If you've been to a support session, you've probably picked up a rather inane handout (or seven) about grief. You know, the ones with butterfly clip art in the margins that tell you to drink water and abstain from alcohol and exercise and get enough sleep and JEEBUS, I'M NOT PREGNANT ANYMORE PEOPLE!! Those ones? Yeah. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, something on those silly things would stick. Usually not right there, but later I'd think, "huh, silly inane handout was right."
There's a rote saying in the griefverse to the effect that there are no apologies in grief. It's on all of the butterfly handouts, usually written in big BOLD letters. Which I think means that you shouldn't apologize for what your grief makes you do or think. If you need to take a break from babies and pregnant people (for a few years), don't apologize. If you cry a lot and can't go through the story for the millionith time and so instead decide to not make eye contact (re: ignore) your co-worker/friend/neighbor, don't apologize. Don't apologize for crying. For being short, or feeling angry. On the flip side, don't apologize for telling people exactly what happened, or for crying during the story where you explain that your baby actually has a name. Don't apologize for making others uncomfortable after you've gone through what is likely the most uncomfortable experience ever.
It's rather a social get-out-of-jail-free card, which would be awesome if not for the deadbaby thing, eh? But certainly there are some limits on this card are there not? At least, I sort of feel that way. Not that I've taken advantage of my grief, or exploited it, or played the grief card where I shouldn't have, but there are parts of grief that make me, well, feel badly. And even though people have told me "No Worries! Deal with it later! No one expects you to do that!" I feel a bit as though it's selling me short. I think I could do a few of these things, just that it will hurt like hell when I do them. Am I avoiding things because of pain? Could I have managed the grief better? And is that within the legal boundaries of my "no apologies!" card?
Case 1: During the holidays prior to Maddy's birth, my friend's father died. I was INSANELY busy. I was exhausted, and felt like crap. I was laid up a lot, and moreover, had killer sciatica so I could barely walk. I had a million people over for Christmas, both cars broke down, as did my washer/dryer. I had a lovely story about my friend's father, and wanted a few peaceful moments somewhere so I could handwrite these lovely memories for her and tell her how truly sorry I was for this crushing loss. And of course I had no peaceful moments, so I thought, fuck it, I'll just email it, it will mean the same thing. And I started the email, wanting to word it just so, and never finished it before Maddy died. And people, a year later, it's still there, unwritten, unsent. She sent a brief message when Maddy died, but I feel as though I've completely ruined this relationship and have no way to get it back. I know the right thing to do now, even though it's all shades of awkward, is to just write her now and tell her everything I wanted to say, and explain why I never said it. She's not a horribly emotive person, so I'll probably never know if she forgives me for this procrastination/grief hiatus, or whether she thinks I'm a supreme asshole who happened to lose her baby. I had a lot of friends who, after saying their piece, tuned me out. With few exceptions, I don't even get the one liner when my team wins/loses, or my favorite show goes off the air. This, though, is one friendship I'd like to mend. I wonder how many people wanted to find just the right time to say just the right thing to me and never found it -- I need to cut them a lot of slack too.
Case 2: I never finished my thank you notes for everything that everyone did for Maddy. A kind friend ordered me cards so I wouldn't have to, and I began sending them off to thank people for their thoughts and flowers and food and trees and money. In the beginning I was on top of everything, and it was rather therapeutic to sit down and have something to do, not to mention the instant gratification of having a neat little stack of envelopes at the end of the evening. But then it just hurt. It just hurt to thank people for being nice because my child was dead. I didn't know how to thank them for a tree when I really didn't want a fucking tree at all -- I wanted my baby. I didn't want to think about the NICU ever again, let alone write a thank you to someone for giving money there so someone else's baby might live. And slowly I quit. And the list piled up, and sits there on my desk, next to the empty cards, almost a year later, incomplete. And I feel guilty every time I see it. I've been told point blank by people who didn't receive cards that no one expects a thank you, but I'm not sure I really believe that.
Case 3: I feel that Bella hasn't really had the greatest mom this year. No, scratch that, I know that Bella hasn't had the greatest mom this year, and although I know I did the best I could given the circumstances, I'm not sure who or what else I could blame for this. I purposefully decided years ago that I would stay home with her, for the both of us. So I could spend some time with her before the endless march of seven-hour school days, and could give her the undivided attention I thought she deserved. Because of the move, I couldn't find a daycare/pre-K opening for her the Fall of '06, so during the pregnancy from hell she was home with me, and I spent most of my days pleading with her to please, please lie down for just 20 minutes. (She has never napped. Ever). And then last year happened. I went on antidepressants the day I could no longer function as a mom -- the day I couldn't get out of my bed to check on her, the day I realized I shouldn't be operating a car because I couldn't stop crying. The grief deprived her of what was rightfully hers: she had rather scaled down birthday due to my mood not to mention that week my aunt almost killed herself falling off a horse and both my cars broke down (there's a car theme here, isn't there), and I'll never get that back to do-over. She's healthy, well fed, and dare I say rather smart. She's clean, well-clothed, and I have somehow avoided planting her in front of the television. I hope despite her rather out-of-it mom that this year will come with some positives for her: empathy, and the wonderful ability to entertain herself with her imagination, a stuffed animal, and some throw-pillows. I have not used her a whipping post (literally or figuratively) for my grief, nor have I used her as a crutch. But I often look at her and wonder "what if" -- would she be happier? healthier? smarter? if her mother had been completely in touch? She lost her sister last year, and I can't help but think sometimes she lost a bit of her mom, too. And that's not fair. And I feel guilty about it.
I'm not writing this so you can fill my comments section with props and kudos and "it's ok"s (although if you also failed to send out all your thank you's that WOULD make me feel better). I guess I just feel sometimes the silly handout jargon is a lot easier to preach to others than it is to apply to yourself.