I’m hesitating even writing this sentence. I’m stuck lately, my head and heart so full of comparisons and connections for my future (and that of my children) that it’s hard to move forward- or even sideways. Hesitation involves some special blend of procrastination and worry for me; putting things off until I’ve surveyed everything from every angle and measured, weighed and provided counterweight for every outcome I can think of. I desire on a very deep level to be happy and to embrace life, joy and gratitude for it all with everything that I have and am. I’ve even figured out how, mostly… but I’ve discovered that on an even deeper level, I’ll always be waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me, waiting for the other shoe to drop. My heart feels like it’s been in a cage match with reality for years now, but that’s not the reality I want to enforce for myself OR for my kids. Although deep grief will always be a part of my life, I recognize that I need to work to change the ensuing fear of (more of) it’s vice grip on my heart, and the arms-distance-length I keep people and opportunities away from me because of it.
I think (especially sudden, unexpected) loss will do that to a person. I poured my heart and soul into Patrick’s health and overall well being; I managed to keep my pregnant body as healthy as possible, did everything I know to be “right” (for me, my family and my level of privilege and lifestyle) after he was born and he was healthy at every check up. I loved him, held him, wore him, nursed him, rocked him, sang to him, read to him, paid attention to every aspect of his well-being with every ounce of my capacity. And then he died. For no reason. Out of nowhere… Just. Fucking. Gone. And with him a piece of my trust in the Universe, and in my own heart and capabilities.
Trying to find my “new normal” after his death; ways to fold the hard facts and feelings of such loss into my current life and into the building of my future- especially when trying to relate and connect to, and eventually trust and depend on others- is a constant, challenging process. It becomes a mixture of embracing “Carpe diem! I’m so grateful to be here, now, with you- let’s do this!” and thinking “I know you’re just going to suddenly vanish… but here we are, so we might as well just make this (possibly singular) time we’re together pleasant“. Both sentiments have echoes of finding joy, gratitude and accepting things as they are, but the latter is laced with that fear I can’t seem to shake, and impedes the happiness of finding joy in the moment and in trusting my heart- or anyone else’s, be it a reader’s, a lover’s or my friend’s.
Patrick was the last one I gave my heart, my joy, my attachment to. I not only loved him with my whole heart, I liked, enjoyed, wanted and cherished him. I’m very pro-choice and already had three kids from two different fathers when I became pregnant, but I chose him and with that choice, a path for myself. I felt he was meant to stay, and that he was a boy; I named him Patrick for my (recently deceased) father when I was less than a month along. During my (HG riddled) pregnancy, I gave and geared my life to nurture and grow the relationships I had with him and with his father (and as always and still, my other three children) in my heart, mind and life. It’s been quite the process over this last year and a half to adjust my sails accordingly… The life I’d meticulously and tirelessly worked to create for years was gone in an instant. Again.
It’s fucking hard to learning to trust myself and the world around me after such massive, sudden, successive losses. It feels impossible sometimes, especially when I consider the past 5 years. In 2009, one of my best friends from high school was murdered. Two weeks later my marriage and life as I knew and had planned it evaporated in seconds at a barbecue in the July sunshine during a casual conversation, and soon after that I lost contact with a near and dear friend of mine after learning of an absolute betrayal.
2010 was the year cancer took my father- one could argue that maybe we saw that coming after his diagnosis, but you don’t expect your healthy, capable, planning-his-birthday-fishing-trip father to die at 54, no matter what. You just don’t. He was diagnosed already at stage 4 Melanoma, and his BRAF cell mutation meant that his cancer cells breed even more quickly than in most people. He went from the strongest man I knew to the weakest in time that doesn’t seem linear or possible- like an hourglass with a triple wide opening, we watched all of his mental and physical strength slipping quietly and quickly away over 8 short months, though I won’t doubt for a minute that his spirit was every anything but valiant, kind and stoic.
His last trip to the hospital, when they said they couldn’t help him anymore, to say I was shocked and saddened is like saying the sun is big and warm. I felt overwhelmed, unprepared and desperate to fix every single damn thing. If a magical faerie had come in that instant, I would have a (possibly color-coded) list of what to change exactly there and then to make everyone feel -and be– better. The trouble is the faeries never come, and we’re these wild minds and hearts with these grandiose feelings and ideas stuck in skin and bones in a chair in a room where sometimes there’s news that your father is going to die. Soon.
It felt like someone blew out a candle in my heart. I caught his eye -and mind you, I have zero poker face- with family, nurses and friends buzzing about the room, he looked and me and said, “It’s not over yet.” and it was true. He was still in the room, still there with me in body, mind and spirit- and still, with his father’s heart, trying to comfort me. He knew that we still had that day and however many we were granted after. I thought then that he was with me in thinking he was still going to beat cancer like the BAMF he was, even if by will and spirit alone… but I know now that he was telling me, “I’m still here right now, and we can cherish that.” Those were the last coherent words that he gave me. He would muster an “I love you” to my mom and I my sisters in the coming days before his imminent departure, but that’s the last clear message I got to hear from his lips, from his eyes, from his heart: Carpe diem.
I’m hesitating at writing another sentence even again, though I know this is the part where I talk about choosing love over letting fear hold me back- but the point is that dammit, I’m human and I’m fucking scared. It’s hard, even for people who have tools to use and know how to use them, even for people who seem to process things with honesty and grace, to move past that “What if I fall?” part.
So here I am, pushing myself to write and put myself out there, too. Vulnerability and fear are huge, scary monsters that we all have differing versions of. It reminds me of Where The Wild Things Are, with Max’s room being our heads that we create entangled forests in, his Wild Things our fears…
“And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, “Be still” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”
Those beasts raged and roared at him until he was able to look his Wild Things in the face and say SHUT THE FUCK UP, DAMMIT. I HAVE SHIT TO DO. … which is what I’ll try and keep in mind the next time there’s a wild rumpus I can’t get out of in my head.
Julie, I lost my father to cancer when he was 54 as well. God it was a gut wrenching, life changing, mind jumbling loss… but i imagine it was nothing compared to the loss of a child. I now have an 18 month old little girl. I think about your loss of Pat Pat often when I look at her, so close in age to Pat Pat when he passed away…. I cling to her with a frantic desire to enjoy every moment that I have with her. I too struggle with enjoying every moment without feeling a fear of loss. Thank you for sharing so that we can all feel a sense of community with other mothers that share similar struggles.
hoping you can take your own good advice. xoxoxo
Julie, I hope my comment does not offend you because it is not my intention. I truly believe that if God is the center of your life he will be able to fill the empty holes inside of you do to the heavy loss you have suffered. I don’t know if you are religious or not but it is just a suggestion. Again I don’t want to offend you. I think you often and I pray that you and your family find peace over losing dear PatPat. The loss of a child is something I pray that no mother has to endure. You are strong.