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A Constant Mourning

June 13, 2009

Originally posted June 13, 2009

HY-982 Claw Foot Bath Tub Thumb Nail

My youngest son was born early the morning of October 6th 2001.  It was a wonderful experience- yes, 11 hours of contractions and no drugs- amazing.  I spent my entire labor in water.  While many mothers experience intense labor followed by intense pushing to birth their baby, my body went from intense labor to birthing my babies for me- I never had to push, just breathe…just stay in tune with my body while the awesome power of the divine feminine enveloped me.

I will never forget the moment my baby boy passed from me into the world.  My midwives placed him on my chest, cleared his airway, and I exclaimed “look at that nose!” before leaning my head back and closing my eyes, the sound of him sucking his fist hungrily filling my ears.

3 years and 8 months later, the morning of June 14th, I stood at his side, my hand rubbing over his leg as he quietly took his last breaths and died.  After cancer, and chemo, and stem cell transplants, lengthy operations, radiation, loss of hearing, sight, and mobility, his life was over.  The machines I’d grown so accustomed to hearing 24 hours a day were silent.

I pulled out all of the IV’s and wrapped him in a blanket- not a stiff hospital blanket, but a real blanket…his blanket.  The nurses and medical staff had been directed to stay out of the room, but family members rushed to the hospital.  I watched each come into the room, broken down and sobbing, stunned and unsure, pained and helpless.  At my request, and as previously arranged, his pediatrician arrived within the hour, to pronounce the death officially and fill out the necessary paperwork.

It has been nearly 4 years since that day.

It seems like 5 minutes ago.  To know so much time has passed seems surreal.  In fact, the entire situation seems surreal.  Did I have a child, only to watch him suffer and die?  Yes.

Having gone through this anniversary 3 times I’ve learned what to expect.

We all have the ability to be cast backwards in time thanks to our biological memory.  Thus, every year I am ripped from the present and thrown back to 2005.  It’s not May 29th, 2009, it’s May 29th, 2005.

I stand in the present, as daily life goes on, grinding through the normal routine.  But my heart and my mind are chained to something else.  I’ll be stuck in the past, reliving the entire experience for a few weeks to come.  It’s like living in a parallel universe.  Am I dwelling?  No, I’m living, I’m parenting, working, loving my man, planning and stepping towards the future, writing, learning, growing…but there it is…there it always is.

Death and trauma make us see what is important in life- and what is not.  After my son died I quickly developed zero tolerance for pettiness, drama, “stuff” and bullshit.  I lost all tact and only ever said what I really wanted to say, even if no one else wanted to hear it, even if it offended or hurt.  For this, I was branded “bitter” by the loss of my son.  I didn’t really care about anything, and was unapologetic for it.  I could go days on end at work without uttering more than “mmhhmm”.

At the end of every day, I would climb into the bathtub and sob for hours.  Maybe it’s because he was born in water that I did this.  The pain was, and still is, unbearable; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Yes, I live a perfectly functioning life, but at the same time, I live a mother’s ( a parent’s) worst nightmare.  Just when I think it can’t be more painful, June creeps closer and closer, and I’m overwhelmed by the tsunami of grief filled memories.  I don’t choose to fall into that space, and it would take the will and strength of ten million mothers  to avoid it.  The biological memory has a life all its own, and it seems to take over at any given part of the day; putting makeup on in the morning, getting the children off to school, sitting at my desk working, driving down the street, shopping in the grocery store, sleeping or awake.

The end of May and the month of June are all about keeping it together, and about fighting against the endless waves and staying present.  It’s about protecting myself, hoping against the odds and the pressure of grief that I survive and make it out semi-okay on the other side.  It’s about putting on a strong face for the children and maintaining that I am, and everything else is “fine”.  It’s at this time of year that I long for someone else to step in and take over, because being a “strong Black woman” becomes nothing more than a myth.

I have had people tell me that “God will sustain you”, that I should go to church more, pray more, read the good books more.  I’ve had people tell me to “just move on and let it go”, and I’ve had people tell me “just focus on the good”, “it’ll be okay”, “you’re stronger than you know”.  Many insist that “time” will heal this “wound”.  That seems so ridiculous.  I can tell you with all certainty, four years later, time is not the great healer many make it out to be.  What people are really saying is, “you will forget the finer details sooner or later.”  It’s not about the finer details.

None of that advice helps, nor is it realistic, I’ve come to understand.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can lessen or remove the pain that comes with losing a child.  Not friends, family, God, therapy, tears, talking or writing.  Nothing.  Time goes on, sure, life goes on whether we want it to or not…but everything, everything reminds me of his life…and his death.  Is it all bad?  Of course not.  I have memories that I cherish.  And I’ve learned things I otherwise wouldn’t know, experienced things I otherwise would have never experienced.  But it’s not about that either.

When I close the door…when no one else is around…I glance over at his ashes, or I see his image in a picture out of the corner of my eye, or I close my eyes and think of him, and think of what death was for him, and I am dragged into a space of pure, impossible to cure- pain.  Not just emotional pain.  No.  It’s a physical pain.  A pain that nothing can touch.  A pain that any rational human being would do anything to never experience.

Present happiness aside.

Remaining children aside.

I think about what it was like to have my hand under the blanket, rubbing my son’s leg as he took his last breath, and I collapse every time.  And then…I shove it all back down, because I know I am well beyond my limit.

I go back into the bathroom, turn the lights off and sink to the bottom of the tub and the safety and comfort of water, in a place I can’t give words to…a constant mourning.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2009 11:44 am

    Sable…. =(

    I am sorry for your loss. I don’t think there will ever be anything or anyone that can take away the pain, with time eventually the pain and hurt will fade, however the love and memories will always be there.

  2. Linda permalink
    May 29, 2009 3:36 pm

    I’m so sorry and wish you strength and peace. What a powerful expression of your feelings, though I know I can never relate.

  3. May 29, 2009 5:19 pm

    With all due respect M, the pain will never fade. That moment was too dynamic on a multitude of emotional levels.

    I just couldn’t imagine the pain. His voice, his face…his pain.

    I feel this from the other end and see my Mother mourning, soaking and wondering.

    You are an amazing person. I would say that without this. Please hold on.

  4. Phyllis permalink
    May 30, 2009 8:29 am

    Thank you for writing this. It’s generous of you to share it. I still remember being shocked when I learned about your son, and knowing that I didn’t know what to say. I also remember hearing that you arranged a fire station visit for him, and thinking that was as sweet as it must have been difficult. Again, thank you for sharing these feelings and this story.

  5. Karla permalink
    May 30, 2009 12:58 pm

    That was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing something so private and important. I cannot imagine the grief you feel, but I am definately praying that God will see you through it.

  6. May 30, 2009 6:01 pm

    As a mother who has been through devastating loss, I wanted to tell you that that was one of the most accurate descriptions of the all-consuming grief that I’ve ever read.

    My own losses began nearly seven years ago, and from this vantage point I can tell you that time does bring some changes. I do not think they are the “there, there, everything will be all right” changes that most people intend when they say “time heals all”. But some measure of peace does eventually find you.

    There will always be those moments, though, when the absence comes reaching up through the middle of your most poignant experiences, glaring as the final missing puzzle piece.

    After reading this, I took my two girls on a walk up the hillside to visit their brother’s ashes. They weren’t aware that we were doing anything other than taking a walk. But I was. And I even manged to simply smile and say “hi”, lifting my littlest to see the creek below, and cautioning the older one to stay clear of the cliff edge.

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. May 31, 2009 1:52 am

    Sable – thanks for sharing your most heartfelt feelings with us about your son. I didn’t know this and wish you love and peace in your journey.

  8. michelle permalink
    June 2, 2009 5:17 am

    God Bless you. That was one of the most touching stories I’ve ever read. I’m so sorry for the loss of your baby boy. Just remember he will always be with you in spirit and I’m sure he is happy and blessed that you are his mother.

  9. Siobhan permalink
    June 11, 2009 9:53 am

    This is the most moving and accurate account of pain and grief I’ve ever read. You are brave. At night, when I look at my sleeping boy, I always wonder how I would survive losing him and how I could love anyone so much. I fear the pain you describe with such clarity. I wish you continued sustenance in your life.

  10. June 13, 2009 2:41 am

    I couldn’t read this without crying. I have two sons. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose them. I would be devastated. Like you said there is nothing anyone can say to fix this, so I won’t say anything except I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.

  11. Anew permalink
    July 2, 2009 1:30 pm

    Out of the pain comes anew strength. An unimaginable strength. A strength you never knew you had.

    Like when you gave birth to your first child… anew strength. Like life being taken from your child…In the pain, anew strength.

    It is true nothing else matters when you loose what you love. The “Bullshit” is a waste of our precious life. And nothing should have the power to waste your time, your life.

    I had so much love to give my child, and when my child was taken away, my love was displaced. But now I have the strength to redirect that love…

  12. September 16, 2009 6:18 am

    I’ve read this post entry many times. It’s 6 a.m. and I’m on line because my 3 year old was awake and now I’m up. I don’t know what drew me your site today other than chance, but it’s impossible not to sense the pain you feel and express cannot be known outside of your soul.

    But this I know: Your passion, spirit, energy, conviction and drive to live a life of purpose and meaning-and prompt others along the way–adds so much depth to our community.

    Your partner in service, Reuven.


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