The word above may not grace the pages of a dictionary but it sure describes the life I’ve been living since I lost Rylan. This experience continues to feel like a dream, although I know full well that our loss is real. In fact, I’ve never felt anything more real. The loss is so deep in the core of my being that the weight can physically be felt in my chest sometimes. I can almost feel the surge of emotions that I carry rising to the surface the way that you can feel your eyes well up with tears just before they fall down your your cheeks. The only things I’m sure of on a daily basis are that my emotions and daily obstacles will be unpredictable. People continue to commend me on my strength. On how well I carry myself. They’ve said that from the beginning. That comment has brought many thoughts to mind. One, that I’m not strong. People aren’t with me every second of the day. If I had a choice I’d be weeping and telling my story to anyone with a heart. Two, it’s not a matter of strength–it’s that I’ve been given no choice, no other options besides my son dying and having to continue on without him. Although I do agree that getting up each day is a personal success. Three, I’ve never felt more weak. Tired, both physically and mentally. I want to be taken care of so badly. I’d love to just slink back into my childhood to be looked after by my mom. To climb up beside her, lay on her lap so that she could stroke my hair and help me to sleep without the need of over-the-counter meds. I don’t want to have to play the role of the mindful, responsible adult who goes to work, pays bills, and attends children’s parties and other uncomfortable public or social affairs. Some days I’d like to sell my house, quit my job, and move somewhere that doesn’t include any memories of pregnancy. A place where nobody knew me as a soon-to-be mom. If I can’t hit rewind and save the day for my family than I think I might I want to hit the restart button on my life instead. But, creating a new life takes energy that I just don’t feel I can muster up these days. And the truth is, most people in my current life treat me as if I never even had a child. If I moved away I’d probably talk more about my son with people than I do now.
What do you do when you can barely remember who you were before pregnancy? When you can’t get back who you were during pregnancy? That innocent, naive girl that wasn’t clued-in to the fact that not all pregnancies end in living babies and growing families. Who do you become when you’re not sure who you want to be? Or, when the only thing you want to be is a mom and it may not even be an option anymore? For now, I’m just taking one day at a time and trying to remind myself that in time the above answers will come. And, hoping that someday my dreams of being an active mom and sharing parenthood with my husband will happen. For now I’m just coping with the need to have Ry back so I can be his mom.
I’ve recently thought about the fact that many tough life experiences are characterized by stages. When you lose a child, I would assume that those stages are different for everyone. As unique as fingerprints. If I had to classify my journey so far I would describe them as the following:
Stage 1: Confusion
Trying to comprehend what happened in the hours that followed the announcement that my son had died. Insert that word again…surreality. I’m not sure that there is anything worse than preparing nine long months (or more for those people who had to work hard to get pregnant) for an amazing, beautiful, breathing baby only to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye. When they told us I thought, “This can’t be happening… Am I awake? Can this really happen? What did they say? Can’t they be wrong? Wait, NO, this can’t happen. This is not how it’s suppose to be. But he was ok. I didn’t know. I… didn’t know. How could I not know?!” From one thought to another to another I went back and forth in my head and spent a lot of time praying until we delivered him. He didn’t cry. He didn’t move. To this day I still don’t understand how it could’ve happened and I don’t image I ever will.
Stage 2: Auto-pilot
From the delivery room through the funeral arrangements you are expected to set aside your devastation, sadness, and disbelief long enough to make one tough decision after another. The only way I think we make it through is by being on a sort of auto-pilot, so-to-speak. You know, like when you hear stories about how someone seriously injured in an accident can somehow manage to drag themselves for miles, if necessary, to find help… it’s that adrenaline thing that kicks in. Those chemicals your body releases which allow you to put your pain aside long enough to get through even the toughest experience or pain of your life. The people who surround us at that time often mistake strength for cruise control. Something in us just takes over. For me, wanting to do right for Rylan while he was still “here” added to my adrenaline.
Stage 3: Shock
The decisions and formalities are over. People leave and we are left with only ourselves and our sadness. Our auto function switches off. All of those repressed feelings rise quickly to the surface. I think this forces us into a state of shock. Some would call it denial. I think it’s the time when we must come to the realization that losing our child really happened. That there’s nothing we can do to change it. We can’t prevent it now. This was a time when I reflected on the months leading up to Rylan’s death. The days and hours and minutes before it happened. The time when I tried to figure out when it happened and why I didn’t know. At this time, when I truly began grieving, I blamed myself for what happened–constantly. For working too many hours. For what what I ate. The fact that I colored my hair. For not getting enough rest. That I forgot to take those horse-pill vitamins some mornings. Anything that could explain what the doctors couldn’t. I think that I will always carry guilt that something I did or did not do could have been the cause of my son’s death. And, that I’m his mom and I was suppose to protect him and didn’t. I know that’s being a bit hard on myself–because I would have tried to save him from pain and dying if I’d known something was wrong–but I still blame myself, nonetheless. In any case, I think this “shock” stage lasts for weeks. During this time I felt like I was in a kind of zombie state. Perfectly content just sitting and staring off into nowhere. Moving about in a slow shuffle. Outer appearances giving false perceptions that I was like everyone else, while the rest of me felt numb. Food didn’t taste as good and hunger took a hiatus. I only ate because I felt I had to. During this stage it was important to me to be in Rylan’s nursery. The only place that I could get close to him–by being around his things. His clothes, his bed, his toys, and especially his books. Chris and I tried to connect somehow. We even sat in there and read books out loud to him. I’d place newly cut flowers on his dresser every day or so. I even talked Chris into coloring with me one late evening while we listened to music. Sometimes those actions gave me comfort. They made me feel like we were doing something for him. And it even helped to talk out loud to him. Eventually, those things lost their connection for me. Going into his room and being around the items he’d never use or wear or sleep in became sad reminders of our loss. I spent a lot of sleepless nights in tears curled up into a ball on his bedroom floor. I’d lay in the dark staring at the lighted stars projected onto the ceiling from his little stuffed turtle nightlight. I’d apologize to him for not knowing something was wrong, for not protecting him like a mother should. I’d beg God to tell me why he let this happen, why he didn’t or even couldn’t intervene somehow. To give me me a sign that my son was okay. And, when I didn’t receive an answer I would cry until I slowly drifted off to sleep. At some point I couldn’t manage without at least a little sleep and realized that I needed rest more than anything or this stage of my grief would surely kill me. I began taking sleep aids and decided to stop cutting flowers. I decided that going into his room was no longer a comfort but a trigger which ignited my feelings of heartbreak, separation anxiety, guilt, and sadness. I began keeping the door closed. It made me a little sad to do it, but knew it was necessary in order to move forward–even if just in small steps.
Stage 4: Anticipation
Re-entering the “real” world. This was hard one for me. Actually, it still is–every day. This is the time when I had to leave the comfort of home and go back to work. To adjust from having complete grieving freedom to grieving on the clock. Before, I could be sad when I wanted and where I wanted, as much as my mind and body needed it. I could at least try to protect myself from challenging experiences. If I made the mistake of shopping during prime mommy-baby-outing-time I could walk out of a store and head somewhere safe. The workplace doesn’t allow for that. You are a prisoner of “normal” people. Of acceptable mom and dad conversations (all day long). Of pregnant women eagerly awaiting the arrival of their beautiful addition. My employers are very understanding when it comes to families… meaning people often bring their children in if their sick or in-between sitters. Some people do this more than others. I’ve held my tears in most times during the work day but recently lost it completely. Last week I walked through the door in the morning only to be unexpectedly greeted by a co-worker carrying her newborn son, close enough to bump shoulders. It felt like someone staked me in the heart. I felt my entire body collapse under me. I heard his sweet baby sounds and the exchange of another co-worker as to how cute he looked. I held in the tears. Well, at first. That is, until my good friend looked into my eyes with that awful stare and asked how I was doing. Then it rained. I took myself outside, cried hard, collected myself and returned to the work on my desk. What else could I do? I wanted to click my heels together and be home in the comfort and safety of my husband’s arms. That’s what stinks about this stage. I can no longer run away when something triggers the pain. I have to tuck it down so that I can move along like the “normal” people. But forcing such strong feelings aside is like overfilling a water balloon. At some point the pressure will be too much and it will burst. The 45 minute commute home from work is usually the time when that happens for me. When I’m alone with my thoughts. When my iphone shuffles to that one song that draws it all to the surface. Or when the pressure of work stress and the anxiety over losing my son collide and I just can’t handle it all. I will say one thing, though–I usually feel relieved after a good, hard cry.
This stage isn’t always bad though. There have been moments when the pain subsides and I enjoy myself for a little. When a small spot of light sneaks in through the darkness. Those moments have somehow presented themselves during most of the stages. In the beginning it’s easy to feel bad about those moments. Like being happy somehow equals not honoring or missing your child. If you are feeling that way please know that is not the case. Those happy moments don’t replace the fact that we miss our children or wish they were here and that circumstances were different. Those moments will keep us living for our babies since they can’t. I, personally, want to live to the fullest for Rylan. To honor him by living the happiest life I can live. Ry gave me so many little moments of joy. Similarly, I think it’s small amounts of joy in our lives now that will keep us going. For me it’s like listening to my husband play his guitar on a Saturday morning. Hearing the sound of his voice coupled with a warm breeze brings me such peace. When my mom made me home-made pancakes for breakfast this morning-after craving them for weeks. Enjoying the company of friends at lunch during the week–a much needed and appreciated break in my day. Getting a big bear hug from my dad. Watching the sky change color as the sun sets. Being greeted by my dogs and curling up with them on the couch at night. I think this stage is all about learning how to survive and treasure the good times we have, no matter how small. How to live for our children’s memory, not in the shadows of them. To strike a balance between living the day-to-day and making time to mourn our losses. It’s not easy, but we’re doing it. Gradually finding ways to cope. Finding it in others and in ourselves. I have a feeling that this stage is going to last for awhile so keep a firm grip on whatever life preservers you can. In the meantime, I promise to continue treading water if you do.
To be continued…