It’s very hard to get me to shut up. Anyone who has known me for more than 15 seconds can attest to that. Finding words has been one of my strong suits for my entire life. I find it natural and calming to tell stories and to write out my feelings, and I have done a thorough job of that for years through journaling and blogging. The stresses of trying and failing to become pregnant and losing my pregnancy were lessened through words, and I had no trouble laying out the nasty details of my pain and fear here on this blog. But damn it, Rohen stumped me.
Never in my life had I felt like I had so much to say and no way to say it. Honestly, what can be said about a mother losing her child? What could I possibly say that has not been said before? This pain is so sick, so raw… What could any human being come up with to summarize it? I’ve been working on it mentally for months.
When I was on bereavement, I decided to take some notes. I wanted to write down my fleeting feelings, because in the shock of loss there is a sort of emotional whiplash that occurs. It was blurry, rushed, confusing. Everything was gray. I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes, and during the day I would feel absolutely nothing. I would close my eyes and wish for anything, any emotion. I would search the depths of my heart for sadness, but it wouldn’t come. All I found within myself was still, terrifying, misty emptiness. I realized as I worked through this that it had begun the moment we couldn’t find a heartbeat. I have the most vivid and disturbing memories of knowing what I was supposed to do, how I was supposed to act. “Devan, you sick woman, why aren’t you crying?” I made all the phone calls with only a quiver in my voice. Save for a handful of moments, I shed very few tears at the hospital. Surrounded by chaos, I cleaned. I tidied, I entertained, I paced, I made phone calls with updates to our friends who couldn’t be there. I felt hardly anything. I didn’t lose it until I had to let him go. When Ashley and I took his tiny body in our hands and put him into someone else’s. The weight of what I was doing hit me hard, took the breath from my chest. It knocked the wind out of me, and then I fell back into the stupor I had experienced up until that point.
The week following was the same. An endless parade of people at the house, checking in, bringing soups and casseroles. We picked a tiny urn from a shelf full of tiny urns for tiny babies born to parents as fundamentally wrecked as us. We chose the inscription “Our Sweet Son”. We went through the dozens of pictures of him that we took at the hospital and printed them out. We received what seemed like a tsunami of well-wishes and financial contributions to keep our heads above water while we struggled to stand upright again. I found the memorial to be just like the hospital. Smile, hug, thank, entertain, “Would you like something to drink?”, “Thank you so much for coming.”, “Yes, this is the urn.” And later, shame. Shame for not crying more. Shame for smiling. Shame for not grieving the way I should. Shame because I had a sinking feeling that this meant I was a poor mother. This was the fear that started my emotions back up again, like being shocked back to life.
The feelings I had wished for started to appear in quick secession with no order or meaning. Violent swings from one end of the spectrum to another, leaving no room for thought, no room for reflection, no room for a breath of air before being dunked under again. I was visciously angry when I thought of the people who refused to lay eyes on my son, and it’s an emotion I am still working through. The disgust they must have felt reverberated through every cell of my body and echoed back out from me. I felt so fiercely protective and proud of him, I couldn’t find an ounce of space in my heart to understand why someone else could have been afraid to look into a face so peaceful, so wonderful, so handsome. The weight of the fact that my son was dead and ugly to people ate away at me constantly and escaped me as seething anger. Anger that intensified when a picture of his memorial card was reported on Facebook for “graphic violence”.
Next came the ache. The ache in my heart that spread slowly like a cancer to the edges of my soul, into my bones, into my gut. I ached all over like the worst flu I had ever experienced, the ache of a son missing from my heart. The weight of the love I had for him was unbalanced… The love of a lifetime, unrealized. All the love in the world in my heart, in every tiny part of me, and no child to give it to. No face to kiss. No hands to hold. His tiny body turned to ash and contained in a silver heart. He was so close to me, beside my head every night as I slept, and yet I was unable to touch him, unable to hold him. The true evolutionary roots of emotion were realized in me, I was like an animal separated from her young. Confused, disoriented, every instinct in my body telling me to find him. Find your son. He is supposed to be here. This is not right. It was wrong to have a heart so full and arms so empty.
Depression settled in like a dark veil. The sun’s warmth was cold and lifeless to me. Showering, changing clothes, feeding myself, cleaning my home… useless to me. I wallowed in the grief and faded in and out of that same empty mist. I suppose, looking back, that this mist existed for a reason. Shock exists for a reason, medically and emotionally. The true weight of the emotions I was blocking out surely would have killed me. On the nights that I felt the ache, there were breathless moments of terror when the pain would reach such a pitch, such severity, that I thought for sure that it was smothering the very life out of me. Anything more than what I experienced would have left me dead.
Most people who work with those who grieve will tell you that the “stages” of grief are mostly bullshit. There are no stages in grief, no path that leads to acceptance. It’s a violent, murky, jumbled mess, with emotions overlapping, fading, intensifying and disappearing altogether. Some experience all of these 5 stages at one time, some will skip over some of them altogether. For example, I have yet to feel denial or experience bargaining, though I assume this is because of my atheism.
Atheism is a very important part of this, and has been an immense comfort to me. People have a hard time understanding that and it’s something I feel that I need to explain. First, some people assume that I am an atheist because I am angry at god or feel somehow unworthy and use disbelief as a coping mechanism. Fortunately, I was an atheist long before losing Rohen, and anticipate being an atheist for the rest of my life. More people than I can count have said something along the lines of, “You’ll find down the road that there was a reason for this.” or “You have an angel watching over you from Heaven.” I have found peace in accepting that there is no reason, more peace than I can imagine finding in searching eternally for an answer to why a loving god would take an infant from me. I have peace knowing that my son is not in Heaven, perhaps grieving for me as much as I grieve for him. I find peace in his peace, in his stillness, in his rest. The questions that arise from the idea of my infant son residing in the sky in an unknown state (is he still only 20 weeks? A child? An adult? Does he know English? Can he see? Can he hear? These questions are silly and cause more confusion, more worry.) I could continue for ages about religion because my scientific mind is robustly passionate about it, but this is not the time or the place. While I find peace in my lack of belief, I also find peace in the belief of others. I find peace in people such as my mother in law healing from the loss of her grandson by imagining being able to meet him in Heaven. I have no anger in this regard. Frustration, perhaps, but that is a hazard of loving differently minded people.
Acceptance is not a destination. It is not the ribbon at the finish line. In fact, there are times that I don’t think it exists. I can’t imagine one day accepting that he is gone. I plan to pine for him for the rest of my life, though perhaps not as violently.
The most important part of this experience has been learning that it’s not only possible but ok to feel joy. This realization of that hit me while I was drunk on love and gin, standing outside of a saloon in New Mexico, staring up at some of the darkest skies in the country. It was only three and a half weeks after losing him. I was positively buzzing, because only hours earlier I had married Rohen’s mother. The love of my life. This endless, brilliant, shining love had come to be a legal union, something we were not expecting to happen for years. I held tight to her, and let myself feel beauty again. I marveled at the scope of human emotion, how endlessly inward our hearts went on in the scope of the universe expanding endlessly outward. I found joy in knowing my place in the universe, and knowing my identity as part of a unit, as a wife. Together, we were and are unstoppable. Together, we are mothers. That is the most precious and beautiful joy in the world. It’s a sick joy, because we can’t feel that pride of motherhood without also realizing that our son was with us for only 20 weeks, followed by 8 short hours spent staring into his tiny face, and then finished with a lifetime of loving him through dreaming of what could have been. Though we may not have him to hold, to read to, to scold and teach and be in awe of… we are mothers, and we are joyful.
I’ll finish with this: At about 2am, with only an hour to go before Rohen’s body was to be picked up and we would be allowed to go home, we were laying in the bed together with Ashley falling asleep on my shoulder. Between glancing at the TV for a Britney Spears documentary and falling in love every time I looked down at Rohen on my chest, I had a moment of great clarity. My heartbeat and breathing were causing movement in him. If I looked hard enough, each breath that I took looked as though his tiny lungs were inflating. Each beat of my heart caused a tiny movement in him, as though his heart was beating in time with mine. As I watched his body move with each of my breaths and heartbeats, I saw clearly that my life would forever be lived through him. Each beat of my heart was for him. I knew that every step forward from that moment on would be for his honor, and I silently promised my son that I would live twice as beautifully for him, I would experience twice the wonders, twice the sorrows, twice the lessons in his place. I promised him that I would never take anything for granted again, and everything I did would be a reflection of the example I would have worked tirelessly to set for him. I suppose if you insist on finding meaning in my son’s death, it is this.
I forced myself to write this today because this is day 8 post IUI, meaning a positive pregnancy test is potentially around the corner. Before we have another pregnancy, I felt that Rohen Copper Davis deserved this from me. He deserved my undivided attention. Rohen is forever my first child, my son, the breath in my lungs and the beat of my heart. I learn and grow every day because of him, and I have hardened and regrown in ways that never would have been possible had I not loved him so much. He is still my Paradise. Forever and always. My heart has grown to be 4.2oz heavier, and I’ve strengthened to carry that extra weight.
(I’m hoping that this is the emotional equivalent of breaking the seal.)