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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.
Before moving to Texas, I would have said that freezing temperatures and snow were my least favorite weather.
It turns out I was wrong, because since moving to Texas, I have witnessed the most infuriating winds. I hate these winds. I hate them so passionately that it scares me at times. Sustained winds of 15 mph or more, gusts up to 40 mph or more. On Monday, we had sustained winds of up to 23 mph. There were isolated gusts up to 70 mph.
It’s not that I’m a stranger to wind. I spent much of my life in Florida, where winds meant storms, and storms were commonplace. These winds sometimes made me a little nervous, but I never hated them. They didn’t cause me any stress. I understood them, knew what they were all about.
Then I moved to Japan and experienced an entirely different wind. The karakaze (the “empty wind”) blows through Gunma in the winter, a strong wind so dry and so cold. I rode my bicycle to work, but not on days that the karakaze blew, because it was impossible. It was a struggle even to walk. And almost always, those days would be clear, sunny, bright. In Moriya, the city where I lived longest in Japan, there were also strong winds in the weeks preceding spring, but none quite like the karakaze.
I did not hate the karakaze. I considered it a nuisance, and I did not welcome it. At least it was not like the typhoons, destructive and accompanied by rain – but then, the typhoon winds were familiar to me. They were kin to the storm winds of Florida, brutal but never overly sinister. I never hated them either.
But this Texas wind, this wind that tears through the city – there is nothing familiar about it. It is not a companion of old; it is a tyrant, and I hate it. The Monday wind was the worst it has ever been. It loosened the sections of fence that had not been broken over Christmas. It ripped away patches of roofing paper, leaving more to beat against the roof even when the wind is not howling.
Today, a whisper of it is back. But even a whisper is enough. The unrepaired roof pounds at itself like a drum. The fence bends forward where it has come loose, threatening to break free if pushed too hard. Leaves from the churchyard behind our house swirl down into our yard, then back out again, carried away without thought. No birds take to the sky. If they do, they make little headway. The wind itself is loud, whooshing as it goes, leaving everything groaning and moaning in its wake.
And I hate it.
I know what has happened between now and then, and it’s so hard to explain. How can losing my daughter cause me to hate something as common as the wind?
I know also that it’s no good to worry about something I can’t control, and the weather certainly falls into that category. But even if I can’t control it, I have to deal with it. I have to deal with the damage it causes, with the madness it inspires as it shrieks around me.
And I must deal with the powerlessness it inspires.
I had thought that I was used to feeling powerless. That’s something else that comes with being one of the babylost. Control means nothing. But I have come to hate feeling powerless. I have grown so tired of feeling powerless. And here comes this tyrant wind again to remind me that power is nothing that I can claim. I have not chosen to give up control; it was never mine to begin with.
Must the feeling of being in control always be an illusion?
I can’t even control with the repairs will be made; that too is left in someone else’s hands. What can I do but sit and watch, powerless, as the wind thrashes around me and destroys that which I consider – for a time, anyway – to be in my care? This wind drives all sense of focus from me – all I can think of is what it’s doing and how helpless I am to do anything about it.
And I hate the control it has over me.
I hate that I hate feeling so powerless. I can’t let it go. I hate being at the mercy of this world, because it has no mercy.
That is what the tyrant wind tells me. That I can not stop it – or anything else – from taking that which I love. It reminds me that power is not mine.
And I hate it, because it speaks truth.
Hope is all I have. And even when the tyrant wind blows, hope whispers its message. It’s so hard to hear it. But I know that, when the wind stops, hope will still be there. The wind cannot blow that away.
Hope, too, speaks the truth. Power comes in different forms, varying degrees. To withstand the wind, to wait it out, to endure it – that is power of a kind.
When the wind is passed, hope will still be here. I will still be here. Weathered and worn, perhaps, but still here. Ready to pick up the pieces and put them back together and keep going.
Always, keep going.
It only takes the smallest of things. One tiny little thing, and the whole day gets whacked off-kilter, everything goes into a downhill slide of frustration and sadness and tears. Like falling into a hole without knowing how deep it’s going to go. And without knowing how long it will take you to claw your way back to normalcy.
In the grief world, they’re called “triggers.” They set you off, get you running, and you have no choice but to respond to them. Sometimes, it’s brief. Other times, they last for hours, days. And occasionally, it’s a set of them, one after the other, all in rapid succession or intermittent, building up as time goes by.
For me, today, it was one of the kittens.
Mirin, to be precise.
I really thought Yuzu was going to be problematic. He’s older, more rambunctious, more energetic – he just seemed like the type to get into mischief easily. And he does. But it’s all innocent kitten mischief, nothing that causes major problems or promises to develop into future bad habits. He did spend most of yesterday curled up on my lap, refusing to move, but that’s likely because he’s been having tummy troubles and wasn’t feeling good. After a trip to the vet, we’re taking care of that.
No, the problem has turned out to be Mirin, and I’m hoping that it’s just her youth and immaturity that’s the problem and that she’ll grow out of these bad habits she seems to be forming overnight.
For one thing, she can be quite the pest during mealtimes. I roasted a whole chicken last Thursday, and rather than the nice, relaxing dinner I had imagined, it became a battle between us and Mirin for the right to eat that chicken. She nearly jumped into the oven when I pulled it out. She climbed up my legs while I was carving it. She leapt into our laps time and time again while we were eating. She even managed to snatch a piece of chicken off Geordie’s plate after she scaled the tablecloth in a desperate attempt for poultry. After that, we took turns holding her in the living room while the other ate.
The next day, she pestered me again while I was eating non-chicken leftovers. At lunch on Saturday, we had to shut her in the bathroom so that we could eat at the table together in peace. And again for Sunday night’s dinner. Since then, she’s been better behaved, but she still jumps into our laps once or twice at the table. After being shooed away, she’s amused herself with the toys we put near the table.
So that seems to be working itself out. What doesn’t seem to be getting remedied is her elimination habits. We have two litter boxes (one upstairs and one downstairs), and I’m going out today to buy a third, because she’s gotten into the habit of not using them in the mornings after waking up. She uses them during the day, but apparently, it’s too much work to walk from the living room couch to the litter box in the bathroom ten feet away. Instead, she just trotted the five feet to an enclosed toy contraption I bought for them and peed in that. I don’t know if she does this because she can’t initially remember where the litter box is (she is still quite young, maybe 9-10 weeks) or if she’s just that lazy. I really wanted to avoid having a litter box in the living room, but since that’s where they spend the majority of their time, I’m thinking I might not have a choice right now.
I’m hoping she grows out of it, because honestly, I cannot stand a cat who cannot consistently use the litter box. Especially when the other cat in the house has no problem using it, even when he’s having stomach issues that cause him to need the litter box every other hour or so (Yuzu has gotten better since then, thankfully. My only complaint about him is that he seems to want to use the box right when I’m in the middle of cleaning it.)
And yes, I clean it every time I notice one of them has gone in it. I wondered if that was Mirin’s problem, that Yuzu got to it before her and nastied it all up so she didn’t want to use it. But this morning, she was up before he was, and she still didn’t bother to use the downstairs box, which had not been used since I cleaned it last night (the upstairs one had been used, probably because they were playing up there after Geordie and I went up to get ready for bed).
It’s just been these little things, building upon themselves. And then you think, jeez, if I can’t even take care of a kitten properly, how the hell am I going to take care of a baby?
Oh, right. I couldn’t even manage that, could I?
Because it comes back to that, in the end. It always does. It’s the center of my world, even fifteen months later. How can it not be?
The rum cake is taking forever and is infuriating me, and my daughter died.
The crockpot mac & cheese won’t cook properly, and the sauce is breaking, and my daughter died.
It’s pouring rain, and nobody’s driving politely, and my daughter died.
The kitten won’t stop trying to steal our food, and she’s peeing where she pleases, and my daughter died.
It seems like every bad thing that happens is punctuated by that thought. And eventually, there are too many holes in the defenses, and it all comes falling down. The floodgates open, and all the grief and pain come pouring out. Breakdowns are a part of life now.
All I can do is build it back up, knowing that it will never hold properly but also knowing that I don’t have any other choice. Because if I don’t fix it, I’ll just go back to bed and try to wish it all away, and that won’t work. It never works, not even in the short-term. I would have to sleep forever for that to work. Instead, I know that I have to keep trying. The day I give up is the day I stop living, and I’m not ready for that. So I have to deal with the small triggers as well as the big triggers, and I just have to keep going on.
Even if it means putting a litter box right in the middle of the living room for a few weeks. After all, she’s the kitten, I’m the caretaker. If I can’t meet her at least halfway, there’s no point at all, is there?