October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Every month is awareness month for something, and in the larger world it makes barely a ripple, competing as it does against Donald Trump and school shootings and videos of puppies. But for a certain select group of people, it matters, and for obvious reasons I happen to know a lot of them.
This year I got a Facebook invitation to participate in a project called Capture Your Grief. For each of the thirty-one days of the month, participants can take and post photographs around daily themes: sunrise, memory, dreams, sacred space, music, gratitude. It looks like a really cool exercise and for a second I thought I might want to sign up. Then I thought: do I want to spend the whole month meditating on my grief?
I have to write about socks. I have to write about health care. I have to send invoices. I have to figure out what I need to change to get my performance in the gym back on track. I have to get Jasper ready for Japan. I need to clean the furnace filter. I need to shave the dreadlocks off of the cat’s back because I don’t think brushing is going to cut it. Lots of people and things need my attention.
I decided that I didn’t want to spend the whole month meditating on my grief. Is that turning a blind eye to work that needs to be done, or is it a step forward in healing?
One of the themes on the Capture Your Grief list was glow in the woods. When I saw it, I remembered that it’s the name of a blog for babyloss parents that I used to read religiously. So I went back to the site. I read a few pieces, and found my own name on the blog roll. I tried to recall the place I had been, when reading about stillbirth and writing about stillbirth was all I did. When I waited desperately for a new post to appear, something I could connect to in a world that contained nothing else of meaning or interest to me.
Then I tried to find the other blog that had saved me during the early days. I googled around and finally remembered that the author’s name is Angie. Still Life With Circles. Her writing is lovely and poetic, if always a little bit too New Agey for what I think of as regular me. Stones and feathers and Native American ritual and stars. Though regular me now has a meditation app on her phone, so who is regular me, anyway?
Angie is the person who initiated the Right Where I Am project. Her daughter Lucia died five years ago, and when I visited her blog I discovered that she hasn’t written in more than a year.
Such a blunt reminder of how far I’ve traveled, that something that had once been such a lifeline for me had been out of my consciousness for so long. How long? When did I stop reading it? When did I arrive in this new place where I didn’t need it? I don’t remember opening or closing any doors, but here I am in a new room.
Catch the Wind still catches me, now and then.
There are several pregnant women in my Wednesday yoga class and because of it my teacher never stops rambling on about pregnancy and birth. I try not to look at them, but I can’t not think about it. That’s over, I think. It will never happen again. Then the tears fall. For a little while.
At the 24 hour film festival one of the films turned out to be about the death of a baby. The short films were made over the course of 24 hours by teams of amateurs, and it seemed unbelievably disrespectful that they thought they could do a subject like that justice within those parameters. That didn’t make me cry, it just made me mad.
Of course that’s what life is. Women in your yoga class have babies and your yoga teacher babbles on about it. People make lazy, thoughtless films about the worst thing that ever happened to you. You never know where or when but you can’t stop doing stuff. You just deal with it when it happens. You cry quietly into your mat, or go to the lobby until it’s over.
And in between those moments are so many of friendship and connection and humor and humanity. Those moments might hit like a wave of frigid water but they don’t swamp the boat.
Angie’s last post was about the ways in which her daughter had changed her life. Implicit in that is that her life was changed for the better. Which is the inescapable paradox of loss.
Balthazar lived and died and the world was changed, a little bit. Not all of the change was bad, even for the people who loved him most. Good things have come. Good things that wouldn’t have come. Momentous things. Profound things. If he had lived there would have been different good things, and different losses and sadnesses. But I live here. All I can do is look to what’s been given and be grateful.
Today Balthazar would be three and a half. When Jasper was that age we went to Costa Rica. We were on a boat in a muddy river and a bunch of monkeys swarmed our boat. The largest male became very aggressive and tried to attack my father-in-law, assessing, correctly, that he was the leader of our group. Jasper was frightened by the hostile monkeys and snuggled tightly into me.
That event is Jasper’s first memory, he told me recently. Now that memory gains added resonance for me: a memory of Jasper’s first memory. When I think about that moment the greatest loss seems to be Balthazar’s and not my own: the consciousness he didn’t get to have, the memories unacquired. My life would have been immeasurably enriched by being along for the ride, but the journey would have been his.
On October 15, when I light a candle for Balthazar, Jonathan and Jasper will be in Japan, visiting temples and eating nigiri and taking pictures of neon signs. Which is as it should be. And after a few minutes of quiet contemplation I’ll go find the shears and ask Laura to help me and we can groom the cat, and then maybe sit at the dining room table and talk for awhile.