“Real people with real grief simply find a path moving forward and choose to walk it one step at a time.” ~ Jessica Allen
Every year, it’s the same. I keep hoping that it will be different — not as vivid, not as clear, maybe even non-existent. It’s not.
For many years, the depression would kick in about the second week of June and I would feel it growing by degrees as we inched closer to the 4th of July. This year, for the first time, it wasn’t so much a sense of depression creeping over me as it was a feeling of tension and dread starting the first day of July.
July 3rd brings with it the memories. Eyes closed or eyes open, it doesn’t matter. I remember my son’s birthday events with such clarity that it makes my chest ache. I can remember the name of every nurse in the room and where they were standing. I remember the room number (245). I remember comments made by my OB/Gyn during the delivery and my insatiable desire for a cherry Icee right before the epidural. I remember the words used by the NICU nurses as they did my son’s first assessment: no palpable eyes, cleft palate, weak cry, and his APGAR scores of 6 and 8.
The memories rotate thru my head like a carousel, replaying in the order in which they took place. The sting of the MMR vaccination, the sign placed on the door by well-meaning staff requesting no visitors (which I subsequently tore down). The pastoral dedication of our sweet baby boy in the NICU nursery before they took him off life support and placed him in my arms. His first and only bath. The inane chatter of our pastor’s wife as she took pictures of us holding him, saying “Smile!”
Smile? Lady are you f*cking crazy. I’m holding my newborn child as he takes his last breaths and you want me to . . . smile?
Every single year, these memories return. You’d think it would get easier or less painful at least. I try to stay busy, I usually work to keep my hands and my mind occupied, but it doesn’t help.
Not all of the memories are painful. Every situation has it’s moments of humor, however dark. My mother had bought a new wig at the time which was very bouffant compared to her normal short, utilitarian haircut. After she left the hospital, I remember turning to my husband and asking, “What the hell was that on her head?” The night of the visitation at the funeral home, it was quite windy and we feared the wig would take flight and I could picture it swirling across the parking lot at which point I would have burst into maniacal laughter. (God spared me that one!)
The funeral home — now that was full of laughs (no disrespect). All the whispering. Why does everyone at the funeral home whisper? Who the hell are they afraid of waking up? The salesman who helped us pick out the casket and kept expounding on the nice “airtight and watertight seal” around the lid to which my husband replied, “Yeah . . .cause we don’t want him crawling out of there, do we?” (We quickly moved on.) When they presented the cost of the funeral to us and I shocked everyone in the room by asking if they had a “dig-your-own special.” I mean . . . c’mon . . . we were YOUNG, and we’d just had a baby (which isn’t cheap) that we didn’t get to bring home (HUGE surprise and not a pleasant one), and now you want a large sum of money that we don’t have so we can bury our child? What kind of response did they expect?
I was described, by the neonatologist even, as being “glib and blasé which (he) would attribute to shock.” Newsflash genius! I’m neither. I have a healthy, irreverent attitude about life that didn’t begin with this crisis. I am also a realist, and while I understand that shit happens, I also believe that your response to it will help determine how well you heal. It is imperative to me to find the silver lining even if it takes some searching – or in this case, excavating.
I want what every parent who has lost a child wants. What every person who has lost someone close to them, wants. I don’t want them to be forgotten. Grief is the elephant in a room that makes people uncomfortable. We skirt around it, we dance around it, we feel it’s presence and we try to ignore it. Grief in vivid technicolor will come ’round again next year.