You would think that after 13 years, my coping skills would be better. And yet, here I am once again, just a few days shy of January 20th, the anniversary of our firstborn’s passing, quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) struggling to maintain the remaining shreds of my sanity through wave after wave of wildly unpredictable emotions.
Some years, it passes by smoothly and practically unnoticed. Other years are harder. Last year was especially rough. As I awaited the upcoming release of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery”, which contained a story I’d written about our loss (coming with its own set of mixed emotions), I was blindsided by the news that a good friend lost her three-year-old daughter in an accident. On its own, the news would certainly have sent me reeling, but combined with what I was feeling over my own impending milestone date, I quickly found myself engulfed in raw, searing, emotional anguish that I hadn’t felt in years. My old wounds had been unexpectedly ripped open, and I wasn’t sure if the agony I was feeling was more for my friend or for myself. As I tried to be there for her, I worked very hard at trying not to let her or most people know just how bad off I was. I don’t know if I succeeded or not.
When I’m at my worst, I think I must be crazy, allowing myself to dwell on something that happened so long ago; allowing myself to sink back into feelings that I’ve worked so hard to put behind me. And, while I always tell people that tragedies and emotional baggage cannot and should not be compared, I can’t help but do so myself. After all, I tell myself, I “only” lost a baby who was six-and-a-half months old; a baby who never even left the hospital. It’s not like I have memories attacking me in every corner of our home. While we still have objects attached to memories – certain stuffed animals, photos and other items – the memories themselves lie elsewhere, in hospital rooms and corridors, in the unusually bright NICU and operating room waiting areas, in the intensive care unit where I held him when he died… Memories triggered by songs and smells, by stories of loss and sometimes, by nothing at all.
But there are no memories of conversations we had or trips we took. Indeed, there are few special moments that I can look back on at all. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, relative to the number of memories I have with my seven-year-old son, when it comes to my first son, there’s almost nothing there – most memories are bittersweet at best and tragically painful at worst. So really, what am I harping on? Why can’t I put this behind me, and how can I still carry so much grief for a child who didn’t even live to see his first birthday? It almost feels self-indulgent to grieve for him 13 years later, and I realize that I can barely begin to understand the suffering of a parent who has lost a child older than mine was, a child with whom real memories were created – memories that don’t all revolve around hospitals and pain. Who am I to compare myself to them?
And yet, as much as I try to put my firstborn son’s loss behind me, I just can’t seem to do so. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough; maybe there’s a part of me that simply isn’t willing to let go, especially as my seven-year-old internalizes the loss of the brother he never knew. He tries to incorporate some semblance of brotherhood into his life, asking why we don’t celebrate his brother’s birthday as a happy occasion (which makes me wonder if we should somehow), or singing silly songs during a recent visit to the cemetery in an effort to make his brother laugh, asking “isn’t it a good thing to try to make him laugh, Mommy?”, and leaving me very unsure of how I wanted to answer.
You would think that after 13 years, my coping skills would be better…
This entry was posted in Daily life, Family, Loss, Self-Reflection and tagged Chicken Soup for the Soul, children, coping, death, Family, grief, Loss, NICU, preemie, sadness by Liza Rosenberg