It’s been 122 Fridays since I last held my littlest love. I count because I can’t help it. I count because he’s my son and he’ll never stop mattering to me. I count because numbers are something real that makes sense to me, unlike his absence, unlike SUDC. Patrick should be three and a half years old, a bundle of energy and curiosity, making me exhausted, flabbergasted and completely in love now, but all I can do is hold space for how long it’s been for me since a time when that was my reality.
I remember life with him like a dream I just woke up from- flashing details, some tremendous and metaphorical, others just inflections of scenes from every day living. I remember the feel of his full cheeks against my skin and the feel of his left hand pat pat-pat-pat-ing my chest while he nursed. Sometimes it was a literal slap in the face- the variation is akin how my heart being touched by his memory feels now, usually I just notice it and keep doing what I’m doing, but sometimes it surprises me and demands attention.
I can’t always write about Patrick because it still fucking kills me inside in some way every time, no matter how much bigger my love than my ache. I don’t always want that visceral reality front and center to my own because I can’t function very well from my knees, which is where it brings me in every sense of the word without fail. But I’m getting better, and have found that speaking one on one or in a small group is easier than writing because it’s back and forth and there’s someone else participating and sharing. Here, it’s all me, just staring at my abyss, then making it public. Yikes. But I’m doing it. Progress, or something. Coming to terms with vulnerability and making baby steps.
I went to hang out at a friend’s yesterday and ended speaking openly about grief and loss over beers around a pool- and I realized that that’s what my reality is now: my grief is fully integrated into my joy, and authentic life lies somewhere in between. After a minute, I found out his roommate’s mother was a hospice nurse, and she had some really wonderful insights around life, death and the in between. I went from hesitantly sharing bits and pieces into a full blown conversation on cultural grief processes that I’m really grateful for.
Another friend messaged me last night to tell me that she thinks of me every time she wipes fingerprints from around her house and takes an extra minute to be grateful for her son because I shared. It takes courage to be vulnerable on both ends to have a conversation like that, and I’m honored and grateful every time someone takes a step outside of their comfort zone to make that connection. When I think about it, every. single. time. I’ve written something or shared about my grief in whatever minutia or grandeur it occurs, someone has thanked me, and/or shared that they’ve been carrying similar grief and never had the tools or place to acknowledge or (start to) process it.
I still don’t know how to help someone process their grief, I just share what works (and doesn’t) for me. Bereavement Doula Training helps, but all I know to get myself through the day is to acknowledge my feelings and know they’ll end, just like a contraction. Some require stillness paired with reflective, internal pep talking, some require animalistic howling and movement. It’s different every feeling, every person, every time. All I’ve learned is to not sugar coat the tough stuff- life is full of it, and the more experienced we and our children are with it, the better we’ll be able to handle hard times when they come. The best we can do is stay with it. So here’s my attempt to.
On top of being a Friday, it’s also Father’s Day weekend, which has been particularly painful since my own father passed from Melanoma in 2010. My newsfeed the past few days has been drenched with an influx of painful reminders of being unfathered, as well as news upon news about awful, tragic, downright infuriating and embarrassing racism and misogyny– it all just makes me want to curl into a ball and hide. One person’s baby shot 9 other people’s babies because of the color of their skin. That’s all I see when I read the news… babies. Even people three times my age are someone’s baby- children SUDC didn’t touch that got to grow up and end up where they are.
The grief in the world is exponential with each loss, and my mother’s heart is heavy thinking about all the other parents’ hearts out there in their first stages of grief. I had one of the worst nightmares I’ve had last night that consisted of essentially waking up over and over again to be reminded that my close friend had died in a tragic accident; reliving the hardest part of grieving for my head and heart on repeat. Those first fuzzy seconds upon waking where the rug gets pulled out from under me and the world comes crashing down anew are still a place I have very, very deep fear, I know. I’m afraid all of my loved ones are going to suddenly and unexpectedly die every second of every day. I try and use that fear to encourage my love, if that makes any damn sense, but it doesn’t take away the undercurrent of anxiety. I cried in relief when I woke up and realized that this one time, I got to wake up like I’ve prayed every morning to for 121 weeks now.
I’m heartbroken for all the parents that don’t get to wake up knowing they’ve had a long, cruel dream. (I sent my still very alive friend a text first thing this morning, even before coffee) My best during the times when I feel helpless is to provide space for myself and other grieving hearts to say, “That is awful. That should never happen. I hear you. I’m so sorry. Life makes no fucking sense sometimes. Thank you for trusting me enough to share. I have no words that can help, but I’m here. This sucks and I hate it for you and I’m here.”
And I’m here. For the parents with babies of any age who are gone too soon for reasons known or unknown, that we can understand or that we never will. I am here, and I will love my own children so damn hard that they’ll never think of harming yours. In 20 years when this generation we’ve parented grows up, we’ll see the difference we’ve made and it will all add up and mean something.
I often feel insignificant -and in the grand (and even minor) scheme of things, I absolutely am- but that shouldn’t keep me from sharing what matters to me, just as none of us should ever hold back from doing the small things that help ourselves and others, whatever they may be– doing so is exactly how the world gets better. For me, I help by writing. For me, it’s helping others try and slow down, prioritize and to be kind and grateful to ourselves, our children and each other.
I encourage you to bring my SUDC goggles with you the next time you’re feeling frustrated or helpless in your homes or reading your newsfeeds. All of those grown up babies need love and education, and some are glaring examples of what happens when the lack of those things meet. Unfortunately, we don’t have time machines and can’t go back and fix the childhoods of the adults that make hateful, poorly informed choices, we can only learn from them. What we can do is make sure the childhoods we CAN affect are met with love, always seeking to learn and grow together. Keep bringing love, vulnerability, empathy and education to the table. It’s gonna be okay.