I think I’ve said before that despite the large groups of people who surround us, sometimes grief feels incredibly lonely. One of the realizations I’ve made this past week, when emotionally and mentally I’ve regressed so intensely, is that there never seems to be a good time to cry. All these people come in and out of our house and they bring hugs and kind words and delicious foods and generosity and beautiful friendships, but no one ever comes in and just cries. I guess it’s human nature to want to avoid being sad in front of one another, but I feel like crying all of the time and it’s difficult to find the right “time” to do it. You can’t do it when you’re out walking on the street… you shouldn’t really do it when you have company… it upsets Stella if you cry in front of her. The only safe spaces left are at night when the darkness blankets my room and I fall asleep with hot tears pooling at my neck, or behind my dad’s house on a small swing that lies hidden from site. It’s an incredibly strange feeling when company is here and everyone is sitting around chatting about their office politics, while I’m staring at Stella’s full rosy lips and swallowing a lump in my throat containing pure grief and silent screams. It makes me wonder how anyone can be around the little redhead sitting in the middle of the room, smiling, sleeping or staring solemnly at the company, and not burst into tears.
This is the saddest thing in the world, but no one wants to cry with me. I understand it on some level, but sometimes it makes me feel as though no one else is sad, or they are able to push it out of their minds. I am jealous. I wish I could also ignore the grief, but to me it’s palatable in the air we breathe day in and day out within the white walls of our house.
I wonder if the issue is that we live in such a superficial culture that often seems uncomfortable with true depths of feelings, in particular grief. I feel there is a certain amount of intolerance of acute sorrow and intense mental anguish that makes up the bulk of my life right now. Sorrow is something to be medicated, as I’m doing right now, or something to be divided into five recognizable stages that I can read about, label and rate my growth with. Grief is too complex an emotion to be ignored, pushed away, or forgotten about. I have been grieving my daughter since June 24th and have learned that for me to grieve is to let sorrow and tears invade my soul so that it permeates my pores like a heavy perfume. I am always stunned that no one else can see and smell the sadness that is so obvious to me.
I reflected once again on the realm of sorrow and the fear of sadness in society when I attended a Hallowe’en party this afternoon. It was thrown by some of my closest friends and consisted of the group of moms and dads we’ve been hanging out with since Stella’s birth. You could not ask for a better group of parents and their beautiful children to be your friends, truly these people are exceptional human beings, each and every one of them. I haven’t seen most of my friends since Stella’s diagnosis. At first we were too busy cottaging and travelling, and then as Stella has declined we got too busy sitting on the couch and trying to offer her the comfort of predictability and quiet. But I miss my friends and their children, even though I feel sad about no longer “fitting in” with their toddler club and can no longer hold my own in conversations about potty training and daycare politics. However, with a new baby as my shield, I thought if I dropped by the party with Sam, it would allow me to see everyone and also have an excuse to leave if it was too much for me.
I left Stella at home with Aimee and Auntie Juju and set off on the 10 minute walk with Sam snuggled into my baby carrier. The closer I got to the house, the more I started to think this may be a mistake. I wasn’t sure if I was really up for seeing everyone in a big party-like setting. I started to feel like turning and running back to the safety of holding Stella on the couch, but I kept telling myself that if I wanted to still be friends with this group of people, I had to just show up at something. Show that I’m still standing, that I remember how great they are, and that there will be life after Stella. But once I got to the house, I totally lost it. In the throes of an anxiety attack, I sat myself down on their front lawn and hid behind a tree, sobbing into Sam’s little head. I missed Stella. I wanted her to be there. After a few minutes I took a few gulping breaths, wiped my eyes and gave myself a pep talk. My brain told me to run, but my stubbornness marched up to the front door. I don’t know what made me do it, but I suddenly felt like I had something to prove. Before I could change my mind, a friend swung open the door and immediately enveloped me in a huge hug. I didn’t even have time to be nervous, I just hustled in the door, thew Sam at the first pair of free arms I caught sight of, and received hug after hug from my friends who each looked me in the eye and told me it was good to see me. I was okay for the first few minutes, but as toddlers and babies began filing into the room dressed in cute Hallowe’en costumes, I got a twinge in the pit of my stomach. Stella should have been there. Last year, Stella was there, with these same people, with these same friends laughing and eating and running around. I began to feel suffocated by the memories sucker punching me in the gut. I only stayed at the party for 30 minutes, and although everyone made me feel more than welcome and gushed appropriately about Sam, only one adult (our hosts), at the party asked me about Stella. No one else asked how she was feeling, what she was up to, how she gets along with Sam. No one said her name out loud to me except 2-year old Ava, who charmingly asked me where she was. As I visited and ate the party food and took in the swirls of conversations and activity, I brought Stella up a few times… but no one else did. So many times in the 30 minutes I was there, I was on the verge of tears, but it wasn’t the right time to cry. As always, I tried to focus on living in the moment and just enjoying the warmth of being with my friends. I did it, but it was hard.
As I walked away from the party, I wondered if this is what it will feel like when Stella is dead. Will it be as though she never existed? Will I be the only one who still sees her spirit parading amongst the other children? Will her name only be whispered in my absence? Just as I rounded the corner to go home, my friend Jean called from the front porch, “how’s Stella today?”. I almost fell to my knees with relief that someone remembered her.
I couldn’t cry this morning with Stella on the couch. I couldn’t cry when our friends visited this afternoon. But on the way home from that party, silent, grief-filled tears poured down my face. The only other sound I heard on that walk home was leaves crunching under my boots, and the soft wails of my hungry 10-day old. It’s likely that when they got home, many of my friends cried for me. But today, only Sam cried with me.
Our Family of Four
Baby Snuggles, Xavier and Sam