A Constant Mourning
Originally posted June 13, 2009
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.