The Surprising and Unpredictable Path of Grief that Never Ends

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It’s pretty constant now. The remembering. My thinking: “At this time last year, I was… we were…” Last day of work. Belly photos. Nursery painting. Baby shower. Doula arrives. Midwives’ appointment at the house. Last breastfeeding class. In-laws come for a visit. The pull of memories, regrets and nostalgia make it  challenging for me to stay present in 2019. I’ve always been like this about the details of what happened on a certain day, in a certain year… even at a particular hour. It feels like a blessing and a curse – this year more than ever.

july-2018-ipad-mini-768x1024Grief is so strange and unexpected. I find it hard to put words to the experience of Grief and to the resurgence and emergence of feelings at this anniversary time. Life has, undeniably, gone on. And life is undeniably different. All kinds of things have happened these past twelve months. I’ve done and felt and experienced so much. And yet, sometimes I feel a little petrified in my July 30th 2018 self. Finding that Rafa was dead within me, I also died. And yet, I did not. Here I am, almost a year later.

My mom told me this week that she just wants it to be September. I get that. We’re both pretty obsessed with anniversaries. At the same time, I want to honor well this time, this anniversary. I want to be more alive and present to what is RIGHT NOW. To honor my weird Grief as it is in this time, not as it was a month ago, six months ago or a year ago. Somehow, I feel like the Grief (which is part of me and also an entity of its own) is asking for that kind of honoring.

I went to see a new homeopathic doctor two weeks ago (I still have a fear that there’s something terribly wrong with me, physically speaking). She and I had met before. I recognized her but she didn’t seem to remember me. When we got to the part where she asked about my reproductive health, I told her the story of Rafa, of course. She said: “Uups.” That seemed a little glib, but I know that folks don’t always know how to react to his story. She asked some interesting questions: Was he planned? Was he wanted? Did I feel a connection to him? I responded with rather straightforward, perhaps unemotional answers. I didn’t cry or feel angry; just the usual discomfort that comes with sharing this tale of miracle and mystery. Then she asked me if I had grieved his death. “Oh yes,” I replied, “of course I have.” As if it could be all tied up with two neat grief bows and checked off my list:

Grieved deaths of babies

Sitting in the homeopath’s chair, I wonder: What do you see? What do you expect to see? What do you think I should be doing now? Crying? Shouting? Showing some other sign of distress? What would a “well grieved” woman look like to you? How are you navigating my trauma and Grief right now? Why do I care? I also wonder: What can you not see? Can you not see that I am very much still grieving one year later? 5 months later? And of course she can’t. She can’t see the internal, indescribable grieving process inside. The way that feelings, thoughts and physical sensations, like broken tiles in a scrambled Scrabble game, shift around within me, jumbled and impossible to decipher.

I never would have thought that Grief would be like this. Then again, I never thought much about how Grief might be. (I think that’s how the world we live in wants it to be, eh? Unprepared for sadness and misfortune.) I don’t know if I thought that grieving people just spend their whole lives being inwardly and outwardly sad and that’s it. That is not how I experience it; it’s so very much more complex than that. I honestly don’t know if I have words to describe it, not even on the most personal, intimate level.

Crackle_AerinSome days, I’m singing and dancing in my backyard around the bonfire. Some days I still can’t get out of bed. Sometimes I have weird physical pains and sometimes I’m lying on the asphalt in the middle of the street pounding my fists into the gravel. I often feel alien to myself. It’s like the eyes I used to see with, the heart I used to feel with, the ears I used to listen with are all different, now sensitive to other elements, altered forever and ever. Or maybe my organs are all the same (probably my uterus is not the same), and it is the world that is changed. The world is certainly different than it was just one year ago.

There’s so much more depth of feeling in me – more noise and ruckus and, at the same time, more solitude, stillness and acceptance than ever. I’ve felt so, so much these past three years. And isn’t that just what I asked for when I went back to therapy in 2016? If I hadn’t intentionally worked to connect more with my physical body, heart and emotions, I don’t think I would have ever become pregnant. And without the experience of opening myself to the idea of being a mother and gestating life within my womb, I don’t think I could have survived Rafa’s death and its aftermath. I don’t think I would have been able to walk this winding path of Grief. In some mysterious way, our lives are always preparing us for what is coming next.

My therapist often reminds me that it has not yet been a year. She says that the grieving process takes at least three years. I think that that is likely bullshit. I imagine that there is no end to this Grief. She is always with me in these weird, confusing and peripheral ways. She’s a part of me now… forever, and I am a part of her. Just like Death: she’s a part of me and I am her once carrier.

One year ago today… I was pretending that everything was just fine. I went to breakfast with my mom and then watched some stupid Netflix show. In the night, I could not sleep. Today, I am away from home in a little pueblo, looking down at the soft valleys of Oaxaca and nursing a cold. I am alone with Yeyo and we are being carefully watched over by many hummingbirds. We are velando Rafa and celebrating, in a mournful way, the surprising and unpredictable path of Grief that never ends.

Post Script:

A few days after Rafa’s death and birth while perusing some website for parents of stillborn babies, I read that most difficult or painful time in the grieving process comes 4 – 7 months after the death of the child. I was horrified. I thought, “How could any time be “worse” than what I am going through right now?” I do not believe that there is a timeline for Grief. I have found her to be non-linear and unpredictable. If you are currently morning the death of a child or any loved one or you’re just feeling the Grief of living on Earth at this time, I would suggest disregarding anyone that attempts to explain to you how it is or how it will be. Whatever you are feeling right now, in this moment, and whatever you will feel in the future is perfect. I invite you to welcome the all of the experience without expectation or attachment. On the path of Grief, I am learning that there is no good or bad, right or wrong. Be gentle and friendly with yourself and all that you are living through.

Calendar graphic by Mel Armstrong.

7 thoughts on “The Surprising and Unpredictable Path of Grief that Never Ends

  1. Thank you. I feel very connected with all of it. How I feel it will never end. How it feels like my mothers body left a void, a hole besides me that i’ll take with me every day since that day, like a shadow. And how I feel so alienated sometimes, how it pisses me off when people assume they can messur a kind of “universal Grief” . Grief is so common to all and so singular to me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, mi hermanita. It seems to be unique to each one. Te quiero mucho y pienso en tu mamá mucho durante estos días.


  2. Thank you describing the indescribable. I am coming up to 20yrs (in a week) since i had a stillborn. The grief still lingers each time I sit with the hole in my heart. Tears still surface as her absence is felt.
    Thank you for sharing your journey.


    1. Dearest Shaddai. Thank you for sharing about your experience of these last 20 years, as well. It is still a hole and the absence is presence… that’s another thing I hope to write about soon. I’m sending you presence and tenderness through this upcoming week. Love, Aerin


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