she was sorry but my baby had died, I was so shocked and I wondered for a moment if I was going to have an out-of-body experience because suddenly every detail of that room was so incredibly vivid and it was like I could see myself, curling up on my side in the hospital bed, gasping, and David holding my hand while all the color drained from his face.  Then I barfed and then I had another contraction and then I just figured the whole process would kill me too and that would be a relief.  Because how do you even begin to cope with the worst news you never thought you would hear?  

Jennifer writes about that, too.  She explains that her worry for her daughter has her sitting up at night.  And what do you do when you're awake and you're terrified and there's nothing in the entire world that would bring you comfort except to have that lost chance given back to you?

Well, some of us turn our desperation into words.  Not the carefully crafted sentences and le mot juste that I preach to my students and admire in my favorite writers.  We are not George Eliots and Vladimir Nabokovs here.  But we do write, honestly and truthfully and desperately, and then we wait to see who writes back.  And it is a lifeline.  The words that come in blog comments from other people on this path.  The card in the mail.  The text from a childhood friend.  The e-mail from a high school friend.  The e-mail from a friendly acquaintance, with whom you have more in common than you ever knew.  Putting what I'm feeling out there and having those feelings affirmed and understood and echoed back to me has been the best way I know to cope when it feels like this is just unsurvivable.

"Tonight there is just a long time till morning, and your lost saints can give no comfort. So you pick up your pen instead and you pin the terror to the page, and you hope it does not get loose. And a circle of women who have sat this vigil themselves seem to surround you, echoing back so many generations you cannot begin to count, and you know you are not alone, and you never have been, even in that hardest part before dawn."

I love that image of pinning terror to the page.  I think I try to do that with grief--another form of terror, really.  If I could only describe it accurately, I could somehow understand it, control it, conquer it.  Or at the very least, get some of it outside me so it can't suffocate me so much.

I was telling David yesterday that we never really know what other people think of us.  I'm always stunned to hear someone's first impression of me because I think that all of my idiosyncrasies and insecurities must shine through and the best I can hope is for people to be charmed by my weirdness (as David clearly is).  But I guess I don't actually wear my heart on my sleeve because people look at me and sometimes they see someone who looks competent and put together and like she has things figured out.  This is totally flattering (if somewhat astonishing).  But it also reminds me of why it's important to me to be honest about how much this fucking sucks and how hard it is because no matter what happens, no matter if David and I go on to have kids of our own, or adopt a beautiful bunch of kids like the Jolie-Pitts or decide that it's just going to be the two of us and we're going to wear designer clothes and fly first class instead of saving for college funds, our lives will never be quite what they were supposed to be.  Eventually, we will heal and go on and our lives may look charmed from the outside, to people who don't know what we've lost, but we will always be missing our first baby girl, even when things get easier and this pain no longer eats up our guts.

Opening up about that sadness is an invitation for people I don't know to share their stories with me and, considering that I tend to get anxious about making small-talk with colleagues, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I welcome those connections.  People say to me, "I am sorry about Eliza.  I know something of your pain..." and then I hear about her child who died, or his sibling, or her childhood best friend, or her cousin, or the fact that he was born after his parents lost a child, or that she had a miscarriage, or she and her husband struggled with infertility.  I'm honored that people think they can trust me with those stories and it doesn't feel like a burden.  It feels like a connection.

"You are not alone, and you never have been, even in that hardest part before dawn."

Countless other people have walked this path, or something similar.  But you won't know it unless you tell them what you're going through.  And some people don't know and don't get it and don't want to get it and would prefer to rewrite the metaphysical world so that it matches their own personal desire of orderly purpose instead of the reality of random unfairness.  But I have found for every one of those people, there someone out there it would benefit me to know, someone who will enrich my life, or tell me something new, or explain how they coped with heartbreak, or recall a funny shared experience, or offer me vacation advice. 

I miss Eliza all the time.  I loved that baby differently than I have every loved anyone.  It has been six months since we lost her, and that does not seem possible.  We wanted so much for her and we had such big plans.  Although some parts of this ache are softening a little bit as the months go by, our hearts will always long for her, and for all the hopes and dreams that died with her.  But I know that that longing won't always eat me up inside.  I know because I've heard it from other people who have been here.

Even in the middle of this grief, at the loneliness time of my life, I have discovered that I am not alone at all.  And that is a gift from Eliza.  It's not the one I wanted, but I am still thankful for it.  


  1. Beautiful post, Brooke. Abiding by you while you approach the 6 month mark.

  2. You know I can't muster up much of anything positive to say today, but I am thinking of you three.

  3. Beautiful post. And yes to everything you so eloquently said.

    When I went into the hospital with hellp, i brought a book and my purse, thinking they would fix whatever was hurting and send us on our way. And when they couldn't find her heartbeat after admitting me (she was too small for the monitor to pick up), i saw the nurse give the dr this look while they went to get the u/s machine, and i had just had an u/s the week before, and i remember thinking...she's worried but i know the baby's ok...and then they found her and it was ok and then too quickly it wasn't. But i shake my head at the dumb innocence i had.

    anyway, thinking of you guys.

  4. Such a great post. I like your last paragraph as I could really relate. Never in my almost 40 years have I felt so ALONE and against the world. Even with my spouse by my side at times I feel as if I am the only one mourning my loss and while I know that is not true I feel like the rest of the world has moved on.

  5. It's both amazing reassuring, and TERRIFYING there are so many others who have walked (and are walking) this same path.

    BTW, I like how you phased the part about how the longing won't always eat you up. That's what I (one day) hope for too.

  6. Great post! Thinking of you and Eliza as time draws closer to 6 months.

  7. Inspiring post. I could say so much..... but I'll leave it there. I know I'll be back to read this one. I think I will read it again right now.

  8. Speechless. You embodied exactly how I have felt moving through the loss of our girl. We are not alone, however, alone we feel.

  9. I have written before about how grateful I am from the support that has come from others on this journey. We are not alone.. and that reality is as haunting as it is beautiful.

  10. I don't think I would ever believe that it is possible to feel 'normal' again if it hadn't come from someone I know who has been there. All the posts on Angie's project have been quite comforting in both the sense of my future talking to me and remembering what my past was like. Thinking of you and Eliza~