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Today, I was reading a post on the forum at Glow in the Woods, about how someone was now 23 weeks from when she lost her baby at 23 weeks, and she felt that she was under pressure from people to “finally be over it.” It seemed to her that, now that she had reached the amount of weeks her child had been alive, people thought that her grieving process should be coming to an end. That should she be returning to “normal.”
Which made me wonder – is there an expiration date on grief?
I don’t think so. How is it even possible to say that grief runs a course, that it has an end in sight? Whoever you’re grieving for will always be gone. You’re not going to reach a milestone and think, “Well, that seems about enough grieving. Time to stop feeling bad!”
By the standard applied above, I should have stopped grieving for Lauren long ago, nine months ago, really. How does that even make sense? What does it mean that I spent fifteen minutes or so this afternoon weeping for no other reason than that I realized she would be eighteen months old this week? That I’m weak? That I’m holding on to something that I should have let go months ago? How else am I supposed to feel, at this point in time when my daughter would be reaching a milestone? How does anyone feel when they reach the birthday of a lost loved one or an anniversary date that they’re celebrating alone?
Is this something that only happens to the babylost, this idea that grief has an expiration date? After a a year or so, is someone who lost their spouse or a parent supposed to magically start feeling the loss less? Do people really think a time stamp can be put on something as as personal as grief?
That’s the problem, I think. Grief cuts people differently. For some, it’s a wound that goes on hurting for years, healing little by little, with relapses and weak moments. No, I don’t cry every day over my lost daughter, but that doesn’t mean I miss her any less. It just means that I’ve learned to deal with it better. And every so often, I slide back down that slippery slope and find myself mired in tears and anger and guilt, all those charming hallmarks of early grief. It’s a struggle to deal with daily life sometimes, even on my best days.
I know what grief has done to me. It has made me unreliable, fragile. I have days when I feel that I could break apart at any moment, that I have only the barest thread of self-awareness connecting me to sanity. Just because I know it doesn’t mean that I can fix it completely. I can mend the rifts, but I know that there is a chance that they will break in the future. I know it, and I accept it, but I still live in fear of it. Nothing is for certain any more, nothing except that paradoxical knowledge.
Six months is way too early to expect someone to get over grief to the point where they can adjust back to “normal” life. I don’t care who they lost, whether it was a parent or a spouse or an adult child or “just a miscarriage.” I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “just a miscarriage.” It’s a loss, and that’s all that matters.
I get that it’s not easy for people to understand if they haven’t been through it themselves. I do. They don’t have to understand. They just have to be patient. They just have to be supportive. They just have to be gentle. And we, the babylost and the grievers, we have to tell them. We have to tell them when we’re hurting, because how else will they know? We have to stand up for ourselves, because grief is subjective. We don’t walk the path of grief with an end in site. No, grief walks with us. It is our companion now, and sometimes it does drive us in certain directions, but sometimes we learn to live with it. Because it will always be there with us, no matter how far we walk, no matter for how long.
Grief fades, but it doesn’t die. If it did, so would our memories of the one we’ve lost. So would our love. To stop grieving is to stop caring. It may grow smaller and less painful, but there is no expiration date on grief. Nor should there be.
I know Valentine’s Day is one of those special (but not quite a holiday) days that gets mixed reactions from people. You love it, you hate it, you’re completely ambivalent about it. Maybe you expect nothing, maybe you expect everything. It’s not simply a love/hate holiday. I know. I’ve had mixed feelings about it myself.
Generally speaking, though, I’ve liked Valentine’s Day more often than hated it. An excuse to bake is an excuse to bake.
But then, two years ago, something happened to make Valentine’s Day more than just an annoying commercial holiday, more than a saint’s day blown out of proportion, more than just an excuse to bake.
It was the day we were celebrating when I took the pregnancy test that told us that we were expecting a baby.
It was not on the 14th. We celebrated on the 11th (a Friday) because Geordie had to leave on Sunday to go back to work. He would not be at home on the 14th. For all intents and purposes, he lived with me, but because his assignment was in Hitachi (a three-hour train ride from Moriya), he spent the week there. The 11th had been a day off for him, so he’d come home on Thursday, and we celebrated Valentine’s Day early. I had prepared a romantic three-course fondue meal.
And I had an unused pregnancy test that we had bought a week earlier that I was too scared to use.
I hadn’t even missed my period before I thought I might be pregnant. I felt different. My body felt different. I knew something was up, and it terrified me. After all, we weren’t married, weren’t hoping for a baby. Had been trying not to have one. At that point, I still wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to have children. I was terrified of becoming a mother, and I worried that Geordie would be mad at me and think I had done it on purpose when the reality was anything but that.
I would have taken the blame though. I had been the one so eager and ready to accept that my ovulation period was over. Had I known my cycle was going on longer than they usually do, I would have been more prudent.
But that’s the past. Even by the time I finally took that pregnancy test, it was the past. And when I did take it, Valentine’s Day ceased to matter. Those first few days – that first weekend – we were just in shock. By the end of it, by the time Geordie had to leave to go back to Hitachi, I knew one thing for certain: I had been very fortunate to fall in love with the man I fell in love with.
There were no fighting, no arguments, no fingers pointed in blame – from either side. As that weekend came to an end, we were still scared and shocked, but we knew that we were in it together. And nearly nine months later, when we were staring down at our silent, sleeping daughter, that was still true. More true than ever before.
Here is what Valentine’s Day means to me: it’s the day we became a family. It’s the day that we discovered that we had been given something we hadn’t been prepared for but ultimately came to love and cherish. Something that belonged to the both of us. As we sat on that couch – the remnants of our chocolate fondue congealing in its pot – Geordie held me while I cried, and I knew that I could never love anyone more than I loved him. And though I was scared, I knew that I would love the baby too, because it was part of us, part of our love, part of our lives.
That’s why it doesn’t matter to me what anyone else thinks of Valentine’s Day – love it, hate it, I don’t care. For me, it’s a day that will always carry meaning. It’s a day that always deserves a little recognition because of the way it changed our lives forever. When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of Geordie and how much I love him, and I think of Lauren and how much we love her.
How could this day be anything less than amazing?
There’s not a lot to say. It was Christmas. It was a good Christmas. It’s good to be with family on this most wonderful and most difficult of holidays.
Lauren has been on our minds a lot this week, and her names has been spoken aloud more than once. My parents bought her an ornament for the Christmas tree, which was nice, because Geordie and I had not been able to find one for her that we liked. She has been present here with us, and it has been less difficult than I expected. The first Christmas was so hard. This one has been comforting. I’m glad of that. It’s nice to have a quiet Christmas.
We’ve lost others this year, suddenly, unexpectedly. An aunt of Geordie’s. One of my great-uncles. These are griefs too, people who are missed, whose lives were cut off so abruptly. It’s hard to grasp, even now, that someone can be there and then suddenly be gone. How can anything be the same after that?
The truth is: it can’t. Nothing is the same, but we can’t stop living just because of that. We have to do our best to adjust, to remember those who have come into our lives and then passed through. The truth is that life is ever-changing, ever-flowing, and we must simply ride it out and live as best we can. Sometimes, we must mourn. Other times, we must celebrate.
And there are times when we must do both. We must balance ourselves, grieving for what we have lost and believing that there is good still yet to come. Our lost loved ones will not be forgotten, and they will always be missed, but we cannot change that they are gone. All we can do now is honor and love them – and remember them.
This Christmas, I remember the ones we have lost, the lives that have meant much to us, in some way or another. Though they are no longer here in physical form, the memory of them remains – the love we had for them, the memories of them that we hold close as mementos. I remember them, and I honor them, as I do with my daughter every single day.
The day has passed, and this day after Christmas is, for me, a chance for reflection, for contemplation. Only briefly, perhaps, because even today, I have things to do. But it’s important to take this moment, to remember.
Merry Christmas, to everyone who reads these words. To everyone who is thinking or has thought of loved ones lost, who are not here to celebrate this holiday of comfort and peace. May blessings find you, and may the rest of 2012 bring you gladness and well-being.
Bless you all.