Remember that time I was in line at Ikea? I saw someone I knew with her two young kids and I couldn’t bring myself to say hello- her with her two living, breathing children; me with only the memory of my dead one.
I saw her again. At our local walk to remember. I was there to remember my Mabel. She was there to remember her first child, born still.
Oh, the stories untold.
They sat at the table next to us. We were on a lunch date, me and Chris. They were on a lunch date, mom and daughter. Mom had the brussels sprout salad, daughter had the fried calamari, scrunching her face at the pieces with tentacles. “Is that octopus?” she asked. They both had fish for the main course. We left before they ordered dessert. “Sociology,” the mom said. “No, he texted me! He said psychology!” The daughter corrected. She was in high school. They had an easy banter between them, not “best friends” but clearly mom and daughter.
I know Mabel and I would never had had such a lunch date, nor easy banter with big words like sociology or psychology. She would never had lightheartedly mentioned texting. Yet I was envious of them. In a different world, fifteen years from now, I could have been taking Mabel out for our own kind of lunch date. She would have been so proud to be out with her mom in a fancy restaurant, ordering from a grown up menu. She would likely have squealed at the tentacled pieces of calamari and ordered the fried food over the vegetables.
An unexpected reminder of what will not be.
October 2013- that was the last I had seen her. I knew because that was the date on the last note I had written.
You had a baby! Congratulations!
Thank you, I smiled warmly.
So much has happened since I was here last!
Yes- a lot has happened. The emphasis in my words hinted at a hidden story…
Well now you really know what it’s like, huh? she jested, referencing my my former life as a midwife who hadn’t given birth, who didn’t have kids yet.
My heart beat a little faster and my head spun a little- it was the shadow of a feeling I used to know very well, in the early days. I used to tense up- heart racing, palms sweating, chest tightening- when someone would ask “How’s the baby?” or “Do you have kids?” It’s a feeling of fear, grief, sadness, anger all mixed up, when asked a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. It was a feeling of anticipation- wondering how the other person would react, how to tell of my daughter without making the situation overly awkward.
Now the situation has changed. The tense feeling has softened. She didn’t ask if he was my first. There was no question to respond to. It was all assumption. The only way she could know the whole story was if I volunteered the information, something I have yet to master in a way that feels good. I wanted to say. I sure do! Two kids since I’ve seen you last! But doing so would only lead to follow up questions- how old is your first... I’d share that she had died and the requisite polite words or unhelpful platitudes would come. And it would feel like I’m fishing for sympathy.
I chose the path of least resistance-maybe not an outright lie but a lie of omission almost. It didn’t feel great.
Not telling the whole story felt wrong, telling the whole story felt wrong. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
what do you do?
This is my third holiday season that I will be grieving my daughter, but my first without her.
Two years ago in mid December I was 27 weeks pregnant with my first child, when the doctors told me my baby would probably die. She was found to have low fluid, a result of non functioning kidneys, which would cause underdeveloped lungs. It was just a week or so away from Christmas and we had all sorts of plans to celebrate happily pregnant with our very wanted baby. I was numb, in a haze of anticipatory grief, and so we just powered through- continuing our plans. We got a tree, saw family, went to church. These holiday activities were so very painful. I tried to put on a happy face, but many of the festivities ended in tears. It was a very dark holiday.
Last year, my first holiday after my daughter died, I opted out. It felt too painful to go through the motions again with a false smile. We did not put up a tree, we did not see family, we did not go to church. We instead chose a small holiday- me, my husband and our puppy. Mabel was there too. We hung three stockings, Mommy, Daddy and Mabel. We received many carrot ornaments from friends and family, which felt good. It was still a dark holiday but I was learning how to find some light in it.
This year, we are opting in. We are seeing family. Four stockings are hung- Mommy, Daddy, Mabel and Felix. We got a tree. This year we will cut a branch off the tree- a very noticeable one. I want people to look at the tree and think, something’s missing. It’s not right. Not complete. Because someone is missing. My family is not complete. We will take that branch and bring it to her grave, so that Mabel can have a little bit of our Christmas too. This holiday will still be dark, but this year I am trying to find the light.
I feel like my posts about Mabel lately are somewhat repetitive. They all center around the seemingly inevitable question of “is he your first?” I write about it because I’m finding that the question leads to so many different outcomes.