Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Contents Under Pressure

Every so often I get an ache in my cheek, spit out that stale candy cane I've been sucking on, and wildly begin chanting anti-root canal incantations. And then I realize, I'm clenching my jaw. And have been for days. About the same time, I may also notice that my breath is a bit jagged. And I collapse in a puddle of exhaustion around 4 p.m. At which point I think to the self, "Dude, you're TENSE." Big surprise, the teeth clenching usually coincides with some sort of trigger like a -versary, -iday, -thday, or just sensory relapse -- like going to a museum the other day for a birthday and realizing, really upon walking in, that the last time I was there was almost exactly a year ago to the day. Three hours of screaming, hopped-up-on-sugar toddlers later did not improve the psychological gymnastics of "I remember sitting down here to rest," or watching other moms sling young babies around while watching their older children throw play bread loaves across the room.

I hit that place this morning, in yoga (I finally started up again about a month ago), with the achy face, and having trouble exhaling for more than 2 counts without feeling like I was hyperventilating. They say you hold a lot of tension in your hips, and I did a forward bend and for the first time in my life, felt actual pain in my hip points.

I'm a wee bit tense. Really wound up. And I think it's that god-awful anticipatory nervousness as I do the slow crawl toward next week.

Usually the anticipation is worse than the day. I know in my head it really can't be worse -- she's already dead for pete's sake. But I've been proven wrong. And since I have six days to muddle through and family dra-ma that could go off like a tinderbox at any moment, I'm really not horribly optimistic that I can improvise my way through a 144 hour remembrance odyssey involving flowers and candlelight and walks in parks and "just being with it" without someone raining on my shit parade. In addition to thinking I'll probably be curled up in a ball missing my younger daughter, I'm anticipating inappropriate and passive-aggressive Valentine's Day's cards and gifts from in-laws. Well-meaning, but intrusive phone calls. Some stranger making a completely inane comment at the worst possible moment. I'm trying desperately not to get ahead of myself or fill up the brain with things that haven't happened and may never come to pass, but, well, let's just say if I was setting up an office pool I'd be putting good money on some really crazy crap going down. Just sayin'.

For about six weeks last spring I attended a grief support group at Children's Hospital. (Oddly, they do not have a running support group, but only hold it occasionally, and only for six weeks. Something about "we've been doing this for years, and we can tell you that . . ." ) It started off rather crowded with about 20, and we gradually whittled down to a rather tight group of six or so -- six children lost, that is. Sometimes couples came, sometimes just one parent. There were weeks when I felt I had nothing in common with them; their children had died at 2, 3, 12, 18 . . . and while I felt their losses deeply, I couldn't help but feel a little stab when someone would say "I'll never see him graduate." (Honey, I didn't see my kid graduate from the NICU, let alone open her fucking eyes.) But gradually, slowly, all losses blended together for me. There was just too much in common between us. The elephant in the room. The agony of holidays. The loss in faith in just about everything given that OUR kids were the ones with the bad odds -- the one in a millions who got rare forms of cancer and bizarre genetics. We cried a lot. One evening we just went around the room and shared the "end" stories -- the final time with our children.

Of the parents, I had suffered the most recent loss, but only by a matter of months. But there were parents I grew very fond of whose losses dated back years. And they said, to a one, unanimously, without equivocation, that the second year was worse than the first.

I would sit there, my eyes bloodshot from sobbing, not having slept well in months, feeling like someone had thrown me against a wall, and thought, you have to be fucking kidding me -- it gets WORSE? THAN THIS?? THIS RIGHT HERE? Are you remembering correctly? Look at me! Worse?? (And can I be excused to go pitch myself out a window?)

They would sigh (you could almost hear the "ahh, young grasshopper" under the pursed, grim smile) and proceed to try and inform me of why. It was hard for them to explain, but basically the upshot was: the first year they were stunned. Numb. Forcing their way through the horrible series of "firsts." And the second year, the numbness wore off, the adrenaline stopped, and the ache set in. The reality. They got beyond simply dealing with the death, and started dealing with the living along with the missing. The realization that it's more than just the first, it's the second, fifth, and twentieth, too.

Well THAT'S something to look forward to, eh?

I know people are different, experiences are different, there are probably a bazillion support groups out there where the unanimous decision was "I definitely felt better the second year. Totally. Ya'll are in for a world of improvement. Cookie, anyone?" But I appreciated the honesty, and the warning, just in case they're all right. After a year the functioning is indeed easier. (Well, except the walking and running part. You'd think I could operate upright, fucking plantar fascia.) Taste and Joy are still on hiatus. But I guess now, once I turn this bend, I focus in earnest on the awful part. And try and incorporate that into the functioning part in a way that saves me gnashing my teeth down to little stubs.


Megan said...

Fuck. Worse? Actually, I kind of believe it.
One year is different but I've found with the other milestones that the anticipating IS worse than the day itself. I'll be thinking about you Feb. 12.
What I'm dreading the most about March 1 is that I suspect no one other than us will remember that it should be Georgia's first birthday.

niobe said...

I'm always the odd person out on these things, but I can honestly say that for me every month has gotten progressively easier and now, about 15 months after the twins' deaths, the grief has pretty much worn off.

Lori at Losses and Gains once suggested that I've had a relatively easy time of it because, unlike most (all?) of the other bereaved mothers I've met on the internets, I never actually saw or named the twins, so they never became "real" to me.

She may have a point. Or it could be that I'm just naturally cold and unfeeling.

It's a stupid and probably annoying thing to say, but reading about your pain makes me wish there was something, anything I could do to ease it even a little.

Beruriah said...

I believe it can get worse. Damn. I usually hate phrases the sound like slogans, but the man who told us it never gets better just easier was right. Functionality returns and keeps increasing for sure, but after 13 months I find myself more surprised than I was before when the bad feelings come out and bite me in the ass. Enough enough already.

Coggy said...

I used to only want to meet other women who had lost their children in exactly the same way as I lost J. At first I couldn't cope with women with living children, or early losses, or... you know the list so I will stop. Now it has blended together for me. Loss is loss no matter what or when. No loss equates to another they all just completely suck in their own way, we all have way more in common than not.

Year 2 worse... Wow, and I was thinking I was doing well getting through this year. Shit.

Waiting Amy said...

I'll be thinking of you.

meg said...

I think it's so true, Tash. I feel your pain in these words. I know what you mean about the tension. It feels like a crazy nervous energy to me.

I was worse a year after the twins died, than right after. I know I was in shock for an entire year. I went back to work, worked insane hours, never spoke of them etc...not a good thing in the long run.

BUT...it all started to come out, when I slowed down long enough to deal with it at all. I wish I had dealt with it differently...but what happened, is what happened. I think the thing for me, is that it's all still in there...and it has to be dealt with, sooner or later.

Guess that's where I am now too.

Julia said...

yes, I heard the worse thing too. It's not too hard to imagine, for me at least. I guess we will find out together, ha?

Um, I am also incredibly dense, apparently, because I failed to realize that in the middle of your yearly commemoration there will always be that crass commercialization of love and happiness. Shit, and sorry about that.

Bon said...

there's nothing like dread...i knew that Maddy's anniversaries would be approaching soon and wondered how you were coping with the leadup. i hate leadup.

i will say that the second year was, yes, in a way worse. less raw, but the actual sorrow found its room to run through me. the second year was also far more healing, though...i'll give it that. shortly after the close of year two, i finally felt semi-whole. and at peace with the semi-part. it was good.

it is a long road, this grieving. sorry you're on it.

Amy said...

Yes, I have heard that year two is worse. I hate that...I have all of it to look at...2 years a long time. I have to agree with Coggy that loss is loss, at least to me.

I don't know if you have a Compassionate Friends chapter where you are at but it might be worth the shot. The downside, the ages of their children range greatly like the group you talked about. However the one I attend has welcomed me with open arms and they are truly caring people.
We meet at a church but we cuss like sailors and nothing is held back. The tie that binds us all is we have lost children. Not the natural order of things!

I am thinking of you as always.

Searching said...

I wonder if it is worse to have had days with her, so now you have all that time in between the big anniversaries that you have to get through. Mourn, scream, cry, cuss, curl up in a fetal position and rock back and forth... It just seems so much. I don't think you can really call a loss "more" or "less" than another loss because each one is unique unto itself and experienced differently by each person. I'm as devastated for the babies that never draw a breath as the ones who fight so hard for a month but can't hang in there. But are those extra days of hell more torture than just a single day, an hour, a moment would be? When would it stop, how many days would a child need to live to have it be reduced to a birth and a death day as opposed to a long stretch of grief and agony? Questions without answers.

What could I do for these families? So many will never know how often I think of their dead babies and the little things that made them special, even the ones who were born still and were only with us for a matter of minutes before being returned to their mothers. What can I do for YOU? I always think of your sweet Maddy and she has gained a place in my heart reserved for my special babies. I feel as though she WERE one of the ones I cared for even though I never met her, touched her, tucked her blankets under her gently to not disturb her, moistened her lips, washed her little toes. So, she is special to me too.

I always feel so inadequate. I cannot possibly relate one bit to the pain all you deadbabymommas feel, but I can feel the raw emotion there and wish I could do something to ease it even the tiniest bit. If there IS anything, please let me know. You all have my prayers.

G said...

No way, it can't be worse the second year. *lalalalalla* I am not listening!

Thinking of you next week.

Carole said...

Thinking of you as her day approaches. The week going into Joseph's first anniversary were hard for me. There was so much reliving. I didn't have as much of that on the actual day. The second year for me...functioning is easier...but it's hard to drag myself another year further from the 'year' (date) he was here. I know...not much help...but I'm thinking of you.

charmedgirl said...

my sister had a miscarriage at 7 weeks when i was 7 months pregnant and only after i had that baby stillborn did i realize that it didn't matter how far along...how old...when a mother loses a child, a mother loses a child.

it makes me kinda nuts trying to figure out if it would have been worse if i lost her after she was born alive, after she cried and opened her eyes, after we got to meet her. i know, it makes no difference, but still.

the second year...holy shit, really? i hope my one day at a time takes me through this one and the next...and i guess the ones after that too.

and yeah, true on the anticipatory anxiety, but nonetheless, IT SUCKS. i'm having sympathetic jaw pain for you...

Lisa b said...

I'm so sorry Tash. I do hope this year is as bon describes.

kate said...

For me, the second year was better than the first....still no walk in the park but...better.

I will be thinking of you & Maddy as these days pass...

samill said...

ah yes, the jaws-hips thing. Everything down there hangs off the jaw for sure. Knowing this doesn't always help when you catch yourself grinding your teeth and grimacing, as I so often do.

Antigone said...

I keep thinking I should be hurting more. Reading everyone's blogs here, I find that most everyone seems to feel much more than I do. I'm sad but I'm not devastated. I still think there's a broad line between live birth and dead birth and that the grieving must get harder for those who went closer to full term than those who lost mid term.