Observations of grief a year in (Round #2)
Molly’s first birthday is marching up in days.
Hello. That happened fast. And at the same time, she feels like an absolute lifetime ago.
Now, I’ve done this before, the first birthday of your dead baby. It seemed a lot harder last time round. The welling storm of anticipation of Nina’s day was heavy. The weight of making the day significant enough, yet dreading it all the same. Honestly, grief’s an odd beast.
This time round celebrating Molly, well, there’s no dreaded anticipation. These deathiversaries just seem normal now. But there is an inkling in the back of my mind that she could so easily get forgotten about, if I let it happen.
Here’s some thoughts on grief, once again, a year in. Because really, what else do I write about?!
In the real world, how long does their relevance last?
I find the first anniversary of a death a significant one. Probably the most significant one. In those 365 days after, that life is fresh, it’s relevant, the grass still hasn’t quite fully covered the upturned earth under which they lie.
For about a year they slip more naturally (well, honestly, it's always awkward!) into conversation – ‘Actually I had a baby in August. Though she passed away.’; ‘How many children do you have?’ ‘Oh, two, but I had a baby this year too who died….’ (Nina's lost her relevance already... except in certain conversations).
Whenever I think of Nina and Molly, I think of them as babies. Even years on. And stepping beyond that year mark has a sense of leaving that babydom behind. That sweetness. That innocence. That intoxicating magnetism that all babies seem to possess. You’re stepping out of that zone of the thing you wanted most – a baby. Yes, if they’d lived I would have also loved them as toddlers and children and teens and adults. But that never came, so that joy of infancy still stays very raw.
And moving on past a year, well that joy is fading fast. And there are no new milestones to make or ‘replacement’ babies to have, so this year anniversary is a line in the sand. A moving on of sorts to the new normal. Those ties to parenting a baby are well and truly severed.
On a side note, that’s one of the things I’ve found hardest post-Molly. We had been hopeful parents, baby parents or pre-school parents for the past 10 years. And in having the girls we’d stayed in that zone, ever hopeful of holding a living baby again and getting to keep it. But when Molly was born, that all disappeared immediately, and suddenly we were shunted straight from newborn parents, to school-age only. No link to babies any more. Suddenly a 6-year-old was our youngest. That was tough. Something I hadn’t anticipated. An immediate loss of identity, a mental shift. Thrust out of a zone that felt very comfortable. It left me feeling rather adrift. Where do I fit now with no focus on babies any more?
It’s eased, but that’s a toughie for loss parents. Remember that one. People might lose a child, but also their identity and sense of place at the same time, and that’s a double kicker.
If I want them remembered it’s up to me
Anyone who’s had a loved one die discovers pretty quickly that if you don’t talk about them, who will?
It’s different when someone’s lived a lifetime, they’ve been loved, had friends, had family, made an impact – their memories carry on with the people who loved them, for a while at least.
But if you never took a breath or lived only moments, when was there even time to create memories? There were only a few who got to love you. In the case of babies dying, their memories only live on through their parents. You either speak of them or carry their precious memory silently on your own.
Perhaps it seems weird to cherish a child that never really lived, for years and years. When do we get over it? Well it’s not a thing to get over. I’ll remember those girls forever. It doesn’t mean I’m languishing in grief for the rest of my life. But just like my other kids, they matter.
The living always supersede the dead
July August are pretty full on in our family’s birthday calendar. Celebrations run back to back for about 5 weeks, and there’s barely a moment to breathe between cake crumbs and buttercream.
This year in particular we’re in the midst of a full-on stint of celebrating – big birthdays, decades to notch up, 40s, 70s and everything in between. There’s hours of prep, shopping, entertaining, decorating and organising to do. And in the midst of it all sits Molly’s first birthday, her anniversary of life and death. A little blip hidden in the hubbub.
For Russell and I, it’s really important for us to acknowledge that day. To take time to purposefully stake out space and remember her. As I said above, if we don’t then who will? But I definitely feel a little guilty in how easy it is to let everything else in life supersede her. The myriad of cakes to make, presents to buy, people to think of, parties to cater, blah, blah, blah. That’s just life. See, they’re living. Why shouldn’t they be celebrated? It’s the way it should be, right?
But there’s no way to step around that parent guilt that Molly is so unthought of in light of everybody else. Yes, we’ll take time on the 8th August to just be us, be still, and remember her. But a day just doesn’t seem enough when you’ve lost a lifetime. I find a lot of my processing happens in the weeks leading up to these events, rather than in those 24 hours allocated to her memory on the 8/8. And that headspace just hasn’t happened. Sorry, Moll.
But I’ll just have to take what I can get. Or take what I can make, is probably a better representation – time to grieve doesn’t just deliver itself to you. You have to carve it out of life, put things aside to find a space to think.
In the long run, second time round is easier
But is easier the right word? This past year has felt a lot lighter than the year after Nina. Probably because the journey’s ended – there’s no more desiring for another child (well that’s not totally true!). But that’s it. Line’s drawn clearly in the medical notes. And I’ll write about that deciding when to say, ‘enough’s enough’ another time. But that moving on from the baby zone has played a big part in my headspace.
I’ve fallen back into all the regular things, resumed life as normal pretty quickly – and resented it all as well!
The road had been trod before, so in some ways the gamut of my grief had been set. I knew I wasn’t going to fall off the face of the earth in a self-perpetuating silo of sorrow. I knew what worked for me – getting back into things instead of avoiding them, seeing people, not isolating myself, and continuing on, while still trying to find some balance in my time to process.
Balance. Now that’s a word that very rarely sits right. The great ideal that only eventuates about 3 or 4 weeks of the year (I’ve realised only recently, after 9 years of working from home while mumming!). But it’s worthy of striving for. And in grief, it’s a necessity. You have to find that space amidst the relentlessness of life to think, process and feel. If you put yourself out there in the real world, facing life and looking ok, the more people will ask of you, too.
Self-care, they say. Well, time for self-care is hard enough to find without the cloud of grief on your shoulders. Spirit-care, I say. No time for rose-filled baths, long walks on the beach, and pedicures. What I’ve found I crave is headspace. Silence. Space. To write. To read (grief literature only, for the moment!). To sing. To refresh my heart, my hurt, and my faith.
I don’t think you’ll ever feel like you've had enough time to process your grief. It’ll always feel like the balance tips in favour of the busyness of life, the needs of people. But you have to claim your space in that busyness to process, or else your heart can so very easily tip to bitterness. Bitterness to others who always need you, bitterness towards the things you’ve said yes to, and to the things you haven’t that just end up on your plate.
Sometimes I have moments of wishing I could just opt out. Pack up ship and sail off to a little grief island on my own. I wish people could feel the depths of it sometimes and understand it, without me having to stake my boundaries and protect my space to grieve – I’m not very good at that (the living always supersede the dead, right?!).
Yes, this time round I knew what was coming, but not the depths of it. I knew that you can’t avoid it, and that I didn’t want to avoid it either. It’s healthy to work this stuff through. To address it regularly and how it’s affecting your life. It's been easier in a practical sense, but much deeper in a spiritual sense.
I guess I’m fortunate to live in a time where I am able to express my grief. I am able to celebrate my dead children openly. Yes, people still wonder why, but in general most have enough sense to care, at least for a while.
But I’ll keep caring forever. Maybe not in such a vocal way. But these girls are people that have shaped my life and character probably the most of anyone. And I’m proud of what they’ve given me. Some think they've only brought sorrow and sadness - I think it's strength. Not in a tough, I can handle anything way. But in a resolute 'I've learnt to understand the bigger picture, and I'm willing to walk through it, not thrash against it' kind of way.
It's also given me a tangible hope that there is more to life than this - what you've earned, what you've achieved, what you've created. That is absolutely just the lottery of life (with a bit of hard work). And I thank God for my numbers, even though it probably looks like I've been dealt a rather rubbish hand!
To a year of remembering Molly – 8-8-18