I didn’t even write about the six year anniversary of his death. I must have thought I had said it all at five.
Seven years this weekend.
The anticipation used to be far worse than the anniversary itself. A sense of dread would build as I’d count yet another year without him. As the day drew near, I’d replay those bleak winter days in my mind until I’d feel it in my gut, when I knew my body was failing him, that all hope was lost. I’d re-live it until my stomach twisted and my heart sank and I’d need a reminder to breathe. You’re still here, you still need to breathe, I’d think. He’s gone, but you’re not.
Then the day would come and maybe I’d write something or light a candle, or maybe I’d speak only to my heart. Always, I’d think what he’d be like now. The day would be sad yet peaceful.
Now, while the thought of him is never too far away, it does seem to get a little farther each year. Never forgotten, of course. Just a little more distant with time and space. Inevitable distance.
Seven years gone.
I used to hold on to that pain, thinking that if I could no longer feel it that he would no longer be with me. As time passed and the space between grew, eventually I became detached from that raw anguish. I know now that is a survival tactic, for self-preservation, yet once the pain of loss was all I had. That lingering grief — as soul sucking and life-changing as it was — was oddly comforting, like the remnants of an old warm blanket. I held it close as it was all I had. To let go would be to lose all connection to my son.
I still grieve for our lost boy, the child we never met. For years, I pictured him running with his cousins, playing on the floor, learning to ride a bike, chasing the dog. I tracked milestones and birthdays that would never be. Yet unlike those early years, I no longer weep. I still shed some tears now and again when I think of him, of what we lost. But no longer do I fall to the floor gasping between sobs, clutching my belly as it ached with emptiness and loss.
Just over four years ago, I wrote about how my inability to become a mother added another layer of complexity to my grief. Along with our son, I grieved everything infertility stole from me — e.g., the children we would not create, the babies I could never carry and nurture, the family we envisioned. This concept of convergence — i.e., that the sum of my losses merged to form another dimension to my personal grief — made a lot of sense to me. When our son died — as became evident after trying and failing to conceive again — I also lost my chance to become a mother, or so I thought.
Seven years since he left us, I have the unbelievable good fortune to be graced by the smiles and laughter of two marvelous daughters. They fill my days with love and light where once there was only darkness. Three years after our son’s due date, we welcomed Jaye into our hearts and I was humbled when she was entrusted to our care. Two years later, I was mystified when my body defied all odds and grew Baby Z for 33 weeks (that’s 12 more than before, a whole trimester). Loving these amazing girls is what made me a mama, or Mama.
I know that losing our son enabled both of these wondrous children in my life. Somehow after so long, we found each other, these girls and I. Seems so strange to say it, but somehow our family became complete even without him here. Without him, there would be no them. I accept this as basic truth. The very paradox of loss is that while you may suffer tremendous sorrow, you are also forced open to new beginning. While one door slams shut — leaving behind all possibilities for a particular reality — another very different life begins anew. There is truth in the Joseph Campbell quote on my sidebar for years: “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to have the one that is waiting for us.”
These words would have brought no comfort then, of course. Nothing could. Only now, with distance and perspective, can I clearly see the impact he left. His existence fundamentally changed me. To start, what I felt for that baby boy helped me to see myself as a mother, even when I didn’t feel like one.
The fact that he was here has been neglected by so many simply because they didn’t have to acknowledge his life or tragic death. Perhaps to them he was just an idea, an abstraction long since forgotten. Yet to me? He was my first. He never made it to this world. No photos of him grace our walls. We never gazed into his eyes or heard him cry. But he was real, our baby boy. He was loved.
Now, the pain of loss has subsided and the distance is no longer unwelcome. My grief remains tucked away for safe keeping, and I’m OK with that. Still certain triggers can set me back, such as when a family member notes the distinct age gap among cousins or that the boys are outnumbered, or when someone faces pre-term labor. Or when I realize that I’m the oldest mom at preschool and most every kid has an older sibling, when many moms are a decade younger than I am.
But mostly I just wish I knew him. Especially now that I’ve met his biological little sister, I can’t help but wonder about this boy. Would he share her mischievous grin? Would their cries and laughter sound similar? In some way knowing Baby Z makes me feel like I might have known him just a little bit better. This makes me sad yet at the same time offers some strange comfort.