Lessons, Not Resolutions

I think it’s nice to start out a new year with some resolutions. I don’t know that I’ve ever really set any official ones, and I definitely won’t be this year, but I do like the idea of January 1st being a time to reflect back and to set some intentions for the year ahead. With grief as a constant and unpredictable companion, though, resolving to do much of anything can lead to a lot of disappointment. Grief has its own ideas and it’s a skill to learn to just roll with it. Which is why I’m reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over this holiday season and thinking about how I might do better in the year ahead with my buddy grief.

Christmas was hard. Harder than we had anticipated. I’ve said it before (and I still believe it’s true) that anticipation of a thing is often harder than the thing itself. I thought I had a plan for making Christmas feel okay, but it just didn’t go the way I had imagined it would. Somehow I thought this year (our second without Odin) would be easier than last year and it just wasn’t. In some ways it was harder.

Typically, I’m pretty good at articulating my feelings. Which usually means I can talk relatively freely about what I need. For some reason this Christmas I sort of clammed up. The plan I mentioned in my last post to light a candle and bring Kornflake for my niece and nephew to play with sort of just didn’t happen. My niece had the barfs so I didn’t want to bring Kornflake out and, for some reason, I sort of just snuck Odin’s picture and candle onto the piano when no one was looking. I didn’t say anything and I’m not even sure who noticed it was there. I have no idea why I did it that way. Maybe in part because it’s so sad to have a memorial set up when Christmas is meant to be a happy celebration? Maybe I felt guilty about bringing people down? Maybe I was hoping someone else would do the work of saying something?

The Christmas routine unfolded as per usual with the high-volume chaos that accompanies 8 grown-ups and 2 kids under 6 opening a million gifts. When it was all over I just couldn’t contain it anymore and I retreated to the bedroom to sob and spent a couple of hours avoiding brunch and feeling sadder than I had felt in a long time.

I should have said something. I should have asked for what I needed. It’s all over and we didn’t talk about Odin at all. I’m so sorry, baby boy. I miss you.

There were a couple of bright spots to the morning, though, and ones I’m grateful for. N’s brother and wife slipped him a card after the gifts were opened and I was hiding away that read, “In loving memory of Odin we’ve made a donation to the High Park Nature Centre. Love Uncle M and Auntie T”. Which was very sweet and thoughtful of them to do. Also, my other SIL had two wrapped gifts and a card for Odin (something she did for us last year that was so incredibly important for us). This year it was a little grey sweatshirt that would have fit his nearly two-year-old frame that says Odin in gold letters. (The note suggested that Baby Girl could wear it in a couple of years.) She also gave us a board book about fish that was a favourite of her kids when they were two (and is extra special in a family full of fishermen). Having this ritual of opening gifts for Odin is the saddest but most heart-warming part of my Christmas (in addition to having an Odin-ornament-only Christmas tree). The fact that he is remembered and thought of in this really tangible way helps so much. I regret, though, that we opened these gifts in private. Each year we open SIL’s gifts away from everyone else because, inevitably, we break down into crying messes thinking about how things should be so different. I think that next year I would like to open them with all the other “normal” gifts. Bearing witness to our grief — even years down the road — I think is important for our families to see and be a part of. I hope that well in advance of Christmas next year I will be able to communicate that we need to talk about Odin. That we’d like to start a ritual where we all light a candle together or that we’d like everyone to do an act of kindness in his name. Or maybe we’ll do a stocking with notes to him. Something. Anything, really. I’ll admit that I sort of resent having to tell people what to do or to ask people to be thoughtful, but I’ve realized that what to do for grieving infant loss parents is a huge blindspot for people in general. Without articulating what you need, (except in rare and very special cases) you just won’t get it.

Next Christmas, it will be even more important for us to be vocal about what we need. The routines of the holiday are already distracting enough but we will (fingers crossed, hopes high) have a nearly one-year-old who I’m sure will be keeping us busy. And the feelings of joy at having her there will be complicated by missing Odin. I can’t even imagine what that will feel like, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk and be open about it.

Advertisements

Christmas, Round Two

I’ve been sick with a cold for almost a week now. N has had it, too, but worse and for longer (t’is the season). It’s had us both couch- and bed-ridden, exhausted, and depleted. And it’s been a distraction to the lead up to Christmas because we’re just trying to physically function as the days tick by. I’m feeling a little bit better this morning and I looked at the calendar and can hardly believe how quickly Christmas has snuck up. What woke me up this morning was the vision I had of how we’ll include Odin in Christmas morning at my in-laws. I often struggle and get anxious about what holidays or events will look like when I want to include Odin in everything we do but, so far, I’ve always had an idea pop into my head as the day approaches. (For example, at our family baby shower for baby girl a few weeks ago, N and I took a few minutes before we opened gifts to talk about Odin and to light a candle for him and for other family members who are no longer with us. It felt good to bring him into that space where we wanted to celebrate our baby girl, but also wanted to acknowledge that life without our baby boy is still so hard. That forever balancing act.)

For Christmas, the idea isn’t anything all that creative or fancy, but the image of what I think will help our hearts came to me so clearly and made me think of our little guy and, of course, brought on a wave of grief.

We have so much to be grateful for, and so much to look forward to. But that doesn’t change the fact that there will always be a missing piece. 

Grief ebbs and flows and changes, sometimes daily. It’s no secret that the holidays are a difficult time for anyone who has experienced loss. It’s a time to be together with family and to celebrate and when you’re missing someone it just makes everything harder. The happiness of others can be excruciating when you’re missing a piece of your heart. When I think about last Christmas and how I just wanted to skip the whole affair, I know that this year will be different. The sadness isn’t as raw as it was a year ago, but there’s no doubt that it will still be hard. I think every year will be hard even though I know the grief will continue to evolve.

Sometimes grief is a monster that rears its head, bringing you to your knees with images of the days and weeks around the trauma of the loss. Sometimes you are overcome with longing for what your life should be. But sometimes grief is gentler, and tugs at your heartstrings when you consider how much deeper you are able to love and understand the pain of others since your loss. Even though you would trade it all in a heartbeat to have your baby back, the connections you’ve made with others on this journey are a gift. Sometimes grief steals; sometimes grief gives.

What I imagine for Christmas morning is that that we will bring a small framed picture of Odin with a flameless candle to place on top of the piano in the room where we all gather to open gifts. I think we’ll also bring Kornflake (the bear we got at the hospital when Odin was born) so that our niece and nephew can play with him while the gifts are opened. Hopefully that will make everyone comfortable with thinking about him and maybe saying his name. Hopefully it will feel like enough.

Every ornament on our Christmas tree is for Odin. This one was made this year by Jessi Snapp over at Luminous Light Studio.

 

 

MYOB

I’m not sure why some people feel the need to give advice to those of us with babies on the way. I guess I know it’s just part of how our society operates but I really really want to know the why of it. Because this specific brand of advice for expectant parents is always at least a little bit the same. It’s typically some kind of warning or scare tactic to make you realize that parenting an infant is “gonna be the worst!” Does it make people feel better about how they dealt with certain aspects of raising a newborn? Are they trying to project their experiences onto me? I honestly can’t figure it out.

“Sleep now while you can!”

I’m trying, really I am. Elaborate pillow system and all. Some nights I sleep pretty well, other nights aren’t great. Being told to sleep now because I may never sleep again, surprisingly, doesn’t make sleep any easier. Weird, right?

“Insomnia is nature’s way of preparing you for the sleepless nights ahead when the baby comes!”

What is grief insomnia for then? I have a hard time believing that insomnia is for anything at all. I think it’s just an unfortunate part of our biology. We are meant to sleep and I doubt there’s any science in lack of sleep being a way to prepare for something. (Someone jump in if I’m wrong here.)

“Get ready for all hell to break loose!”

I know this was meant to be a lighthearted comment. But “hell”? Really? I know a little bit about what my own personal hell is, having lived through it, and I know that bringing baby girl home and into our lives [knocking on wood here that she’s healthy] will not be hell. It will be challenging, but it will not be hell.

“Your job is to not get divorced in the first 100 days.”

This advice was from a person we just met. She was three sheets to the wind at the time and I don’t even remember her name but we had to laugh because what do people think a baby is? If we are lucky enough to bring our daughter home, healthy and safe, I can guarantee you that no matter what kind of baby she is N and I will not be divorcing over her existence in our lives. And this can’t just be because we’ve experienced a loss. For sure N and I have a bond over losing Odin that has made our relationship stronger than anything out there, but regular people have babies all the time. Divorce? In the first 100 days? What kind of relationships do these people have? And where did the arbitrary 100 days come from?

“Having a newborn is so hard.”

Agreed. One hundred per cent a true statement and one we fully recognize (and do not really need to be reminded of). But you know what’s harder? Not having that newborn. Giving birth to your child and returning home without him and continuing to live a life that will never truly be complete . It’s a challenge for me not to remind people of that and I find myself literally biting my tongue sometimes. Most of what I’m talking about here isn’t just about PAL, it’s a general complaint about people not being able to mind their own business. (I know I’m not the only one who wishes people would quit giving unsolicited advice.) But when you factor in loss, it adds another layer. Where were these people who are worried about us getting enough sleep and divorcing when we really were going through the worst imaginable thing? Why is it now, when we’re about to meet our baby girl, that these random people want to put a negative spin on things? We are already anxious enough, thankyouverymuch. It’s such a weird thing to me. People, generally, being so willing to remind you of how “hard” things are and yet also, generally, being so unable to sit with things that are truly difficult, like grief. How and who does it help to suggest that this new chapter in our lives will be hard?

+++

“MYOB” is a thing my grade two teacher used to say to whiny students who would complain to her about other kids in the class. I’m sure it saved her a lot of time not to utter, “Mind Your Own Business” a million times a day to second-graders.