Has it really been almost four years? Today it feels like yesterday; tomorrow it may feel as though eternity has passed. The only constant in this sea of grief is my son, Cain, is not here. He’s dead.
He’s dead. He’s dead. No matter how many times I type that phrase or speak it, it never gets easier. With his death, grief made its unwelcome entrance into my life. I’ve walked with it so long, I don’t remember how it feels not to have the weight of it pushing me down, making it impossible to stand like the person I was before I knew its heaviness.
It is cumbersome and complicated.
There is no taking it off, laying it aside for a moment, waiting until a time when I am ready, prepared to carry it. There is no ready time for this burden of grief. There is no preparation, no strength or endurance training. One day it just happened, and it was there, insisting I carry it everywhere, to see and feel everything new and old with the knowledge of its presence, my constant unwanted companion.
It’s hard to step out of the darkness of grief into the light of day. Within that day are routines and simplicity, and the new reality is, life for me isn’t any of those things anymore. This “new normal” everyone speaks of is only now an illusion, and most times, seemingly, beyond my grasp. Besides, I don’t want a new normal. I only want my child, my baby, the one that was taken from me.
After Cain died, I would lie awake at night terrified to close my eyes. Sleep, comforting for most, evoked fear in me. What would the dreams be like? Would my son be alive in them, or would I be forced once again to relive him dying in my arms. But it wasn’t just the fear of dreams. The moments lying there with only silence and stillness around me was almost unbearable. In the moments before drifting off to sleep with my husband already asleep beside me, the grief would rise up to suffocate me. “Why didn’t you save him? Why didn’t you do more? You. You are the reason he’s dead. You are the reason he’ll never met his brother. You, you, you. You did this.” Those are hard thoughts to live with, and without fail, every night, they would come. It was as if the darkness outside summoned them to me, as if the universe was plotting against me to make me suffer more. Grief is like that. Unbearable, ugly and intense but more than anything, suffocating.
I’ve always hated the dark. Even as a small child, I always needed a nightlight to scare away the monsters I was sure were lurking somewhere in the recesses of my room. And now, at 33 years old, the monsters were back, except this time, they were real. The monster was death, and there was no scaring him away. He was here to stay. And he’s here still. In every question about the number of children I have, he’s there reminding me, “One more.” Every time I allow my children to spread their wings of exploration, to try something new, he is there reminding me how a single moment could possibly take them away from me forever. My monster is now my companion. My worst fears realized abide with me always. Beneath every happy day and wide-eyed grin of my children, the monster is there reminding me of what he has taken from me.
When there is joy, it whispers in my ear what can and will never be. When there is sadness, it drags me closer to ground, and I find myself crawling down roads through memories like quicksand. In those moments, I reach up, waiting for a hand to pick me up, lift me out of the mire. At times it seems there is no one here in this wasteland but me.
I call for my child in my dreams. I wait and wait and wait, but he never comes. His face, though vivid in pictures, fades from me, from my grasp. I awaken to find no comfort. He isn’t here, and he hasn’t been.
I search for him in the expressions of my living children. I see only glimpses of what I think are him. But is it really? I only saw him once, briefly. Can I be sure it is really him I see?
So do me a favor, okay? Don’t tell me I am dwelling. I don’t want to hear it. I HATE those words. I loathe them. Unless you have watched helplessly as your child took their last breaths, unless you have allowed some stranger to take your child’s body from your arms, unless you have stood over a grave on every holiday and birthday imagining how different things could be, then don’t tell me how to process my grief. Grief isn’t reflective of the amount of time our children lived. Much the opposite, our grief is indicative of a lifetime of what will never be.
Yes, I have my days. Days I want to hide from the world. Days when sad is all I feel, an emptiness, a sense that I can, nor will I ever be, whole again. And yes, I feel happiness. My two living children and my wonderful husband see to that. They fill my heart so there are moments I almost forget that grief is lurking in our midst. Almost. Almost, until a voice somewhere deep inside whispers, “One more. There’s one more.” There’s a pull at my heart, as if Cain has reached inside and tugged ever so gently, saying, “Don’t forget me, mommy.” Never, my squirmy worm. Never ever, ever. And in an instant, joy and immeasurable pain coincide.