Saturday, December 14, 2013

my ocean

There are not enough hours in the day. By the time B is in bed Ainsleigh is having her colicky time, or she is eating every hour, or I want to sit down and watch television with J, or read a book, or take a shower so I push my writing to the side. And as a result I feel like I've lost an anchor I desperately need.

Which is why this morning when Ainsleigh woke up at 5:30 I didn't sit up in bed with her in my arms and hope she would fall asleep again. I got up, went downstairs, turned on the lights on the enormous tree and wrote a little bit. This is the time of year when I turn back to the book I've been working on for years. 2014 is the year; I'm going to finish the stupid thing because I can't have it sitting in the back of my mind anymore.

Yesterday I drove to the bookstore where I used to work. Every year I do a huge chunk of my Christmas shopping there because I like the store and want it to stay in business. And when I worked there people were kind enough to buy local and keep my pay check coming so the least I can do is return the kindness.

That drive is like a punch in the chest. Not the stomach, the chest. I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I drive the winding country roads between where we live currently and where we used to live. I drive past the turn off to the birth center, the hospital where Charlotte died, and the funeral home where she was cremated. A parade of sorrow and bad memories flashes by.

The kids were quiet as I drove. We were listening to music and everyone was in their own space. As I crested one particular hill I remembered how I used to think about driving off the road at that very spot. After Charlotte died I worked at the bookstore a little bit doing mindless tasks, trying to maintain my sanity, and when I managed to go in I would hit that curve and think, what if?

I think it's natural to go to that dark place after tragedy. I think. I hope so. If not I may be worse off than I realized. What separates me from those who have gone off the road - so to speak - is choice. Every time the thought entered my head I ignored it. I kept driving. I accelerated through the curve and made myself continue on. I believed life was going to get better because I couldn't imagine how it could get worse. I should mention that I don't think there is anything wrong with those who do go over the edge. It's not a question of strength, or spirit, or hope, or determination. For some it does get worse, and for those who are able to stand - or at least kneel - after life has knocked you over countless times I admire and commend you.

We had a great day. B was helpful, Ainsleigh was a little fussy, but manageable. We finished out our Christmas shopping then went to this great bakery that serves pizza and baked goods B can eat. When we finished our meal I told B he could pick a mini cupcake. He jumped off his chair and ran to the cases of baked goods. "Cupcake!" he yelled. Then a moment later, "Cupcake with face!" as he pointed to the gingerbread man cupcake he wanted.

I sent B to the play area while I paid for the cupcakes, Ainsleigh in my arms. As I looked up from signing the receipt I saw him in the corner playing, happy, content. I thought, this is my life. Somehow this is my fourth Christmas without Charlotte and this is where I am. It's good, it's wonderful, it's joyful, but I'm still so sad. And I hate that sad part of myself. I really, truly hate it. I wish I could cut it out. I don't want to cut Charlotte out, but I want to cut the longing and wishing out.

Thursday night at the end of my support group I said to a friend, why can't I be happy? Why can't I get it together? I'm so mad at myself because I want to be happy this Christmas and I'm not. I'm still sad. This is still the second hardest season. I just can't get it together. Why am I so stuck? and from behind me someone said, because you love her. A simple answer, but one I really needed to hear.

It's okay to want Charlotte here. Christmas is about family and mine is incomplete. There isn't a timeline to grief. I've had to tell myself this over and over and over and here is another opportunity to do so. There is nothing wrong with being just as much of a mess on the fourth Christmas without her as I was on the first. The difference between this year and that year is that I'm not a mess all of the time. That first year was 365 days of deep, desperate grief. This year is a hard day, or week, here and there.

As I drove home I saw a helicopter in the cloudy skies. There are a few things that instantly trip the trauma switch. Helicopters are one of them. Medical helicopters especially. I didn't even see the helicopter Charlotte was transported on, but the sight of one in the sky still takes my breath away. And the ones with crosses on the bottom bring me to my knees, the air knocked from my lungs.

I'll never know why the effort expended on Charlotte's behalf wasn't enough. Most of the time I can accept the lack of answers, but in the seasons of deep grief - May, December - I lose my confidence and footing. I revisit old wounds and tear them open to ensure they'll never fully heal. I let the grief win. I let the sadness in. I admit to depression. I acknowledge that being seven weeks postpartum makes it worse. I understand that having Ainsleigh here is triggering a different kind - a whole new world even - of grief.

I know I won't feel this way forever. In the great expanse that is the ocean of my grief I've been back and forth between the surface and the inky black depths enough times to know this difficult season will come to an end. And each time I go to the depths it's not as bad as the time before. I know the journey, I know I can get through it. I understand what is happening and why. And while understanding the process doesn't make it easier at least it makes me feel less crazy.

B is awake. It's time to set this aside and put on my mom face. We are going to make Christmas cookies today if I can make the dough cooperate. We're going to love one another, enjoy our time together, and I'm going to use every bit of laughter that falls from our souls as light to locate the surface.


  1. Christmas is so hard with our beautiful smiling and yet incomplete families. Returning to old spaces where life was so different takes strength and energy. May and December are my hard months too. But every month feels pretty hard. Wishing you love this season.

  2. I think it's okay to let yourself feel this way. Like you said, grief has no timeline. It's hard to have conflicting emotions about where you are at and where your mind thinks you could be. To lose a child, I am not sure I could go on. Your strength amazes me. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Katie @ Being Dawson's Mom


thank you!


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