Monday, June 21, 2021

Dead Relative

During the pandemic I've spent a lot of (too much) time on social media and the other day I saw someone complaining about people who have a "dead relative" in their bio. Couldn't figure out what the specific criticism was. At time of writing my twitter profile reads "My son died at birth & I am a worse person because of it & a better person because of him. He lives on in our hearts, thoughts & actions." It made me think about changing it. [update: I've changed it! lol.] After all I'm not just tweeting about stillbirth, death and grief anymore. Since I stopped doing the concentrated stillbirth work a few years ago, I've expanded my learning and activism to include many different social justice issues. So I could change it to something more general and not have a DEAD RELATIVE in my profile. It doesn't actually matter because I don't have many followers and I'm fine with that. It's never been about growing my account, it's just an outlet (one of many) for grief and somewhere to put stuff. The other big change I've gone through over the years is that I'm less focused on what I have lost, what our family has lost, and starting to think more about him and what he has lost. Obviously I have thought about the fact that he died just at the moment his life was starting ("well before his time" sounds like a ludicrous understatement when we're talking about a newborn baby). But it's hard to think about that piece so I haven't really done much of it. Much easier to be self-absorbed. Spend years in therapy talking about me me me. But the further we get from his death and birth, the harder it is for me to place him anywhere in my life. It's that unresolvable conflict of him being 9 years old and also a newborn baby in the same moment. And I don't want to lose him. Love never dies and all that, remember?? 

The difficult truth is that there is a certain privilege in feeling pain. I am alive. He is not. That's not to say that people suffering from chronic pain, or any kind of pain, should feel grateful. No. That's absurd. All physical pain should be able to be eliminated (and we would be able to, if we collectively decided this was important), and all non-physical pain should be supported to the point where the person feels able to live. Wants to live. Can feel hope again. And joy. 

Pain? Of course. Extended suffering? Never.

He doesn't get to feel pain because he doesn't get to feel anything. There's nothing I can do for him about that now. And so I don't like to think about it because what parent wants to feel this helpless.

I would like to change this identity. Hopelessly bereaved mother. After 9 years I'm tired of it. But would I rather feel these conflicting emotions and identities than feel nothing? Most days, yes.

Great!

Of course I know people who complain about those who continue to love their dead relatives are really just not wanting to be reminded of death and sadness. Makes sense. Who does? But these people really need to move on from needing me to move on from my grief. I'm right where I need to be. Which both sucks and is amazing.



Wednesday, December 09, 2020

His Tree

I finally solved the problem of what to do about his tree. The first Christmas we bought a small living tree with the idea that we would eventually plant it in his memory and visit it at his birthday and decorate it every year. This turned out to be impossible in our circumstances so we kept it at home with us for as long as we could before we could see it needed to be planted. I can’t bear to revisit the whole ordeal of trying to turn this poor tree into a living memorial. It’s too painful and exhausting. 

That first Christmas without him I found some perfect decorations that I thought represented beauty and sadness, lightheartedness and seriousness, a newborn baby but also a mama who likes nice things. I can never just go in one direction with him. It’s impossible and automatic, at least so far, almost 9 years in. 

A couple of years ago I found an artificial tree with lights and flowers and we use it in her bedroom to calm her down for reading at bedtime. This year I wanted a more wintry one and found a “birch” version. I accidentally got it in black instead of white but the rest of the family thought it looked nice so I kept it. Also this pandemic just makes returning or exchanging things so much more complicated. 

We were going to decorate a tree outside our building this year but that project would probably require more effort than we can muster.

And that is a long way of saying this morning  I figured out how he could finally have his own tree. 












Saturday, October 31, 2020

Belated Response

Congratulations on your new baby. I'm glad and relieved he arrived safe and sound. And I appreciate the sensitive wording of your email in letting me know, as well as you going out of your way to send me a separate message. Other people's good news can be confusing and upsetting and make me feel like not a great person because although I am always genuinely happy for my friends, it also contrasts so sharply and painfully with my own family's loss.

It was interesting what you told me about holding your newborn son and looking out the window and seeing a hummingbird, and that a feeling of peace about Toren washed over you. As a bereaved parent I always see those events differently and honestly can't relate to the feelings of peace you describe. His death will always be tragic for me, and 8 years on I'm confident knowing I will never not be sad about it. I also must gently urge you to try to never feel peaceful, or have some kind of "closure" about my baby's death. I think when people do that, we head down a dark and dangerous road, not only as a society who could solve these largely preventable deaths if we wanted to, but also as individuals. Some things are just sad forever. This is a hard truth but it will set you free. It will also make it easier for me to receive other people's wonderful news.

Wishing your family every possible joy,

A.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Excavating

There was a narrow closet in the hall of the house where I grew up. We used it for towels and linens. It only had a knob on the outside. I remember one time my little brother, older sister and I were playing in that closet and we accidentally locked ourselves in. I don't know how old we were but small enough to fit in what I remember to be a pretty small closet. My father was napping and I don't know where my mom was. He was a teacher and he was at home so I'm assuming it was a weekend. Maybe she was out getting groceries. We yelled and yelled to be let out and eventually our father heard us and got up. He opened the door and as we crawled out one by one, he held his belt in his hand and whipped us with it while we screamed and cried. 

It's actually very hard to think of this memory now that I have a child. I honestly can't imagine how terrified and messed up she would be if we treated her that way. How terrified my siblings and I were. I'm so angry when I think of that memory. It's sometimes triggered when my husband puts his belt on. The tinkling of the buckle. When that woman said she was going to start hitting her kids so they would behave better. When a former friend defended people's right to use violence on their children. She's right, too. Adults do have that right.

My daughter is having a completely different upbringing to what I had. I'm so grateful for that. We still live in a pretty punitive society. When children make mistakes, they are punished for it. In happens in schools all the time, even now. No matter how nice random teachers are, the system is based on reward and punishment. Thirty plus hours a week for months at a time, for almost the whole of their developmental years. And then children grow up to be adults who think that people need to be punished when they make mistakes. Every day I fight this mentality, in myself and in others.

When you reward "good" and punish "bad", you think that when something bad happens, you must have done something to deserve it. I think about this a lot since my baby died.

I'm only really starting to deal with these memories now. They have run through my mind over the years. So many memories. I feel like it's time to put some order to them. These experiences shaped my whole life and definitely impact my grief. I would really rather not think about this. But it's time to start untangling all this. And to stop feeling like such a bad person all the time.


Thursday, September 03, 2020

Paddling

This week our daughter joined a paddle boarding camp. It's been hard to find organized activities for her during this pandemic summer so when a friend told us her daughter was joining this camp it seemed perfect. Unfortunately, long story short, after a few days of vigorous physical activity, our daughter became stranded on her board yesterday due to severe upper back and arm pain. She couldn't even lift her paddle. She tried to swim back to shore but just didn't have the strength. Throughout all of this, there wasn't a single teacher nearby or even aware of her distress. Fortunately, her classmates, a group of girls mostly younger than her, came to her rescue. My heart swells when I think of it. They noticed she had fallen behind and was in trouble and paddled back and devised their own rescue.

We happened to come by the camp early to pick her up and when she saw us she came over and explained what happened. And then she burst into tears. She was in pain, and she felt so abandoned by the teachers. But just before we left after gathering up her things, she pulled herself together and went over to her group and thanked them for helping her. I've lost count of the times I've seen children behave more compassionately and respectfully than adults. 

All day yesterday and this morning I'm grappling with so many emotions about what could have happened. And my mind can't help thinking - we have already lost one child due to the negligence of others. Although I definitely struggle with guilt about how I couldn't save him, I also understand that the healthcare system is not equipped to prevent stillbirth, nor to support bereaved parents after their child dies. I will always believe his death was preventable. So to have our daughter be put in this dangerous situation - I will need time to process it. I feel so grateful to that group of resourceful girls who came to her rescue, and grateful to have my child here at home with me, safe.




Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Isolation

This global crisis has been hard for so many people, especially those who were already struggling to manage day-to-day life, like the unhoused and people with disabilities. I follow local social justice activists on social media and I can see how much people are struggling and how scared so many people are. Regular life was already difficult and anxiety-inducing and coronavirus, and the lack of financial and social supports, have only multiplied the challenges.

For me, I am grateful for how fortunate we are. We have a comfortable home. We have enough food and easy access to supplies. We have an income and savings. All the things everyone needs and should have to get through this safely. We have each other, our little family of 3, and our sweet silly pup. Our daughter is missing her classes and her friends. But the truth is that we were already living a pretty isolated lifestyle since our baby was stillborn. On the whole, our lives have not really changed that much since the lockdown started. It’s been 8 years since I delivered his body and 5 years since I lost my biggest support network in a way that knocked me down even further. I stopped being able to fly because of panic attacks. We started homeschooling when I realized that for 30+ hours a week our daughter was not going to get the acceptance and support she needed to cope with the loss of her brother. I’m lucky I don’t have to work and can be with her. I‘m happier and healthier staying home rather than going to social gatherings because I can be sad if I need to, or joyful without worrying that people will think I’m “over it”. Even with our dog, she can be reactive to certain people & dogs so we were always moving out of people’s way with her. Now it’s just more acceptable to step into the road to avoid people or to suddenly change directions to avoid busy areas. People don’t look at us like, why are these idiots walking basically a lion. They sometimes even smile and give us a wave. 

Am I happy that now everyone is living this way? That my private life now matches more closely the dominant culture? How can I be happy when so many are suffering and dying, traumatically at home, or tragically alone in hospital. And there’s always the thought that it could happen to us although fortunately, our area has not been hard hit. These are scary and stressful times. In our neighbourhood we do the 7:00 applause for the essential workers getting us through this crisis. I see my neighbours on their balconies enjoying this moment every evening but for me it’s solemn. I bang my little drum or ring some bells but I take it so fucking seriously. I want to cry every damn time. I know most of those workers are not getting compensated or protected nearly enough for the risks they’re being asked to take. Then they have to go home and potentially expose their loved ones to a highly contagious and deadly virus. I do actually think it’s lovely to connect with neighbours in this small way, and to have this to look forward to as a daily ritual. But it’s also a death knell. 

What’s been helping me is seeing more and more people call out the terrible way things were done pre-pandemic, like not caring for the most vulnerable or thinking that because someone is elderly or disabled or ill, it’s kind of ok if they die. That it’s reasonable to ask people to die to protect some rich guy’s stock portfolio. Maybe when it’s all over the world will go back to the way it was because privileged people hate thinking about unpleasant things and don’t want to do the work that will benefit all of us. Or maybe positive change is coming.