Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beautiful Dawn

Ahhh. A warm, giant mug of dark, rich coffee. A small slice of french bread, toasted, spread with "just enough" real butter melting in. Light tip-toeing over the horizon, filtering through the blue and green of our tree out front, bringing shadow to the living room just beyond my view from where I sit. Another day is rising, another tough birthday survived and lived to tell the tale, all things about me intact, sure and firm. I never thought I would get to this place. In the past, Joseph's birthday or any one of the other small reminders that he is no longer here just knocked me for a loop and the sorrow and anger that would well up inside me felt brutal and violent. I did so much better yesterday.

By better, I do not mean some kind of performance in which I met some kind of self set or society placed benchmark. I mean deep in my gut. I let myself feel my sorrow. Victory. Then I let myself verbally admit it to someone who loves me. Victory. Then I let him hold me. Victory. Then I let myself start to talk. And cry. And share the burden of my sorrow. Major victory.

It is so easy with deep sadness to fall into the habit of protecting it. I do it under the guise of not wanting to burden others. And others lean toward respecting that sorrow to the point that if I do not reach out, I am isolated completely. After all, they don't know what to say. They don't know what to do. And the last thing they want to do is hurt me further. And for some, they don't want to voluntarily wander in the quagmire of that deep, unending pain. They'll go there if you let them know you need them to perhaps. But never voluntarily. And then some just don't want to go there at all. And who can blame them? That place sucks. So I protect others from the helplessness and I protect myself from the embarassment that comes when I realize yet again I have an ache for which there is no soothe. It takes courage for me to share it to be honest. Because every time I pull the scab off I realize all over again this is never going to heal. And sometimes when I share inappropriately, as I often did when my grief was new and I was inexperienced with it, I am left feeling vacant and bleeding. It became safer, though not easier, to carry it alone and not reach out.

But I did it different yesterday and something really amazing happened. I got a memory back. As any grieving parent will tell you, our biggest fear in all the world is that we will forget. That we'll forget the special moments, the sound of their voice, the light of their smile. That their laughter will float away on the wind, never to be heard again, not even in our mind. That their smell and posture and habits will fade into the oblivion of time until it is as if they were never here at all. This is why it means so very much when someone shares a story about our child who died. Why hearing someone else speak their name can almost make us gasp, can cause literal chills and breathlessness, as if a heavy weight has landed hard on the middle of our chest. It is just so rare. We don't get more time with our kiddo, so reminders of the time they already had is like finding treasure. Pictures are the same way. Someone sharing a picture we have not seen before or not seen in a long time - it is a gift as precious as anything could ever be. I would take a new picture of Joseph or recover one lost over winning the lottery.

In letting my grief open up to Joe, I found myself reminiscing about the day Joseph was born. And there it was, in great, great detail, the day of his birth. Stored in my mind all this time. Sometimes it is really hard to let myself go back to when he was little or to his babyhood. I feel like the closest I have to who he would be now is around the time of his illness and death. His babyhood often is something I don't let myself indulge in. In a way, it hurts worse. With all those memories comes the memory of emotion - the sense of hope babies just bring along with them. I remember the prayers I murmured over him, the guidance I asked God for in parenting him. All those things. Its hard. Its painful. But remembering brought back the absolute awe and joy of his arrival into my life.

I labored a long time - 17 hours from the time my water broke to the time Joseph actually was born. The epidural wore off around hour 10 and being a military hospital, I didn't get another one. Those last seven hours were terrifying and excruciating. It was work - I got so sweaty I could not believe it. I thought it would never end and I reached a sort of matter-of-fact acceptance for the pain and fell asleep between contractions. But when it was time to push, I pushed like a champ. Baby arms and legs spread open wide as he burst into the world, nearly causing the doctor to drop him. He was premature and we stayed in recovery far too long. It took another 10 hours for us to move to the postpartum unit and get our own room. We were greeted there by a wonderful, grizzled old nurse who got Joseph and I settled in. I asked for a shower and she efficiently bundled Joseph up like a little burrito, slung him over her shoulder and told me he would be fine - that she'd keep him with her while I showered. And I was relieved. I automatically trusted her competence, her no-nonsense approach and the way Joseph didn't even wake up as she handled him with expert hands. This was a woman who'd seen a lot of babies, on whose shoulders many had rested. I was safe to shower without my new baby suffering for it. And I did. Oh my goodness - that was the best freaking shower of my LIFE. I don't think I have ever had one since that was as good as that shower was. That was the Crack of all showers.

After I was done, the nurse brought Joseph back in, patting him firmly. I settled into bed and she brought him forward to give him to me. She paused, looking at his tiny, scrunchy sleeping face and proclaimed matter-of-factly, "This is going to be a good one." She then placed him in my arms and left us to get to know one another. Stewart had gone home to change, shower and rest and I was alone with my new baby for the very first time. I put him to breast and marveled as he nursed for the first time. I stretched out his fingers, fondled his little toes, ran my hand across that precious little head with its soft dusting of hair and felt the deep weight of a terrifying, miraculous love.

This memory makes me cry. It is everything sweet and wonderful that is possible in this life. And it is mine. Joseph isn't here anymore but we were together in that memory. I suppose somewhere now he can "remember" it too. I love thinking he is able now to know what I felt the day he was born. But more than anything I love that I can go back to that moment any time I am quiet, uninterrupted and ready. That will never, ever leave me.

Happy birthday my Joseph. You made me a mother. Your birthday gave me far more than any gift I ever was able to give you on your subsequent birthdays. I celebrate that we had that day together and all the others that followed. I celebrate the wonder of you.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

He Died Before This

I have spent so much time when I think about Joseph mourning all the things he didn't get to do and it goes without saying that those have been some pretty dark moments and hopeless, bottomless thoughts. It has made me near to crazy wondering what he might have been when he grew up. To not have gotten to see him graduate high school or college. Or even middle school. To not have known what he would look like now on the breath of 19.

His brothers have continued to grow and change and raising them is one of the most joyful and yet difficult things I have ever had to do.They are growing up and growing away. Every passing day they seem more bonded with their father, less interested in me; at times less considerate than I feel I have raised them to be. Each of these little moments I am dismayed to find strike a chink into my carefully laid out plans of being the kind of mom that lets go, that gives launch, that smiles into the sun as they fly. The thing I didn't count on was how clumsy it would be, for all of us. The need to reinforce manners and the resentment when I do so. The reminders to keep the cell phone on when out at the mall (after all, that is what we have provided it for Son, right? RIGHT?!") and that it is not okay to answer every blessed text message recieved except the one that comes from Mom. The arrival of the occasional bout of surliness, unkindness or indifference. When did saying "I love you" become something that hangs in the air awkwardly between us? When did the desire for a bedtime routine fade away? I feel bereft to realize it passed by almost without me noticing, drifting off in a whisper that faded so subtly that the silence left had been there quite a while before it became loud enough for me to hear. One day I realized all the lights were off upstairs and nobody even said good night. When did the courtesies they took such pride in extending me become something difficult to remember? People assure me it is normal and temporary, but on my side it feels anything but. And I hate...truly HATE.... how I sound in typing this out and how I feel struggling with it inside. I wasn't supposed to be that mom. I had a hard time parenting small children and looked forward to their becoming rational beings with great anticipation. I've enjoyed them as they have gotten older. I have loved hearing their thoughts and concerns about the world and looked forward to finding out who they are going to be. It never occurred to me there was any chance who they are going to be might be someone who has no use for their mom. And frankly it never occurred to me that if they did drift away that I would be the kind of mother who would cling, shed tears and nurse a wounded heart. It isn't like me, or at least not the me I thought I knew. So much of my world right now doesn't feel like the me I thought I knew.

I wonder if I am normal. If I am feeling this too acutely to be healthy. I find myself re-experiencing the intense feelings of loss for Joseph and once again with nothing sensible to pray for other than peace and acceptance and a life full enough on my own to make this transition. Nick and Alex are going to grow up and leave, to pursue their lives and their dreams. It is what I always wanted for them, what every parent wants. And I knew reaching that point can be a long, painful, awkward process with a lot of pitfalls. How vain of me to assume I would float over all that in any sense, both because of what we have been through together and because of what I assumed my parenting style would be. Because I assumed I have already suffered the ultimate loss, so their leaving can only be made softer by it. Ha! Joke's on me. If cancer parents have PTSD, having the two of them mature past what I can provide them touches on all my hot spots. I think the saddest part is that Joseph has now become a way to comfort myself. I never had to watch him grow apart or lose his regard for me. He'll always be the boy on the brink of manhood who was young enough to still need his Mom. Few fights. Few unpleasantries. Not much stubborn pulling away. No chance to disregard the rules or say things he would forget the next day but would sting me for a long time to come. I hate being so easily wounded, so raw and touchy and bruised. I hate that I am not ready for this despite a lifetime of preparing for it. And I hate that I feel like it caught me so off guard. Guess it is a good thing I got a cat.