five years gone
So much has changed in the five years since he’s been gone. I say that, rather than since my body failed him.
I often refer to “losing him” because it was indeed a process — those days before and after, as well as the in between and since. His death was more than a single moment or its aftermath; it was about every moment I knew he was going to die, every drop of blood, every bit of helplessness I felt as I said goodbye and pleaded forgiveness for failing him, for betrayal.
This has been my process, resolving that I was incapable of sustaining his life.
There was no choice but to accept it, losing him, then living in the void he left. I could choose not to re-live it, to the extent I had control over conscious thought and emotion. I could choose not to blame myself, to feel guilt. But it took a long time before those things became choices. Neither anger nor despair were a choice either. Or a comfort.
Even as time has passed — and even now that I know tremendous joy again — the heart still remembers. My body remembers.
When I first started this blog, it had been nearly two years since we lost the only child we ever conceived* to premature rupture and preterm labor at 21 weeks gestation on February 3, 2006. I had fumbled through a dark fog and struggled to find my way. With so little support aside from M, I was grateful to find a community of women (and some men) who understood, here in the blogosphere.
On the second anniversary, I shared the poem I wrote when he died. After writing about my grief process, I had nothing more to say. That spring I painfully remembered his due date while grieving my inability to conceive again after two years. There was still darkness, each bleeding triggering the loss of my baby boy, further shedding the notion that I would ever become a mama. Later that summer I reflected on the convergence of grief — i.e., how the loss of our son and my persistent infertility, though distinct, were inextricably intertwined; how my inability to conceive again added yet another layer and dimension to my consuming grief.
By the following winter, he’d been gone three years. I was finally looking toward a new horizon, facing the future. We had accepted that we would not share genetics or ancestry with our children. There was a sense of relief when we decided to try to build our family through open adoption. For the first time in years, I finally felt unbridled hope that I would become mama to a living child.
By then the indelible mark of his loss was more like a deep scar than an open wound. It had simply (though not easily) become integrated into my life, rather than being the defining moment of my life. A transformative moment, yes. I will never be the same person that I was before then. Yet I learned to let grief dwell in my heart, rather than dwelling on it.
These are the things that only distance can provide. It’s what people mean when they say “time heals,” I think, but that is so misleading. If anything, that simply sets unrealistic expectations for those first few years. It does get better though. There is life after.
Last year, on the fourth anniversary of our son’s death, I held our baby girl in my arms, my heart filled with love and a depth of gratitude I had never before imagined. In truth, I could not have been happier in that moment, in spite of the lingering grief burrowed deep in my heart. Still, I allowed myself to fantasize, just for a fleeting moment, what it would have been like to have a nearly four year old boy running around the house. While that fantasy included a vision of our beloved baby girl too, I knew that our precious daughter would not be with us today if he were here.
The very paradox of loss and joy.
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[*ETA epilogue* This post was written on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the death of our first child at 21 weeks gestation. After honoring our son’s memory with words each year, somehow this post felt as close to “closure” through writing as I would ever feel. While the journey of grief continues, I believed I said what I needed to say. I could find no more words.
What I didn’t know at the time, however, was that just hours before this writing, I miraculously managed to conceive another baby at age 41, and that my body — which I had since forgiven for its persistent betrayal — was working impossibly hard to sustain an emerging spark of life. Remarkably, somehow it did. Exactly seven months later, I gave birth to a daughter, a second child to complete our family. While I still grieve our son today, and wonder what our family would have looked like in a different life, I feel mainly gratitude for the family I find myself blessed with today, and it is thanks in part to the son we never got to parent. Still, the very paradox of loss and joy.]