Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Three months ago my life imploded.
Losing a child is like a bomb going off. Everything, and I mean everything, is completely, mercilessly shattered. Twelve weeks later, I'm still picking splinters out of my heart, still hearing the ringing in my ears, still finding pieces of the life I once enjoyed scattered about an unrecognizable landscape. My lungs burn with the smoke and my skin falls in sheets to the ground. I don't know myself. The world around me is forever altered in horrific, unimaginable ways. I'm too disoriented to get my bearings, find a direction, or even comprehend what happened. The only thing I'm sure of is that none of this will change anytime soon, or maybe at all.
Slowly, slowly as my vision swims a horrible truth begins to come into focus. I didn't just lose a child when I lost Evelyn, though that would be more than enough to finish any mother. I lost everything—my beliefs, my worldview, my sense of self and purpose in the world ... my career, my hopes and dreams, my interests, my future, my past ... This list rattles on endlessly, I am finding. Everyday there are new things to tick off of it, new discoveries of destruction and decimation. Whatever is left standing holds no meaning for me anymore, and so it may as well be gone.
Bleak, isn't it?
My grief rolls out before me with no end in sight, blanketing all in its path like a thick, viscous film, as my heart cries audibly for the girl who once brought it so much joy, so much light and life, ever searching the smoke and the ashes for someone my brain keeps insisting is no longer there to be found. I am stretched somewhere between the two, unsure, unsteady, uncertain.
I take stock of where I am in this moment, desperate for anything familiar, any shred of the life I once loved to live. But my hands come up empty again and again. "It's gone," my mind reiterates. "She's gone. Gone, gone, gone ... " What remains, what appears, is a host of symptoms and experiences no one and nothing can prepare you for.
I struggle daily with a dissociation so powerful I often feel as if I am already dead. I cannot touch the things that once colored my life and delighted my soul. I cannot feel the people around me, the emotions that add dimension to an existence which is otherwise mere survival, the spirit that animates this world and of which I was once so keenly aware. I cannot taste joy or much pleasure. I drift through surroundings too surreal to register.
I carry a massive, gaping wound that bleeds continually and copiously but is invisible to the naked eye, so that no one who sees me on the street is even aware that I am hemorrhaging, barely scraping one foot off the ground to place in front of the other. It is beyond insult to injury, to be asked to suffer the most unimaginable pain and have it go unacknowledged by everyone you meet.
I still don't know if I will survive this. I often imagine I am like those death scenes in movies where some unassuming character is dealt a fatal blow. Unaware, they stumble on until at last their body drops, with or without the moment to comprehend what is happening to them, that they are not dying but in fact were dead several paces ago and simply didn't know it. Maybe I'll stumble on for another month or year, another decade, or even another forty years. But when I drop, no matter what it appears has done me in, I know that the fatal blow was dealt in early August 2017, when my baby girl—who was not a baby at all, making it all the more incomprehensible—went to sleep and never woke up.
Without the will to live, I carry on. I really can't explain what that's like except to say that it's excruciating. I've lived with depression mere steps behind me most of my life, having it catch up now and again. But I've never been suicidal. Until now. I don't contemplate suicide. At least, I don't try to. But it whispers to me in what my counselor calls "intrusive thoughts". It beckons from the sidelines. "You don't have to do this," it whispers. "It's too hard. People will understand." But I think of the moment I turned my sweet daughter's body over and saw that death had replaced the light in her eyes, the moment when the world went black and everything distorted and my nightmare began. I know that I would be giving that same moment to someone else, most likely someone I love. I simply cannot. But it's better not to tempt fate. It's clear I am not to be left alone.
There is a growing list of can'ts that pepper my days. I can't work. Can't sleep. Can't eat. I can't wear makeup, or jewelry, or do anything with my hair. I can't bear anything but the softest clothes. Can't stand public places or most people. Can't tolerate consumerism. Can't abide the world of ten thousand things as the Tao Te Ching puts it. I can't listen to music, can't watch many of the things I used to, but can't have the TV off either. I can't read, can't focus, can't think clearly, can't remember. I can't talk on the phone, or drive far, or do yoga. Sometimes these can'ts wax and wane, come and go without warning, so that the list shifts often enough to keep you unsteady on your feet, unable to predict, to schedule, to maintain.
These are just a few of the atrocities I suffer. And as I do, I am expected to remain polite, to smile, to bite my tongue rather than scream in pain. I am expected to endure the never-ending platitudes and niceties of what I call the able-souled (the unbereaved who are still walking around in tact). This wave of culturally programmed sympathy is often about as helpful as an anvil in deep water. And while it may seem compassionate on the surface, it usually masks a strong undercurrent of intolerance. People are not accustomed to addressing pain head on. They need me to mask it, hide it, numb it, stuff it, repress it, or deny it. They want me to look to some brighter, completely irrelevant future that may or may not lay just around the bend. The myth of the "new normal", which I am convinced does not really exist in circumstances of child loss or traumatic loss. I tell myself they mean well, that biting people's heads off will not bring her back or make my pain any less. But it gets old ... fast. When I am grappling to manage the next breath and am told to stay strong, or think of my remaining children (as if I don't, as if it isn't the only thing pinning me here), or that Evelyn would want me to be happy, or that it will get better—all by people who have never experienced anything like this and therefore have no frame of reference whatsoever.
But there are a few warriors in my corner. Women and a couple men who are there every week or two, texting, calling, showing up. Many who have been through a traumatic loss of their own, or simply have gigantic hearts and a dose of compassion most of us missed on the assembly line. And then there is my second tier, those who have made it clear they are here for me even if they don't reach out as often. These people don't stuff me with their expectations. They don't attempt to inject positivity into what is a bitterly miserable situation. They acknowledge the ugly reality where I have been obliged to take up residence. They know they cannot make it better. They do what they can. They never show up empty-handed. More importantly, they show up ... period. And not just the first week. Months later, they are aware the dust hasn't even begun to settle. I pray they continue to show up. It is about the only praying I do. Without them, I'm truly not certain a tomorrow of any kind is possible.