Sunday, June 8, 2014

Too much loss

C.T. picks out a couple of beach toys from the sparse hotel collection.

I think I just need a bucket and a sifter, mama.

Ok, sweetie, you take what you think you'll need, but let's leave some for the other kids who might be staying here...

A gentleman hotel patron suggests that C.T. snatch up the gigantic plastic shovel.  Bigger toys for bigger boys, I suppose.  C.T. resists, saying shyly that he prefers to dig with his hands.  The man seems to admire C.T.'s restraint and no doubt thinks he's a cute kid.  He smiles warmly at us, stands close to us, wanting to exchange small talk...

I have three boys of my own, at home...  

I force a smile.  Any words I might have pre-planned for an interaction like this, evaporate into the Caribbean air.  I want to tell him that I, too, have three boys, but instead I stand speechless, with C.T.'s beach toys in hand. 


It has never been easy or straight-forward to participate in introductory small talk about my family.  After B.W.'s death, it took a few years to get my mantra out relatively clean.  

Yes, we do have other children, C.T. does have a sibling.  His brother, B.W., died, was stillborn, in 2006.  Half of my heart is with him.  

If I sensed it would be a very short conversation or the person seemed unable or unwilling to hear the whole truth...

C.T. is our only living child.
(In this case, I would mention B.W. only when prompted, which was incredibly rare.  Most people were thankful I gave them an "out", by not getting specific about the loss of life in our family.  The ugliness of it too heavy for them to hold for even a nanosecond.) 

Now, after Zachary's death, I find myself entirely unable to wrap this horror-story-box-set-of-a-family-life up with a pretty bow, for the sake of casual interactions.  It's much too awful and unfathomable to live this life, much less try and explain it to a stranger.  Too painful for me to witness the shock in their eyes, to see the look of regret for having taken an interest in me and my family, or to hear their clumsy attempt to smooth over the story of my dead children, for their own comfort.      

As I develop my new public family mantra, I know that there is no right way to do this.  There is no way that I will ever feel satisfied with a two-minute portrayal of my splintered family.  If I share too little, I will feel ashamed at the disservice to my deceased children, who are equals to C.T., in my heart.  If I share too much, in many ways, I will feel like a leper, with my sad, sad story of loss.  If I provide the whole truth, some people will decide it's just too heavy and not worth their trouble to get to know me.  Some will attempt to relate by drawing comparisons to lesser losses in their own lives.  Many will change the subject, talk endlessly about their own children and hope that I never, ever again, bring up the subject of my dead children.        

But, this is not about my fumbling interactions with people out in the world.   

What festers and eats at my gut, what my failure to respond to the hotel patron only fractionally demonstrates, is that Zachary's suffering and death, on top of B.W.'s death, is honestly just too much for this particular mother to bear.  The cumulative loss I have to live with now, after Zachary's death, has tipped my internal pain scale too far.  Saying goodbye once, to my firstborn, living without him, was and is devastating.  Saying goodbye to Zachary, after having his healthy prognosis dangled out within easy reach, his first week of life so beautifully lived with us, before the torture of the sepsis and treatment, is indescribably shattering.  This double loss of life - I could never have imagined the compounding effect it is having on me, on us.     

I am at a total loss to find a way to sit even somewhat comfortably with my new life story.  Everywhere I turn, I see the image of Zachary writhing in pain, whimpering constantly, no one doing much of anything about it, on the day he developed the infection.  I remember his body pulsating with the rhythm of the oscillating ventilator that he never should have needed.  I remember his open eyes, his tongue movements as I held him and we prepared to remove his life support.  I can feel the weight of him in my arms as he slipped away, slowly turning gray and cold over the next two hours.  And then, I can't help but see B.W.'s body, already limp and cold and gray in my arms, now close to eight years ago, never having taken even a single breath outside of the womb.  But, you see, I can hardly tolerate thinking about them simultaneously.  It's just too much death, too much damage to a single family.  My Zachary.  My boys.  My beautiful boys.  Why both of them?  How will I actually live with this? 


For anyone who read the previous post about our travel woes, we did finally receive our lost bag late in the afternoon, on day 5 (of 7) of our trip.  The three of us, and all of our stuff, arrived home safely on Saturday. 



  1. Oh, Gretchen. That you could have two sons - two perfect boys - die is so awfully ...unfair. That seems a weak word, but it also calls to mind the child's howl and stomp and unfiltered rage at the entire universe. I have nothing helpful to say - what could I say that would help? I am aching at the unfairness of this - at the senselessness. I do not wonder that you can't tolerate thinking about both your sons simultaneously. I so wish there was something comforting to say, but I don't see what comfort a mother takes from this type of loss. I will come here to read, to listen - in my very early days after A's death, I remember reading comments where women said they would 'abide' with me or with others, and I didn't completely understand what that meant - now, with distance, I get it: I can sit (virtually) beside you and listen to whatever it is you need to say. I can hear you. That is all, and it is never enough, but it is something, and I will do it, now, for whoever needs it.

  2. I am so sorry you have to deal with this.The multiplication of pain. Like losses don't just add to one another. Instead the pain seems to grow exponentially...

    I cannot imagine the horror of losing two children, the pain you must have felt as you realized Zachary was dying. To be honest, i don't think i can deal with even just imagining i could have to go through this a second time. But i very much relate to the feeling of having to deal with too much for just one person. Indeed, it is unfair.

    Thinking of you and your sons...

  3. Oh darling, I am so very very sorry, it IS too much, its grotesque and unfair and entirely horribly disgustingly awful. There are truly no adequate words to describe what you are living. We lost our son Henry in 2009 at nearly four days old, he suffered severe brain trauma at birth, but to lose another, it is at this moment beyond my understanding, but I stand with you, shoulder to shoulder here in the dark. Know that you are loved, your boys are loved, and I will not forget them. What helped me in the beginning, as sad as it sounds, and I know youve been to this hideous rodeo before, is that in a year it will be a fraction better, minutely so, and in another year, another small fraction of this pain will have eased minutely. Its not much, really there isnt anything to take this pain, but time, indeed, helps. My son will have been gone five years this summer, and time has dulled the very sharpest points, and made me able to live (though admittedly on medication). You can do this, you must do this, life is meant to be lived. Someday when you are ready, there is a book called Second Firsts, and it will something you will need perhaps in a few years when you are ready. Much love

    1. Thank you for reading and for your heartfelt comment here. I am so, so sorry for the loss of your son Henry.