Living With Grief

Past, Present, Future, Always

* This blog is for Charlie, on her 2nd birthday. Gone, but not forgotten *

Carry (verb): Support the weight of

It’s a new calendar year and a new bruth:

I hate not being able to say “she died last year”, anymore.

When you think about it, that’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s because it puts the event so far in the distance, the past, that it suggests I’ve moved passed it. Instead, I now have to say:

“I had a little girl, she died in 2020”

Two years ago. It perhaps gives the impression I’ve made peace with it, that I’m over it. But that’s not true.

It’s nearly two years since my last pregnancy, approaching two years since Summer died and it’s not an exaggeration when I say, that it is always with me. All three cumulative losses are. It’s changed over time. I’m doing a lot “better” now, meaning I sometimes go days and days without crying, but it’s still with me.

Most of the time, it’s in my stomach. Just a sort of weight or a knot, there in my tummy. Sometimes it sits heavily, so heavy in my heart, I can actually feel it. And other times, it climbs up, to the back of my throat and the corners of my eyes; sometimes slowly, sometimes quite quickly. But If I’m lucky, on the good days, it’s a brightness in my heart and it can sit in my smile – and I can say her name and laugh and joke about her having been here.

But it’s still a surprise, just how surprising it can still be. Like how just last month, I was sat crying, literally (and I would never misuse that word) crying into my dinner. Or how last week, it hit me: the fleeting thought that I had a daughter and that she died. And just those moments of total incomprehension, all over again. And this weekend, scrolling through social media, seeing a little girl who was born around the time of Summer’s due date and remembering, really feeling, she should be here. And every time one particular niece smiles at me, I think of Summer (I actually go further than that, I think she’s smiling at me BECAUSE she knows Summer died and she’s sorry and trying to be enough for me. She’s not doing that. She’s two. But that’s how strange I am now).

Sometimes my reactions still surprise my husband. I can see it in the little glimpses he gives me, the “is this going to trigger her, or set her off?” look, because let’s face it, the smallest things can do just that i.e. I didn’t cry during the distressing and explicit scenes of a 23 week old baby being born prematurely in This is Going to Hurt, but I did cry a ridiculous amount when a deaf mother and her hearing daughter had a heart-to-heart in CODA. The former didn’t upset me, to me that’s what babies look like at that gestation and more people need to see and understand that. But the latter, the depiction of the mother-daughter bond playing out, that slayed me.

Once upon a time, I cried at every baby loss reference – explicit or implicit and everything in between. But now the change is subtle. I can now hear these songs, but not always cry during them. But I still definitely can’t sing any of them, without getting choked up or crying, but perhaps that’s the next step.

People may think, but it’s been YEARS. But I think, it’s been JUST two years.

Still so soon.

I think grief recognises grief, but it’s all differentiated too. My dad died when I was 11 years old and he was my favourite person in the world. So everything I knew about grief, came from then. It’s fair to say that I have made peace with my dad dying. What I mean by that is, 25 years later, it doesn’t feel so heavy. I have accepted what happened. Having come through that (in many ways, succeeding despite it) I was lulled into believing I had some resilience against death – if you can live through that, you can live through anything – and to be fair, I did gain some resilience from it, from the first two pregnancy losses, certainly. However, what’s been a shock is how different this third and cumulative loss is. Honestly, I don’t think I will ever make peace with my three babies dying. Because it’s against the natural order. The stages of life. The cycle of it. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. It’s not right or fair or just. It’s nonsensical and therefore so very hard – try as I might – to comprehend. Unfathomable. I have spent so much time trying to process this and yet, here we are (have I made it worse, thinking about this so much, writing about it so much, talking about it so much? Have I made it realer, than it was? What does that even mean?).

I’m reading this as an outsider and thinking “she just needs to get pregnant again”, but I don’t think that cuts it anymore either. Because where once I could have looked at a new baby and thought “I couldn’t have had you, without having lost the others” that’s not true anymore – so much time has passed, I could and should have them both. Instead it will be a case of “I couldn’t have loved you like this, without having lost the others” and that’s something altogether very different. It doesn’t make peace with what’s gone before, but it may bring some peace. But that’s not where I am, right now. Right now, I am in limbo. And though I’ve often thought as Tennyson said “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”today, I’m not so sure that works for baby loss.

I guess the biggest lesson, for me and for you, is that it never goes away. That mum, that dad, that lost a child – it’s never going to be ok. Two weeks, two months, two years, two decades. A part of them died. No amount of time, will change that unalterable fact. It’s not history, it’s part of their history. Past, not passed. Love, not loved.

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