Friday, August 12, 2011

For Better or Worse

A while back, Laura Jane posted about the idea of coping and moving forward after the death of a baby.  How do you keep going when you know that your life will always be worse than you thought it would be?

I left this comment on her blog (actually I left a loooong, rambling comment, but this part sort of sums it up):
Yes, our lives will always be a little bit worse because our babies died. But I think it's also true that our lives will be deeper, richer, wiser, crazier, more absurd, more interesting, more complicated, more adventurous, more appreciative, and more sacred because we love and miss those babies. 
It doesn't make it better. But there are moments when I realize it is what it is. I will piece together the best life I can have and it will never be the life I hoped it would be. The truth is, there's probably nobody in the world who has the life they hoped they would have. Some event has occurred so that everyone's life is a little bit worse than they would have hoped. Our brand of tragedy is especially heartbreaking and unfair, but life is a gamble like that. And we are all living in the middle of better and worse.
Sure, I can write it to LJ and sound somewhat convincing.  But the truth is I've really struggled with this.  I don't see how things could ever get "better," knowing that we'll never have Eliza here with us.  Her birth should have shaped our lives as new parents, and instead her death feels like it shadows in grief everything that happens next.

I've always been the person who believes that things will work out if you try hard enough, and really want it.  But I just can't see what could ever work out that would balance this loss.  There's no windfall possible in my future that would some how make all this worthwhile.  I know logically, intellectually, that this pain won't eat me up for the rest of my life.  I know time will help with that.  But still, I find myself stumbling under the burden of this idea that I have to accept my life as forever worse than it could have been, worse than it should have been.

I can't say that I've had some kind of revelation that changes that point of view.  But I do think I'm experiencing a growing realization that (although there are lots of fictional plots that want to convince us otherwise) there's actually no singular moment that defines our lives--unless we allow it to.  The possibility of parallel universes aside (you know, Fringe-style), my life now can't be compared to some alternative life I might have had.  Imagining how my life should have been, with Eliza in it, is unavoidable and sometimes irresistible.  But in reality?  There is no better version of my life I might have had.  This is it.  This is all I get.

Eliza died.  This happened.  It's sad, and unfair, and terrible.  And of course my life is different than it would be if she had lived.  But there are millions of scenarios in my life that could have gone another way that might have been "better."  Like if I had gone to law school instead of grad school.  If I'd continued to study Spanish in college.  If I'd done a semester abroad (I always regretted not doing that).  If my first best friend hadn't turned out to be a two-faced meanie sometime in fifth grade.  If I'd tweezed my eyebrows before my freshman year of high school instead of after.  If I'd gotten that one part I auditioned for.  If I'd gone to a more highly ranked university for undergrad.  If the boy I loved in college hadn't broken my heart.  If I hadn't poured hot tea down my arm in grad school and given myself third degree burns and a huge ugly scar.

These have all been losses or worries or regrets at some point in my life.  But they add up to my life.  And even though I'd still go back and change some things if I could (especially the stupid burn on my arm), I know that there's not really some magical, perfect version of things that could have been.  There's no way to know how my life would have played out if any one of those things hadn't happened, and there's no reason to believe that it ultimately would have been "better."  Eliza's loss--like all those smaller losses before--has brought its own gifts into my life, made way for changes and experiences that wouldn't have otherwise been possible.  Being her mom is shaping everything that happens to me next, and I decide whether that's a blessing or a curse.

I still can't imagine getting to the point where I wouldn't leap at the chance to turn back time and change everything so that Eliza stays with us.  But I am realizing that she's part of a narrative I can't accurately define as worse than it should have been, because it's the only story there is.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I still hate this story.  I still want my baby.  I'd take any risk and make any bargain, any sacrifice to have her here with me.  I miss her so much.  And I still can't say the words, "I really miss her," without dissolving into tears.

I also want to be clear on this:  When I talk about gifts and opportunities, I'm NOT preaching about the broken road that leads us where we're meant to go (remember, I don't hold by those silly notions).  I'm just trying to accept the truth of my life story, and let that truth carry me forward.

So I keep coming back to the idea that my life can't be worse only because there's really no better to compare it with.  It is what it is.  I'm doing the best I can with the cards I've been dealt, just like everybody else.  This happened.  It can't unhappen.  So now I wait and see what happens next.

Yes, it's so tempting to think that if Eliza had lived, everything would be better.  A part of me will always believe that.  But my grief for her isn't just about my life, and what would be easier or better or more fun for me.  I mourn a baby girl who, for no reason at all, was denied the chance to live this life.  And yet I keep remembering this line I read somewhere:  For all we know, it might be just as lucky to die as it is to be born.  

Eliza's death is a tragedy that we'll mourn forever--her lost potential, our lost hopes.  But I'm starting to realize that I have to quit thinking about my life as though it were ripped in half on that day. As though it's a simple cause and effect.  Before and after.  Like everything since that day has been transformed to something darker and scarier and sadder than it was before.  Don't get me wrong--it still feels that way a lot of the time.  But as far as thinking about what might have been, and comparing my life now to the life I should have with an eight month old baby here with me...  even when I do it, I know that I'm missing the point.

The point isn't better or worse.  The point is making the most of this "wild and precious life" that I have.  Wishing it were better would eventually mean wishing it away.  And I still want to know what happens next.


  1. 1) I feel famous
    2) I think along the same lines (albeit far less eloquently) as far as still having a beautiful life even though there's this horrible thing which happened.
    3) I want to see what happens next, too.
    4)I love that line about it being possible it is as lucky to die as it is to live.

  2. brooke, i have been having this same internal monolouge for the six weeks. the statement that i keep repeating to myself is right there in your 4th paragraph: "it is what is is" (or iiwii for short). i kind of want to turn it into one of those name necklace thingys and wear it around on my wrist or something as a reminder.

    it is what it is. it's acceptance. that i am here, that i am alive though my baby is not, that this is my life, this is what i have, now what the f am i gonna do? perhaps this is the infamous "acceptance" part in the grieving process? i have to accept that my baby died, that i don't the life i thought i was going to have and by default it means I have to accept where i am now. play the hand i was dealt, etc.

    i think it's a big deal to get to this point. it's somewhat uncomfortable residing there, because there is a part of me that feels like i'm not honoring my son, or i'm diminishing his importance in some way by accepting his death as a part of my life process. but i can't be angry and sad *all* the time; i don't want to be that person.

    blah blah blah, all that to basically say: i feel ya.

  3. It sounds like you are weaving Eliza's death into the narrative of the story of your life. Difficult work, but has to be done somehow.

  4. For all we know, it might be just as lucky to die as it is to be born. - I like it.
    Great post!

  5. LOL @ LJ feeling famous! Love that!

    I think we are all doing the best we can with the cards we've dealt- yeah it sucks- but we just keep going and trying to continue to live. That's all we can do. It's hard not to think that if our babies had lived life would be better. But I always remind myself that I don't know what would be if Aiden were alive. I have no idea if things would be good, bad, or otherwise. All I can do is just what you said- make the most of the time I have and wait to see what happens next.

  6. So well written, Brooke, as always. And so true. xo

  7. Still continuing to struggle with the before and after and almost feeling like I am at peace with THAT aspect, or I'm just lying to myself. Love to you always~

  8. You write with such foresight and clarity for someone who has suffered such a monumental loss, only a few months ago. I'm not even sure I'm fully at this place yet and it has been three years for me. I still wrestle with so much anger and I know that holds me back.
    But you are right, in so many ways. We'll never know how it could have been. I think I'm probably a better parent now as I've learned some brutally hard lessons, but of course I'd trade them all in a second to have her here. As someone else has said and as I say often myself, it is what it is and all we can do is try and make the best of the shitty hand we've been dealt. You are most certainly doing that, and then some.

  9. I'm still continuing my struggle.. especially with what I am facing right now.
    Thank you so much for sharing this internal dialogue.. it is so good to hear the voices of mammas like yourself.

  10. I think you have probably always been a fabulous writer. But I'm guessing that your words are so much richer and full of love now than they were before and that's something to thank Eliza for. But mostly, when it comes to your writing, I think Eliza has blessed all of us, the people who are lucky enough to read your words, the most. Because she is the inspiration for so many of these beautiful posts that leave us all feeling like "wow, that's exactly how I feel" even when we had no idea how to put it into words or convey the thought. And it is just such a great feeling to have - to feel normal and connected.

    So thank you Brooke, yet again for your beautiful words, but mostly Thank you sweet Eliza.

  11. Ten people have come before me and all responded thoughtfully. So here's my hand.

    This realization is a painful one. I am on the brink, I think, of finally understanding that Andrew's life wasn't meant to be lived on Earth. That his life was purposeful and remembered but meant for only a short period of time. He was not meant to experience all I dreamed of for him because it simply was not in the cards.

    I'm not there yet. I'm not ready to accept these cards and to accept that my baby lives on my bookshelf for the rest of my life. I still hold resentment for the life I feel that's been stripped away from me and I'm not sure how to let go. Even though I know his life was never intended past those beautiful months of gestation, I still can't get to that point. Perhaps it's me guarding him. I don't want to betray his honor and memory by assuming he was not meant to live-- that it wasn't in the cards.

    You are fabulous, B.

  12. "This happened. It can't unhappen. So now I wait and see what happens next."

    I can relate to this in two very different ways. To think and feel this on a positive level. To watch our three other boys grow and change and mature and make us laugh and the lifetime ahead with them. But what also happens next for me is the fear of one, or two, or all of them also being taken from me.

    I'm also eight months out and wish I had the clarity you write about here. I think I'm too full of anger and regret and sadness to be at this point. I really do believe that I'll get there one day though. I don't want to end up a bitter old woman still going on about how sad my life is and the terrible thing that happened to me. I hope to get to a point of seeing what the 'gifts' of Joseph's death are in the future, instead of the alternative, because I want to honour his life and mine.
    This is such a beautiful, thought provoking post. Thankyou.

  13. Thanks for this beautiful post. This great writing really stuck out to me: "But I am realizing that she's part of a narrative I can't accurately define as worse than it should have been, because it's the only story there is."

    I have already read the post that follows this one, so I actually read this one knowing you called it bullshit a few days later. But I think these posts reflect on grief so poignantly. It's so day to day, sometimes I wake up and think, did I really feel that good yesterday? It's like waking up hungover and wondering how you could have said something so stupid after five glasses of wine.

    Anyway, I thought this post and the one that follows were beautiful. Grief is grief. It is what it is.

    Remembering Eliza today.