"You don't have to pretend like you're not frightened. Naming your fear is part of getting through it." - Levi Lusko
I recently came across this quote on a friend's blog and it jumped right out at me. Because lately I have been dealing with a fear of my own. A fear that comes from the realization that I'm really doing great. And fear of admitting that out loud.
I'm afraid of this feeling of "better-ness." This feeling like a whole person even though I'm not -- not really. (See, I won't even allow myself to admit to feeling whole). It feels like such a betrayal of you. And deep down, I'm afraid that if I can feel this good again, then to everyone else you must be such a distant memory.
It's times like this when I'm reminded how complicated grief is. How I can feel great and still miss you so terribly every day. How looking into your brother's eyes can fill me with the greatest joy and also the deepest longing all at once.
How I can feel relief in my happiness and also be so scared of it.
Every time another month passes, and I am a little bit further away from the raw despair of losing you, I feel lighter than I did all those months ago. And when I feel lighter, I start to worry. I don't want to forget the painful feelings because they're all tangled up in my memories of you. But don't misunderstand me. I am grateful to be able to walk through my life and see colours clearly, feel joy, see hope. It's how I know it should be. What's the cliche? You would want me to be happy.
And, my sweet boy, I am. I am honestly, happy. But there will always be an asterisk by that word. Because my happiness is wrapped up in complications and confusion. And this month, as I sit in silence and think about how I'm feeling, 19 months without you here, that complication is the fear that as we continue to move forward, our time with you falls further away. And I'm left scrambling -- trying to find new ways to carry you forward with us.
It's like I'm afraid of losing you all over again. We've already lost your physical presence, and I don't want your memory to get lost in this happiness we've found.
You are as much a part of me now as you've always been.
And I hope you know my happy face isn't meant to disguise my missing you.
I guess today I just really felt the need to shout that out loud.
Love you always, baby boy.
I've done a lot of anticipating for today. Since your first birthday your milestones haven't seemed as significant as they did that first year. But today has been different. It seemed meaningful in the way the others did. 18 months. A year and a half. We'd definitely be looking at toddler-hood. You'd definitely be walking (running?!) around. We would surely have our hands full.
Unlike some of the more recent milestone letters to you, I have been carefully planning what I wanted to say today. The last few have been very in the moment -- when I could steal a moment. But today, I had a plan And you know what they say about the best laid plans.
So I'm not writing this from the cemetery like I planned. I, of course, didn't make it there today. And the sun isn't shining as I'd hoped. Instead, it's dark and rainy. Sort of fitting though, for what I have to say.
The plan was to tell you how happy I've been. That here I am, a year and a half removed from the day that changed everything and I am happier than I've been in a long time. That I've been incredibly struck lately with how happy I've been. I catch myself in moments and think, "Wow. I never expected to be here ever again." And yet, here I am.
And although that's true in a general sense -- I have been really happy lately -- the last few days I've felt the opposite. That bitch called grief reared its ugly head and has taken a bit of the spring out of my step. I've been bombarded with a flood of same-age babies getting first haircuts, climbing all over their parents' couches, loving on new baby siblings, and every time my heart clenches and I feel so much hurt. So much missing you.
In times like these, it's hard to remember how far I've come. To remember that this wave will pass and I'll feel that lightness again. A fellow loss-mama, Lexi Behrndt, writes about her son, and put it beautifully: "I don't have to stay in the darkness to be near to you (you're in the light, you always have been)."
Despite the sadness I feel today, I hold on to the fact that I've felt so much joy recently. And I don't have to feel guilty about it. Because in every joyful moment, I know you're there. Sometimes I see your presence -- the butterflies on onesies at mom groups, the flicker of a light, or a song on the radio -- and sometimes I just have to know in my heart that you're here with us.
So here we are, a year and a half later, and though I'm sad in this moment, and I've cried more in the last couple of days than I have in the past few weeks, I'm so grateful to have found a place where the happy outweighs the sad. This place where I can accept that life can be and should be and will be full of joy again. Though your brief life will always be the source of my greatest sadness, you will always be a light that fills me with love.
Happy 18 months, my boy.
I miss you.
You have been on my mind a lot lately, Ryan. You've popped in to say hello in your special way quite frequently lately, and each time touches my heart now just as much as it did when we first lost you.
Recently, time has been like a rollercoaster for me. So full of highs and lows. A high point has been Tuesday morning yoga with your brother. He's getting so expressive and interested in what's going on around him. He's been so fun and chatty. It's becoming easier and easier to focus my attention solely on him during that hour class. I used to feel such sadness that I didn't get those classes with you, and last week, just as that sadness was creeping its way in, we sat down for a little circle time and sitting across from me was a little baby girl with a big, bright, butterfly on her onesie. It helped me smile and shake off the sadness. Of course you're there with us. You always are.
On Super Bowl Sunday I dressed Brayden in a football hoodie passed down first from your cousin to you. Last Super Bowl I dressed your bear in it. And so with Brayden snug in the sweater this year, it felt like you were at the party with us. A presence I really needed watching a little boy, nearly the same as you running around the party, smile on his face. Making everyone else smile with delight too. Same-age babies will always be a challenge for me. But I felt you there. And it helped. Thank you.
Recently I've had a string of tough days. Crappy sleep, combined with a baby brother who isn't being the world's most cooperative napper was starting to take its toll on me. Though I'm so grateful for the love and noise your brother brings to my life, I found myself longing for a bit of quiet. That's when I saw online that another loss mom was hosting a retreat in New York this summer. I missed out last Spring on the retreat in Winnipeg, so I was determined to make this one work... and I got in! It brings me great peace to know that even though it's in the pretty distant future, I've been given one whole weekend where I can turn off some of the noise and just be present with you. Because no matter how much joy and light and love Brayden brings me, I still need to be able to hold some space with you. On the application I was asked what the retreat means to me, and it was easily answered. The retreat would give me time to just focus on you. And that is time that I really need.
This past month has been tough, emotionally, for me. I've had low patience. I've been so quick to temper. Easily frustrated by the tiniest things. But I've recognized it. And I'm taking steps to find my calm and my peace again. I was reminded very clearly this month of the journey of grief. And the never-ending-ness of it all. I'll admit some days I breeze through and if you didn't really know me I bet it would look like I was "done" grieving. And then I'm slammed hard against the wall of grief as a harsh reminder that it doesn't work that way. So I have to do better at finding ways to grieve a little bit more often, so I'm not left dealing with such heavy loads that show up unexpectedly every once and a while.
Recently I read an article on a site called Postpartum Progress. It said:
"You make goals. You celebrate small accomplishments. You give yourself a break. You ask for help. You put yourself first. You climb up. You rebuild."
This spoke to me. It is so me. I'll probably write it out on paper and pin it up somewhere. I spend so much of my time now taking care of Brayden, I have to remember to take care of me too. And one of my favourite ways to care for me, is to find quiet time to sit peacefully with you.
Still missing you, 17 months later.
I have found healing in the funniest places. Places I wouldn't have expected for myself. Sitting on the floor of the nursery. Writing my heart out every day. Instagram. In the hearts of "strangers."
And in all things creative.
I have taken on quite a few "creative projects" since losing Ryan, and each one was done lovingly in his memory. A shadow box of flowers. A candle with his name. A photo book of every pregnancy memory I have. Stocking tags. Tree ornaments.
Some projects were more successful than others. (I definitely hid the horrendous ornament we created toward the back of the tree -- and there it'll always hang I'm sure, since I can't seem to part with things that are his -- no matter how hideous!)
But every project has given me a sense of closeness to him. A sense of mothering him. And every time I feel close to him, or feel I've been a real mom to him, I feel a little bit more healed.
"Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our life."
I'm a long way from feeling like I'm "healed." And maybe I'll never be completely whole again. But the pieces of my heart that I have left are mending. Little by little. And even though some days are still so, so hard and devastating, and I sometimes give in to my grief and let it carry me a while, I refuse to let it control me completely.
So I get creative. And get carried away in that. Whatever works, right?
My heart will forever be intertwined with Ryan's.
It was through my beating heart that Ryan's heart came alive. And I have always wondered what he felt in those last moments before his heart stopped beating. It is one of my greatest fears that he felt pain. Recently, it was described to me that because babies in the womb don't breathe air the same way we do, that his death was painless and he just gradually fell asleep.
I don't know if this is true. But it certainly gives new meaning to the expression that he was "born sleeping."
I also read the most beautiful quote that brought my heart some peace on the subject. (I wish I could remember who said it...)
"The last thing he heard was the lullaby of my heartbeat singing him to sleep."
I may never sing him to sleep with my voice. But there's some comfort in knowing our hearts beat together for a time, and we were together at the end.
I miss my boy a lot today.
I wish I could hold him in my arms instead of only in my heart.
Response to this idea of mine to write has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm thankful for that. One friend took it as far as paying a compliment to that fact that despite the emotional intensity of the topics I share, that the writing is "under control." I really appreciated this comment. I'd never want to subject anyone to a rambling, nonsensical, emotionally-charged stream of consciousness.
What really helped me stay focused in my Gratitude Challenge was writing from prompts. Kind of like what I would do for my language arts students. (Talk about practicing what you preach). I'm going to stick with that for this blog, for now. I'm taking my prompts from a blog called "Fat Mum Slim." She creates monthly "Photo a Day" prompts that are usually pretty interesting. Today's was "Close-Up."
I've done probably the nerdiest thing you can do when reading a book written by a former Bachelorette: I grabbed a highlighter and started marking up the pages. Trista Sutter may not be eligible for the next Pulitzer, but there's a lot in what she believes that has spoken to me and the way I'm trying, and hoping, to live my life.
In Happily Ever After she writes: "I may not be able to change the past, but I can try to make the future better for having lived it."
I have always struggled with the idea of control. A natural planner, I want to be able to make a plan for how things should go. How they'll be best. What would work for me. It helps me to feel in control of a situation.
With Ryan, all control was lost. I had no control over his life. Obviously, I wish and feel I should have. This is something that destroys me constantly. He was inside of me. And I had no control over the outcome of his story. The blame and guilt that constantly plagued me for this is something I can never explain. I cared for him and loved him every day for 9 months. I did everything I could, and I couldn't save him. It was out of my control.
This has been the biggest barrier to my healing. Putting aside the guilt and trying to accept that it wasn't my fault. Again, that it was out of my control. And maybe the hardest part is knowing that with any future baby I may carry, I'll have that knowledge to carry around, too. That the outcome is out of my control. No matter how hard I plan for that baby. No matter how hard I love, and care, and hope for that baby. I'll know that the worst has already happened to me once. And it was out of my control. What's stopping it from happening again?
The only thing I can do moving forward, is take that knowledge and spin it. It's out of my control, so I have to enjoy each day. It's out of my control, so I have to cherish every moment. It's out of my control, but I can still be vigilant, and tuned in. I can't change what happened, but I can learn from it. I can TRY to learn from it. No mother (or father) should have to learn from something like this, but if I'm working to find light in this darkness, it's that this experience will make us that much more grateful for any future we may be blessed with. It can make us that much greater parents some day. We really understand that nothing is a given. Nothing is guaranteed. It's not ours to control.