Parenting after loss lends itself to many analogies – a roller coaster, a seesaw, waves. I’ve made these analogies countless times myself.
The days, weeks, months, and years of parenting after loss are piling up. Also the days, weeks, and months since my first child, Oberon, was alive keep increasing. My life (and demeanor) seem to an outside observer more and more typical. Mom, Dad, a boy, and a girl. It looks like a complete family… but it isn’t. We aren’t.
I find myself constantly wanting to explain, to say the caveats, to add the asterisk. I can’t just say, “we are happy.” We are happy and sad. We are as happy as we can expect to be. We are happy*.
*It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
It is beautiful and wonderful. My rainbow babes make me smile and laugh, they give mundane chores purpose and make me excited for the future again. But this wasn’t the plan. Our family was never supposed to have a baby who died. All our children were supposed to grow up into rowdy toddlers, angsty teenagers, and adventurous adults. No matter how much love is in my life, it will never feel completely right.
*Someone is missing.
Every big gathering or family photo brings our missing child sharply into focus. He should be here. He should be pouting, trying to grab the camera, or screaming for a toy. Instead, he is represented by a charm, a tattoo, a letter, a photo, a stuffed animal. While the representation feels better than omission, it still stings that instead of a squishy toddler, all we have is an object.
Some days I’m still achingly sad. I can’t function. I don’t connect to the meaning in my life, even if I know it will return someday. I may be able to smile and make small talk with strangers, but I am the owner of a broken heart. I know sad, and I still feel it.
*My baby died.
I can’t count how many times this runs through my head. Interactions with acquaintances have me wondering, do they know my baby died? Pregnant women or women with small children tell me stories or ask me questions, but do they know? And if they know, do they remember? Does it make my answers or advice more important or less?
*Nothing is guaranteed.
I love my spouse. I love all our children – living and not. I am terrified of something else tragic happening to our family. It’s scary and awful to think about the acute trauma, but now I am also intimately aware of the lingering impact. I panic over picture-taking and memory-making, because what if something happens?