Grieving a child is smothering. It is a thick, hot kind of grief. Never ending. Like drowning in a gravy boat. At some point, you start to acclimate to the lack of oxygen, as though this is normal, this breathless existence, this lack of space, the constant companion of your pain. It's easy to forget what carefree things your lungs used to be, the feeling of inhaling deeply, the taste of drinking life. It's easy to sink. So much easier than fighting to break surface. It's easy to succumb.
In the beginning, you are fighting for survival. The idea of thriving under the enormity of your pain is unthinkable. The thought that you could ever feel anything other than a despair so intense that it would be a mercy to take yourself out of the world is inconceivable. And to be frank, for many of us, we aren't even fighting for ourselves. I know I wasn't. I had no desire for the life left to me. No desire to live without Evelyn. No desire for anything other than relief. And the only relief I could see was death. My own death. It was a welcome fantasy. But I had two surviving children just as shattered as I was. I had a husband at my side, a devoted father who had given everything to support our family, whose purpose in life was now cut adrift like mine. I had concentric circles of people who I knew would grieve me to varying degrees, not that I always cared. And somewhere inside, I had the bits of Anna that were left, that weren't just mother and wife, but had their own aims, their own designs. Little cells who cried out to me to be realized.
So I kept going. For them. For my children. My husband. My people. My tribe. And, to a lesser degree, for the parts of myself I still had outstanding contracts with. And it was drudgery. It was a weary, heartless endeavor devoid of purpose or meaning or pleasure of any kind.
For a while.
If you're there, if you're on that first leg of your child loss journey, the one where you cannot fathom another step, where you lie in bed at night and plead with the god you no longer believe in to drop a house on you or strike you with lightning or wrap its fist around your heart and squeeze until it stops ... If you're in that place, I am so, so sorry. I know that place. And I know nothing I can say will make it better. But please, in spite of all of it, keep going. The world needs you. And maybe you don't owe the world anything, but there's so much more you can give. Perhaps more than you ever could before.
And here's what I can tell you. Somewhere along the way, down that isolated stretch of godforsaken road, you will find pockets of mercy. I call them grief bubbles. Little blips of air. Little pauses. Little points of quiet. Or stillness. Or space. That eventually will grow. With time, that pause may start to feel like pleasure. That space may start to feel like joy. That quiet renders beauty, or meaning, or value to your monotone world. The colors seep to the surface again. You see them differently that you did before. That's true. But even that holds some enrichment that can't quite be described.
The first one will feel like grace. But the second and the third will taste bitter. For a while, you'll curse them even as you reach for them. Who are you, after all, to feel anything good anymore? Anything close to good. You'll try to punish yourself by withholding. That's okay. That's natural. But as soon as you can, receive. As soon as you can, open. As soon as you can, lean into that space and breathe deep. You need that oxygen to carry you through the next leg of your journey. You have to keep going. At the end of your road, your child is waiting to welcome you to whatever is next. Press forward then, for them, if nothing else.
With time, you'll see that the grief bubbles multiply. And the more you take advantage of them, the more they reproduce, the larger and more sustaining they become. Some may hold peace. Others, a spot of happiness. Satisfaction in a job well done. The joy of family. The expanse of the human spirit. They start to provide perspective. Compassion. Forgiveness. They can't, unfortunately, end your suffering. And you wouldn't want them to. That pain is a sacred facet of your love for your child, a deep and abiding connection between hearts, between souls. But they can create space for you to feel other things, things that help you shoulder the burden of your loss. Things that give the remainder of your life texture and gravity and direction.
You're never getting out of the gravy boat, I'm sorry to say. But with enough grief bubbles scattered across your path, you can fashion a wet suit and an oxygen mask. You learn to carry that space within you, that fresh breath, that vital energy. You learn to see through the miasma of your pain. You find your way. You find a way to go on that is more than just excruciating. You discover the world of and. I can grieve and feel happiness (of a kind). I can miss my child and feel gratitude they were here. I can cry and laugh. I can hurt and love. I have permission to feel my pain. I have permission to feel other things as well. Good things. Better things.
Every experience comes with inherent gifts. We may not always want to see them. We may feel they are a crappy consolation prize—nowhere near valuable enough to warrant the experience we are having. We may struggle to feel any gratitude for them at all, or even comprehension. But they're there. And looking for them, opening up to receive them, while it may not change your experience, can be a valuable part of integrating it and supporting yourself through it.
My grief bubbles make me buoyant. They teach me to float. I still sink from time to time. I let myself drift down to the bottom of my gravy boat and feel the weight of all I've gained and all I've lost press in on me. And I don't rush myself. I let myself lie there as long as I want. I don't worry about whether the rest of the world gets it. I don't hide my tears. I don't stifle my screams. I know this place. It is mine. And it is valuable to me. It belongs to me and my child, this rock bottom. And we meet there in the agony of our separation. And when I'm ready, I rise. I gather an effervescent wave, collecting it under my tired bones, and let it carry me to the surface. Where I unburden for a while. Where I let the sorrow roll over me in velvet waves until I crest. I know this place as well. It is also mine. Also valuable. It, too, belongs to me and my child, this high peak. And we meet here in the ecstasy of our love. To see the world through new eyes. To hold the exquisiteness of everything between us. To continue our becoming.