The three-story house loomed above me, waiting to swallow me up whole. A wide wooden staircase led to the front door like a path to its mouth. The house was one typical of the Outerbanks, an oversized and luxurious rental occupied on a weekly basis by large families or groups of friends. After nine hours in the car, my legs celebrated the freedom to go up those stairs but my heart was heavy. I had arrived at the family reunion that had been in the works since I was pregnant. It was a trip planned when we thought Mabel would live, when we thought Down Syndrome was her biggest hurdle. Now I was here without my baby, starting the shadow of the vacation that was supposed to be. I didn’t know how it would be interacting with many relatives there who I had not seen since Mabel died. Would they acknowledge her? Would they say something well intentioned but secretly painful? I was especially nervous because there was going to be a two month old in the house and my mind had already imagined many painful scenarios- everyone sitting around passing the baby with oohs and ahhs, no one recognizing the other new family member who couldn’t be there, people giving me a hard time because I’m not as engaging as I once was. Luckily, my mind was more creative than reality.
When I walked through the door, the family was spread out, some seated on the couch in the great room, some around the large dining room table, some I could see through the windows out on the deck. I scanned the area and could see the baby was out on the deck, so I could at least easily make my entrance. As people started noticing our appearance, they came up and gave the typical friendly family welcome- a hug, questions about the drive, offerings of a drink. At first it was how I feared- just the same old family reunion, without anyone saying anything about the life altering events of the past year. When my great aunt saw us, she came up to me and gave me a big hug, saying loudly in front of everyone, “I am so sorry for your loss. And I’m so sorry we couldn’t make it to her services.” I breathed a sigh of relief, the tension in my shoulders releasing into her hug. “Do you have pictures? I would really like to see pictures.” I smiled and mentioned the video I could show her later.
My aunt did me a great service. She easily and quickly acknowledged my Mabel and did it in front of many others who had not yet. It was wonderful role modeling. The matriarch of this family reunion opened the door for others to speak up- and they did. I am so grateful for her kind words upon arrival and for those that followed in her footsteps.
After the initial hellos were said and people went back to the puzzles they were doing and the conversations they were having, I found myself standing in the great room looking out the window. I could see my sister sitting in a deck chair with her back towards me, holding her baby. I just stared. That’s what I should be doing. I don’t get that. The universe has not allowed me to mother a live child. Thoughts raced through my head. I didn’t realize what I was doing until an observant cousin sidled up to me and whispered “We know this is hard. We are here for you.” I was caught off guard, not realizing I was staring and certainly not realizing anyone else saw me doing it. A wave o f emotion hit me at that moment and I turned on my heels, heading back out the door. I needed air. I sat on that large wooden staircase crying until Chris found me.
I sat on the steps, unknowing another cousin was on the deck behind me, witnessing my meltdown, but it was okay. Those seeing my tears saw just how hard it was for me. After a few minutes I pulled it together, re-entered the house and started my week.