Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Contrasting realities

The snow that persisted for two months slowly melted over the course of the last week, tangibly lifting the spirits of everyone around me.  I walk out my garage door to fetch C.T. from school and directly across the street are moms with new babies, strolling together.  They walk the same way I do and it is too late for me to turn around and get into my car instead.  I am forced to listen to them commiserate about their babies, about finally getting outdoors.  Giddy parents wait for their children in the sunshine, comment about their relief that winter may finally be on its way out.  Everyone is smiling.  Head cocked, I don't understand how a little nice weather changes the tone of existence for my entire community. 

The friendly young grandmother who is about to shoot C.T.'s seven year portraits wants me to step around the counter to see her screen saver.  It's her first grandchild, a grandson.  He is five months old.  I quickly tell her my infant son Zachary died last year and that I'd prefer not to see her photo.  She winces in pain (part sympathy, part horror and by observation, with a hint of insult at my refusal to ooh and ahh over her grandchild), whispers a quick I'm so sorry, and we're back to the matter of backdrops and photo props.  Photos of little boys with baby brothers, of arms and hands holding toddling walkers, seem to be on every wall surface of the studio.   

I walk into the store early on one of the coldest days of the year.  I am here to look at fabric and there are probably nine people in the entire store.  I feel myself relax a bit, believing there is low likelihood that I'll be faced with explicit triggers.  Not particularly thrilled with my selection but knowing that I only have the emotional stamina for endeavors of this nature once in a while, I walk my fabric over to the cutting counter.  There is one person ahead of me and she has a cart full of soft nursery fabrics.  She proudly tells the store worker about her new grandchild, about all the things she is making and sewing for the baby's room. 

I watch House Hunters International because I think it is an escape.  The wife talks about what will be suitable for their two young children, and of course, for their baby on the way.  They have so many plans for their adventure and everything has got to add up.  They keep using the word perfect to describe their expectations for rooms, outdoor space, location, schools for their children.  I switch the program off.  I can't bear to see how perfectly it all works out for them.  I don't want to see their annoyance with the minor compromises they have to make.  I don't want to see their new baby thriving alongside them on their international adventure. 

I see people all around me, every day, functioning without the burden of child death, certainly without the horror of having lost two children.  Without having lost faith in all that this world has to offer.  It continues to surprise and disorient me that I have to learn to live with this, alongside so much of not-this.  How is it that so many have escaped my reality?


  1. It's so unfair. I can't think of one single reason why you have to live with this reality while so many others can sail through life without hitting major hurdles. I have found myself looking actively for painful life narratives (in books, movies, real life). It just seems a lot safer to engage with the reality of people or characters who deal with death and pain than to be triggered by happy normalcy...

    That said, i am aware that i still hold on to the hope that everything should be ok... I guess i don't have the strength to imagine that tragedy might occur again, that i could have to live through the death of another baby. And i am so so sorry you do not have that luxury anymore.

    I am thinking of you and your boys. Sending you love and wishing i could send a little bit of the snow that keeps falling here, delaying the arrival of spring and smiles and strollers...

    1. Thank you, my friend. Sometimes I feel like the only way I'll learn to live with Zachary's death is if I uproot myself out of this suburban field of roses and butterflies and devote my life to something extraordinary..., something that's real and that tangibly touches the suffering in the world. And then, I'm intimidated of doing that because I'm so fragile and because there is simply SO much suffering around the world (even while I don't see it in my everyday interactions).

      That loss of hope and faith that the future holds good things... it's a really profound, aching loss for me. Especially amidst the confidence that everyone else seems to have. Thank you for recognizing it, and for sticking around these parts.

      It's colder this week and that helps to dull the cheerfulness of the masses...

    2. Aiming to uproot yourself completely from what you know would be really intimidating and overwhelming. But maybe there is something more accessible that would allow you to escape your surroundings where everyone is leading such a privileged life (or appearing to do so)? Perhaps volunteering in another community? Or writing to prisoners, in the US or elsewhere? Maybe it is not what you are looking for... i was just thinking that perhaps creating bonds with people who face other types of life challenges can be, if not healing, at least mutually rewarding...

  2. I'm with you

    It's so hard and unfair

  3. Hi Gretchen,

    I found your blog from Glow and I have been meaning to comment for months. I want to tell you that your writing has touched me deeply and I hope you will continue to share your struggles with us. I used to think that I was the kind of person who processed feelings through writing, but that well has been dry since my boys died (I lost twin boys who were born prematurely, they never left the NICU, in Oct 2013). It means a lot to me to read your words since I can't seem to string together any of my own.

    Your comment above also resonated with me ("It's colder this week and that helps to dull the cheerfulness of the masses.") I so wish that everyone around me would keep their happiness, their exuberance, their normal-life-pleasures to themselves as they just grate on me. I have been hibernating all this winter and I am resentful that the warm weather is going to force me to put away my winter coats and attempt to come back to life. I don't understand why I can't just stay in my safe place at home forever.

    I also have an older son, A, who is 5 and a half. He is a sensitive soul and asks about his brothers in the most surprising and touching ways, though not very often. I like to think that he and CT would be comrades in arms in this stupid fight.

    I am also pregnant again, expecting a girl in May. I was able to hide the pregnancy for a long time but peeling off the winter layers has left me exposed to comments from acquaintances and strangers alike. It's incredibly uncomfortable and I would give anything to hide myself in a cave for the next year or so.

    Anyway, that's a lot to say in a first comment. You are not alone.

    --Emily in DC

  4. Emily, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I had to read your comment 5 times over to soak up the comfort of your words, the recognition of pain that we both know too intimately. I am so, so terribly sorry for the loss of your beautiful boys. And for your son, A, I am so sorry, that he has lost 2 brothers. It is too cruel.

    I remember the feelings of vulnerability (to others careless remarks) while pregnant with C.T. and then with Zachary. The cave - for protection from outsiders and from life's unpredictable tragedies - sounds perfectly good to me...

    Thank you again, Emily.

  5. I feel like I have a constant battle of "this vs. not this".

    My husband and I have not watched very much tv (aside from trying to pass time on some flights) since Owen died 5 months ago. The other day, we tried to watch some mindless HGTV, but also struggled. I just can't take all of the trivial talk of walk-in closets, double sinks, and overall nauseating discussions of things that are so far from our reality.

    The other day, I had a moment where it was too late to turn back. The sun is also shining here. With the sun, the parents and children congregate on the street. The dad repeatedly asking his toddler if he wanted to "go see mummy" felt like I was being stabbed. They are my not this. I want it.