Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If What Happened Had Not Happened aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how thing once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.

--Robert Penn Waren, All the King's Men
I read this quotation recently and I've been thinking a lot about what "might have been yet if what happened had not happened."  This must be way the passage of time helps with grief more than anything else.  In the early days, I knew EXACTLY what I'd be doing if Eliza were alive.  As time goes by, it gets harder and harder to know what path my life would have taken if Eliza were here.  It's becoming almost impossible.  And while I can still imagine life with Eliza and Zuzu both, it doesn't feel like an alternate reality that was almost within my reach as much as a vague and hazy dream.  The before and after of Eliza is not as black and white as it once was.  The ache is still there, all the same.
We organized the garage over the weekend.  It hadn't really been touched since we moved.  We came across a cardboard box full of board games.  I love board games.  We haven't had people over for a game night in three years.  David's grandma was here.  She remarked that we had so many games.  I said, "Yeah, we used to be fun people."
It reminded me of meeting up with Molly.  At one point in the evening she said, "Ya'll think I'm fun now?  You should have met me before my baby died."
I know I'm different than I was before Eliza, and some of those differences are good and some of those are bad/sad.  It's getting harder to parse out what changes happened because Eliza died and what changes might have happened anyway.  I wonder if I'm the same kind of mom to Zuzu that I would have been to Eliza--better?  worse?  more patient?  more paranoid?
We took Zuzu to a wading pool on Saturday.  She loves the water.  She constantly wants to float on her back, has no problem putting her face under water, delights in kicking and splashing.  Several other parents came up to me to comment that they'd never seen a toddler so fearless in the water.  As I hovered over her, letting her splash but not letting her get more than a few inches from me, it was like a living metaphor for parenting her--revelling in the good times and far too aware of how tragically things can go bad.  My experience with Zuzu in the pool is a constant internal battle between a logical understanding that I need to relax and let her explore and enjoy herself and be confident in the water and a sheer, adrenaline-fueled panic every time her face is the least bit submerged.  
I know losing Eliza has great affected how I feel as a parent--heightened anxiety matched by heightened appreciation is perhaps the easiest way to summarize it.  But I wonder if it's affected how I act as a parent.  Would I have been as patient with Eliza?  Would I have been more or less relaxed?   Would I have been kind of the same?  
I think my general philosophies about parenting are probably the same, but I know we wouldn't have had an Angel-Care monitor for Eliza.  Zuzu woke up twice the night before last (argh), and while it's never fun to drag my ass out of bed in the middle of the night, I rocked the baby back to sleep and told myself that this moment of holding her sweet little body and breathing in her baby smell and feeling her little face nuzzling into my neck is so fleeting that I should be happy to take it when it comes--even when it comes at 3am.  Would I have thought such things if I didn't know first hand that it's possible for babies to slip away?
Here's the thing:  I think I would have.

As much as I love and appreciate Zuzu, I did not need to lose Eliza to learn that lesson.  There is no life lesson that could be compensation for such a loss.  I already knew that babies don't keep, that the days are long but the years are short, that we don't need to sweat the small stuff.  All these cliches are true, and my daughter didn't have to die for me to know that.  
I do appreciate the little moments because I know I can't take them for granted--but I never took Eliza for granted, either.  Yes, I thought she was a sure thing--I thought that after 34 weeks of a healthy, uneventful pregnancy that it was a sure thing I'd bring home a healthy baby.  But I also felt incredibly lucky that I got to have that chance.  I did not need to lose a baby to learn how precious babies are.  I already appreciated the marvel that was this child, my first daughter, my baby duck.  I was in awe at the incredible miracle that there was a baby growing inside me.  The universe didn't teach me anything when Eliza died.  It simply reminded me in the most painful, traumatic way possible that life is incredibly fragile and also really effing unfair.

Most of the time, I think I am pretty close to the same kind of parent to Zuzu that I would have been to Eliza.  Maybe a little more patient (I hope?).  More easy going about schedules and bedtimes, for sure.  It's certainly not the end of the world if we go swimming instead of napping.  I'm definitely quicker to leap to worst-case scenario fears when it comes to fevers, bug bites, an unusually long naptime.  But most of the time we're just making up this parenting thing as we go, and I think we would have hit the same kind of trials and errors and moments of sweetness and hilarity three years ago that we're experiencing right now.

It might be accurate to say that our sorrow for Eliza is matched only by our happiness in Zuzu.  That doesn't mean there's a balance though.  We're still profoundly heartbroken about our first baby.  We just got lucky this time around. So yeah, we're happy.  Around and in spite and--I have to admit this--because of our ache for Eliza.  Too much time has gone by and now I can't unravel what's happened to me because Eliza was born and what's happened to me because Eliza died and what's happened that would have happened anyway and what's happened that would never have happened if Eliza were here, and there's absolutely no way I can categorize those things simply in terms of good and bad anymore, either.

And yet, I still can't help but imagine sometimes how happy I'd be if what happened had not happened.  How happy I'd be if both my babies were here.  How fun I would be if my baby hadn't died.


  1. Aw, sure you can't help but think of what might have been...that's okay, it's natural. And I can't imagine you NOT being a little more of a "worrier" given what's happened. But I agree, I'll bet you're very very similar to the mom you would have been had it not happened. My mom lost her first in infancy and I think she's the same kind of mom she would have been if not for it, aside from probably more protective, like you. But certainly, our family realized how we could be a little different if it had not happened.

  2. This plagues me. Absolutely has be cornered most days.

    It's still pretty fresh for me, and parenting an infant Im sure is worlds different than parenting a toddler (I'm hoping sleep comes along with age...oh please yes please). But I think how I would have handled this crazy, at times hellish stage of raising a child. I find myself without patience some days, and I feel like its because I feel so battered by my loss and my missing out on what could have been. Theo is a handful, and his temperament is very high maintenance right now... And it wears me out. And I think about the boy I missed out on. I wouldn't give Theo back, heavens no. But I wonder if Alexander would have made my life easier. I had a lightness to my approach for most things before he died, and I thought I was going to have so much fun being his mom... Now, well, I don't know. A bit of me is still lost in the "wtf" value of my life.

    Yeah, you shudda met me before my baby died too! I used to think that every time my staff would comment on how much fun I was to work for, and I'd think, EVERY TIME it was said, "you think I'm a kick now, you have no idea the blast I was before my baby died" (there was a turn over when I went on leave, so these ppl were meeting me and getting to know me for the first time when I was back and pregnant with Theodore)

    I want to want THIS life. The right now. I so badly want to want it without conditions. Don't know when I'll get there, but I sure hope I do for Theo's sake. He deserves a mom that is in love with her life as much as she is in love with her child.

  3. Interesting statement from Molly, especially since I didn't know you before, just now. You feel different, but are you? Hard to really know, isn't it?

    Veronica's wish to want this life is a powerful wish. My perspective is different (having living children), but THAT statement is the exact one that I said as I battled through PPD. I could not change the life that I had, but I was so desperate to find a way to want that life. It wasn't enough to accept it - I felt like the only way to survive was to get back to wanting this life, the good, the bad - all of it. We deserved that.

    It feels like maybe you find yourself wanting this life that you have, and there's the rub, because how do you want something that also includes the most incredible loss? But you are in love with your life, I think, and it shows.

  4. We used to be fun people, too. We have all those board games and used to be a lot of fun to be around.

    Sometimes we find snippets of our old selves, but really it feels like we're trying too hard now. I'm happy, if happy came with a caveat that I would be happier if life didn't show me how cruel it could be in such a horrible way.

  5. On Joy and Sorrow
    Kahlil Gibran
    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
    And how else can it be?
    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
    Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

    Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
    Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
    When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

  6. I met someone near the jcp in south city, who had lost her first born twins around 9 years ago. She said something that i never think i can accept. As i said, "i dont find any reason why we were to face such a catastrophe".....and that when people say ''everything happens for a reason doesnot make any sense".,,,she said as time passes by, you will start understanding why it happened!!! I did hear her out, since she is so ahead of me in loosing precious little lives...but i am yet to accept it.
    As you said, i too may have been a little impatient and maybe still working...if this hadn't happened!!! Crzy universe...and its randomness..

  7. Since I had the pleasure of parenting before losing Hayes, I know I am a different mom. Not more patient (unfortunately), yes more paranoid and yes more laid back in some ways. More than anything, more grateful that I could have ever imagined. Bc I was beyond grateful for Sloane, of course. But it's at anther level with Kellan. I also cry a lot more, which sucks, but now I'm a bereaved parent. But yeah, damn I was fun. ;)

  8. Love that Poem left by anonymous - pretty legit.

    I've been thinking about this for a bit now as I read your post earlier today. I often wonder the same things - about not only what kind of mother I would have been had we not lost Cale, but how different I would be just as myself.

    Most of the time I think I'm a better parent. But then there are the days were I wasn't as patient with Finn or I just didn't feel like I was as playful or engaged with him, or the days he drives me nuts or is naughty and I lose it. Then those day I think "If I"m like this after all we've been through - I would have been a HORRIBLE mother to Cale"

    I don't think that's really true. I think I would have been frustrated and tired and not as in-tune with him at times as I am with his brother. But damn, I wish I got that chance to feel like I was screwing it up.

  9. This is so interesting - I do like your conclusion that you would have been the same parent, even if both your children had lived. I sometimes wonder if we are lucky enough to have a living child, will I bring so much fear & damage to them that I'll screw them up entirely! It's nice to think that somehow you can get through it and parent in a way that still reflects you as a person.

    Interesting quote from Molly - I often feel that, although seldom say it. I have a new job where most people don't know about my daughter. When people talk about how I'm a happy person, funny, fun, I often think how little they know, I think of the person I was before.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  10. I have had three children. My youngest son passed away when my oldest child was 3. My daughter was born a year after my son passed away. I have been a different mother to all three of them. In some ways I think I am more paranoid. In other ways I think am less protective than I was before. (I did everything "right" and he still died.)

    Sometimes I think I try too hard to be funny or likable. I want people to think that I am cool or not too depressing. So many of our friends (okay, most of them) abandoned us after our son died that now when we meet new people we are nervous wrecks, afraid that we will say or do something wrong and that those people will steer clear of us, too.

    Rebecca Patrick-Howard

  11. I just unpacked all of the board games and puzzles too. Most people put fine china and fragile stuff in a buffet cabinet. Mine is filled to the brim with board games and puzzles. And then there is another stack of puzzles on top that doesn't fit inside. Almost 4 years in storage and I barely missed it. Unpacking it all I wondered if I would want to use it. Have people over. Be different. Be more like the person I was before. I just don't know. It feels fake to me I guess. I appreciate this. thank you ~M

  12. The idea that I might be a better parent after Anja died never sat well with me, probably because I had been parenting E for 3 years when Anja died and was, frankly, offended by the intimation that I wasn't a good enough parent to her, that I needed another child to die so that I could *truly* be a good parent. Not only is A's death not worth the 'lesson,' but the lesson itself seemed pretty suspect to me. I also think this line of thinking puts tremendous pressure on bereaved parents to be better than everyone else, to be perfect parents and that is IMPOSSIBLE. And damaging. Parenting is hard, hard, frustrating work at times and everyone loses their patience and is a less than stellar parent at times and it doesn't do to add additional guilt into the mix. That said, I understand why we want to think that we are better parents and I do think that I am amazed by M in a different way than I was amazed by E.

    As for being fun - I am definitely less fun. I used to sing to E all day long, just make up songs about everything and I noticed, a few months after A died, that I just don't do that anymore. I am trying to start again, for M and for E, for whom I wish I'd never stopped. She definitely did not get a better mom after A died: for a few months, she had an awful mom, an absent mom, a sad and angry and confused mom - she didn't deserve that either.

    And the happiness business...Bear With Us just wrote about this too. I think the happiness cult that's grown up around us in the last few years is a dangerous one...It is too easy to think that if we just did the right things we could be happy all the time and if we aren't then we are doing something wrong.

    This was a great post. Thank you.

  13. Yep. No matter what good came after, and because of, loss, it wasn't worth the price.

    I am completely unaware of whether I am less fun now than I was before. I don't doubt it. Yeah, well.

  14. I agree. I didn't need to learn any of those go-to lessons about appreciating and valuing each moment blah blah blah. I already knew that stuff. Now, actually, I find myself at the opposite end, NOT appreciating and valuing, because all I want is to have another baby (since I can't have Joseph back) and so time could just zip by, screw noticing it, until I have my rainbow baby living in my arms.

  15. I am relieved to know that I am not alone in analyzing these things. Most of the time, when I mention them, I get this odd look followed by, "It's impossible to know what effect came from what cause" (or something along those lines), and also a, "Does it even matter? Do you have to try and sort it all out?" Yes. I do. And it's impossible. But I still try. _Lindsay