The Loop

Natalie’s birthday is the Fourth of July – she was born around 9:00pm, when the fireworks start, so I always say she came out with a bang. And that she did – she burst out and tore me open so my midwife had to stitch me up. What different births I had for these two who were born at home – Philip my winter child, Natalie, my summer. With Philip, labor was slow and steady, the pain mounting and tormenting. With Natalie the pain reached its peak quickly, stayed there longer. With Philip I couldn’t sit, with Natalie I couldn’t stand. With Philip my water broke before I went into labor. With Natalie, at nearly nine centimeters dilated, my water was intact. I can break your water and you’ll have your baby, my midwife told me. I was on my couch and thought I wanted to stay there; with Philip I wanted to be in my bed. Do it, I told her; I’m staying right here. So she did and then I panicked – I have to be in my bed, I have to, I told them. “Them” being my midwife, my friend Marilyn, my sister-in-law Ann, my husband. So Marilyn and Ann each took hold of an arm to walk me to my bed. I had a contraction on the way and would have collapsed but for them. Get her to the bed before this baby’s born on the floor, my midwife ordered.

When I started pushing Philip there was a period of relief from the pain; with Natalie it was relentless. When Philip’s head finally popped out, my contractions stopped and I had no energy to push. With Natalie my midwife told me to stop pushing but I couldn’t – hence she exploded into the world and then into my arms.

With Natalie, I needed stitches. With Philip, I didn’t.

I’d never known physical pain like the pain of childbirth. Nature makes sure we don’t remember it – we might know it’s awful, but we can’t re-feel it.  If we could, there’d be a whole lot less babies born. But that pain was nothing compared to the psychic pain of Philip’s death, which also – mercifully – can’t be remembered, at least not at that all-consuming, eviscerating zenith. I don’t know how I bore it. I can say the same about childbirth, but at the end of it, there was my baby. It’s been suggested that going through Philip’s death can become my own birth. I don’t disagree with that…but it doesn’t comfort. I’m certainly not the same as I was. But I’m not at peace, and it’s hard to imagine I will ever really feel okay. It felt hard enough to be here before he died. Three-and-a-half years later, I’m still mixing up grief with the deep unhappiness I had before. I have not learned how to get out of my own way.

Phil had a party at the house for Natalie on her birthday. My mom was there, my in-laws, a few of Phil’s friends, a few of Natalie’s. It’s what we do every year. This year, while I was there, I wandered into Philip’s room for a while. His two bureaus are now Natalie’s and are at my apartment – other than that, his room is as he left it. It needs to be cleaned up, it needs to be gone through. I looked through some things, touched his books, wondered what it would take to sort each thing piece by piece, to make decisions about what to get rid of. Three-and-a-half years later and I can’t imagine spending the time it would take to do that, nor can I imagine Phil making those decisions without me.

I don’t think I said a word about Philip that day. Except when I told Phil that I missed him. “Miss him” falls far short of what I really mean. There was a time I’d be upset because no one talked about Philip. Now I don’t know what I would say. I don’t even want to say. No amount of talking is going to bring him back, and I struggle to find the words for the magnitude of this. My silences both hurt and comfort. I still feel different, still don’t understand the world the way others do. I still sometimes want to say, Do you know my son died?? Yet I’m also glad not to talk about it, to hold this close and keep watch.

I’ve been in Philip’s room since he’s died, but this last time hit me hard. I’m stuck – life seems to have a sameness that’s difficult to bear. I look at Philip’s picture and see that “sameness.” He will never get older, never look any different. The rest of it – of life – is up to me. Lately I haven’t the heart for it. I do what I have to do, but enjoying myself isn’t easy. I read, I write, I knit – but I lose my concentration awfully fast, even if I’m trying to watch a movie or a show. I don’t want to go anywhere, can’t think of anything I’d want to do. I see Kirsten most Sundays and that’s one of the few things I look forward to. As well as when I spend time with Natalie. I feel better when she’s around, but she has a life of her own. And I’m grateful it’s a happy one.

I’ve talked of grief being a spiral, but lately it feels like a loop. Same thing, different day. And life’s been like a loop, too. I don’t remember feeling like this, not in a long time, and not since Philip died. That brings me to connection, which – in my last post – I said I’d be writing about, but haven’t yet. Feeling close and connected to others starts with feeling that way toward myself. Without that, I’m like a shirt that’s been mis-buttoned, each side missing the point. That’s why pleasure is absent, why the things that have sustained me through Philip’s death seem lost. I’m all body and no soul and to identify most with something so temporary leaves me restless and unhappy. As with all things I don’t want to feel, I ask, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Is there some action I’m supposed to take? Go out, exercise, call someone, take a trip, meditate? Wait, be patient, it’ll pass? I swear I’m missing some part that I can’t blame on Philip’s death, easy as that would be.

I just remembered something that I’d like to share here – it might be hard to come by, but even I can recognize joy when I see/hear it. Hope it makes you feel the same: Some joy to share

© 2015 Denise Smyth

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Jul 14, 2015 @ 05:25:40

    You have lost your beautiful son and I am losing my beautiful husband but we still both suffer what you describe as this loop of grief. But of course I have absolutely no idea how you feel, how you function, how you go on because I can’t imagine losing my son. I feel terrified sometimes about this possibility. Sending you love and a hug and I am really glad to have gotten to know you via blogging. You are a wonderful person.

    Reply

    • Denise
      Jul 17, 2015 @ 09:28:03

      As are you, Julie. Thank you for your kind words – it gets too much sometimes, no? You have such a strong spirit, it’s infectious. Sending you love and gratitude. xoxoxo

      Reply

  2. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jul 15, 2015 @ 15:49:05

    Denise, I am stuck in a similar loop. Your words could be mine (although not the precise details of each birth). My daughter is also about to “celebrate” a July birthday and has finally figured out that she has been so very depressed about it because while she is getting older (turning 30), her baby brother will always be 23, and is being left behind. It’s very sad.
    And I also don’t have any idea what to do with all of my son’s possessions. His room is still unchanged from the way he left it. The only thing I did a few months after he died was to give his brand new (and highly treasured) MacBook Air to my son-in-law, telling myself that Graham would never want it to just go to waste.

    Thank you for linking that amazing child! Have you seen the 11 year old Joey Alexander https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heIGbOA6Ykw. He is absolutely a jazz phenom!

    Reply

  3. Denise
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 09:33:33

    It’s unnerving, this thing of time passing and those we love aging – but not our beloved sons. I miss Philip so terribly again – I wish I could just stay home and away from everything because it’s so hard to participate. Everything is irritating me. It’s hard to be at work because it’s not distracting; it just feels like a chore. Okay. This will pass, right? Until it cycles back again.

    Reply

    • grahamforeverinmyheart
      Jul 17, 2015 @ 10:19:17

      I don’t know about it passing….I think I just have moments of handling it better (really, just hiding it and distracting myself). I guess we all learn to just keep going while bearing the pain. It’s never easy. I have such a longing to hug Graham and just talk with him about so many things.

      Reply

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