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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.

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?

So, if you’re counting (and maybe you’re not, but I am), I only did nine of my twelve treats. That’s because my family showed up, and not only did I not get around to posting about the treat, I didn’t even get around to making them.

I was going to make frosted sugar cookies to welcome them to Texas. Didn’t happen.

I was going to make red velvet cupcakes for Christmas Day dinner. Didn’t happen.

We were going to make peanut butter balls as a family, as we’ve done for years. Didn’t happen.

It was a combination of family getting together, holiday excitement, and the sudden onset of a cold. All in all, not the best baking conditions. Not the best cooking ones either. I did make them a fantastic beef daube and an awesome turkey (my first turkey ever!), so I’m glad for that.

As for when those three treats will be made . . . well, I dunno. I’d still like to do the cupcakes. Honestly, I’d like to do all three, because they are yummy and I love them. And peanut butter balls last forever in the freezer (except they don’t really, because I can’t resist eating them for that long). So maybe there’s hope for them yet.

For now, I’ve got a little cold to worry about, and kittens to keep an eye on. They sleep a lot and take pretty good care of themselves, but they’re also on the curious side, especially when I’m in the kitchen messing around with stuff on the counters and they can’t see what it is. Also, Yuzu really really likes to know what we’re eating. And the leftover turkey we had last night received plenty of attention.

So maybe I’ll get around to the three remaining treats. Maybe not. We’ll see. All I know is, I’m ready for 2013. I’m ready for January to be here, and we can get back to regular schedules and stuff.

And considering that we’ve been hearing (and sometimes seeing) fireworks nightly since the weekend before Christmas, I’m willing to bet that I’m going to wish we could just fast-forward to the 2nd and be done with it. I love Christmas, but I am not a great fan of New Year’s.

Except for the champagne. I do like champagne.

Sara

I am a daughter and a sister, a wife and a friend. I am a reader and a writer, a dreamer and a realist, a teacher and a learner. I am the mother of a baby born sleeping. I am on a journey of healing, walking a path paved with tears and grief and hope.

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