Angie at Still Life With Circles came up with a brilliant idea last year: ask bereaved parents to write a post describing where they are now in their grief, whether it's been a matter of days, weeks, months, years, or even (gulp) decades since their loss. An amazing 179 parents took part and shared their stories and their thoughts, me included.
"Right Where I Am" is back for a second year. I have to admit, when I contemplated whether I should take part again, I wondered what I would have to say that would be different from what I wrote last year. In the early years, it seemed like the differences in how we felt from year to year were fairly noticeable (whenever we paused to take stock of such things). But how different could grief be at 13 (almost 14) years versus 12?
Of course, once I started writing, the words began to flow. A word here & there at first, then phrases & then complete thoughts began to tumble out of my head, through my fingers and onto the computer screen. I've been trying to block out how I might have felt last year, or two years or 12 years ago, and focus on what grief feels like for me, right now -- what things are standing out for me today as I write (if not yesterday or two weeks ago, etc.).
At one time, earlier in my grief, I felt like I was leading a double life, a secret life. There was the brave face I showed each day to the world -- and then there was my true, hidden, after-hours, behind-closed-doors life as Katie's mommy, an ever-grieving parent. I felt the difference keenly -- the sharp divide between my life before my pregnancy and life afterwards.
I still don't talk about Katie or my short-lived pregnancy or my infertility struggles much to anyone, at least, outside of my "real-life" & Internet friends who have also lost babies. The sense of "otherness" is still there (sometimes more acutely than others). I have come to realize that it probably always will be.
But overall, the pain is nowhere near as sharp. The lines have blurred. My grief, my daughter, my infertility -- these have all become a part of me, of who am -- the completeness of me.
I feel her absence differently than I once did. In those early days & years, I mourned my baby. When I thought of Katie, of missing Katie, it was a baby (my baby) that I mourned. For a long time, I found it hard to picture Katie beyond babyhood, long after she would have grown into a toddler, a pre-schooler and beyond. I still have problems seeing babies & pregnant women from time to time -- particularly on those days (and there have been a few of them lately...!) when it seems like Every. Other. Friggin'. Woman. I walk by has a pregnant belly. :p
But these days, it's not pregnancy &/or babies that dominate my thoughts. These days, I find it easier to picture Katie as the 13-year-old she would have been (teenaged drama, tantrums & all)(dh continues to insist that HIS daughter would never behave in such a fashion...!). It was a shock, as I wrote earlier this year, to realize that she would have been graduating from junior high this year and heading into high school this fall, and that I would have been shopping for prom dresses and making manicure/pedicure appointments right about now. Right now, my Facebook feed seems to be full of pictures and photos of other Grade 8 & 9 students' graduations & proms (which have become almost as elaborate as their senior high school counterparts, it seems).
Another babylost mom recently noted in a private online forum that she is having a difficult time as the mothers around her celebrate -- and mourn -- the end of their children's school year -- sad that their babies are growing up, "graduating from pre-school, kindergarten and so on. "I want SO badly to tell them that the saddest thing is never getting to see them grow at all," she says. Amen, sister.
I'm also catching glimmers of the young adult my daughter might have become. Most of my peers (friends, cousins, etc.), even if they got married around the same time as dh & me, began having their children long before dh & I ever began ttc. Today, many of those children are graduating from high school or university, getting married and having children of their own -- making my friends (big gulp) grandparents. My friends, once the mothers I wanted to be like, are now becoming the mothers of brides and grooms, and the grandmothers I will never be.
Our cultural expectation is that grief is like the flu -- something you "get over," fairly quickly. Those of us who mourn a loved one get a pass for a short time -- a few weeks or perhaps months -- but then we're expected to get back to "normal" (whatever that is). I think about the American Psychiatric Association, which recently proposed amending its definition of clinical depression -- an abnormal psychiatric condition -- to include those mourning a loss that happened just TWO WEEKS AGO. (See my post here, and follow the link to Dr. Joanne Cacciatore's blog -- she explains it all much better than I can...!)
The lesson of "Right Where I Am," I think, is that the vast majority of us never "get over" our grief. It is something we carry with us throughout our life. It becomes a part of us, who we are. And while that grief may not manifest itself in the same way or at the same level of intensity as the years go by -- it is real. And it is NORMAL.
And we can survive and go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives -- even when they're not the lives we thought we would be leading -- even when there will always be someone missing from the picture.
And that, sad and difficult as the road has been at times, we wouldn't trade this journey. As Mrs. Spit said in her own "Right Where I Am" post for this year, "Still... I am glad he came."
Thank you, Angie, for encouraging us to explore this topic, again, and bringing us together on your blog.
You can read Angie's story and others -- and add your own -- here.