I remember the very moment I read Dr. Kay’s message. It was one of those rare nights when my husband went to bed before me. Though I would say that there was nothing “normal” about that time after Rafa’s birth. After the ceremony and the departure of my family. After that cleansing time at the ocean. Everything was rare. I was walking up the stairs, headed toward bed and reading messages on my phone. I was almost to the second floor when I came to Dr. Kay’s message. Carlos Alvarez (a.k.a. Dr. Kay) is our dear friend who was living across the ocean in South Africa when all of this took place. Over five weeks had passed since Rafa’s death and the texts, voice messages and emails were no longer as overwhelming as they had been at first. Roughly translated, the message read:
Hello dear Aerin and dear Yeyo,
It has taken me quite some time to write this message. I learned about the loss of Rafa thanks to the crowd-funding campaign. His death shook me and left me thinking and feeling for days, contemplating how to offer my support. And though I tried to write, I could only feel pain and sadness. I supported you through the campaign as a way to distract me from the pain that I felt when I tried to write you. Today, after reading the post about your cuarantena* I realized that the pain had transformed into acceptance and a desire to connect with you both and be able to offer something more than money or an ‘I’m sorry.’ What I can offer is my deep gratitude to a pair of beings that have known how to share their most intimate process with those who love them and by doing so, allowed them to live an experience that rattles us to the bone… that makes me empathize with all of the parents who have gone through a similar tragedy. It has opened my heart to my own fatherhood. In the end, the only thing I want is to tell you that I love you and though we don’t see each other often I know that we walk together on the path of service to Light.
Carlos’ message moved me very deeply. I wept. When I wrote about the completion of the 40-day voluntary quarantine many women in Central America honor following the birth of a child, I was hoping that parents everywhere would hear our story and find a way to love their kids just a little bit more. So, in a way, it was just what I wanted to hear. And at the same time, I remember saying to myself, or maybe even out loud into the humid air: “I would give ANYTHING for it not to be so!” While I loved the idea that what I had written at the end of that cuarentena offered the world a glimpse into the pain (and joy) our experience brought us, I missed Rafa so dearly.
And I’ve been missing Rafael quite a lot lately. Over these past months (in this different kind of quarantine) I’ve been asking myself the question: Would I give anything? I’ve gone the rounds on this question from multiple vantage points. Once, while watering the garden, I remember thinking: “It doesn’t make any difference what I would or would not give. He is not here and he’s not coming back and there is no other path than the path of acceptance.” This is true. And, there are many truths.
I’ve noticed over these past two years that when things get particularly stressful or overwhelming in life, I tend to experience inner temper tantrums. I cry (sometimes just to myself and sometimes out loud) and think something like: Why do I have to be going through this? I’ve already been through so much! Or: I simply cannot bear this life; I can’t even hold my own grief, let alone carry the griefs of the world. And, the classic: It’s not FAIR! In essence, I think these feelings come from the little girl inside me. From the one who throws herself dramatically to the ground and pounds her fists, sobbing in frustration. I rarely share her with others. I’ve allowed this angry, exhausted little-me-self to show herself to my husband and therapist a handful of times, and maybe once or twice to my mom. Conceptually, I know that this feeling of injustice wells from a place of entitlement and ego, but that doesn’t mean that it is not real. It is not the parte iluminada, but it is still I part of me that I am trying to accept, without beating myself to a pulp, becoming defensive or avoidant.
Other moments, thought patterns and reactions that come from this place include:
- comparing myself and my life’s story to other people’s (which I wrote about here);
- needing to have things my way and thinking that I have the power to make them the way they “should be;”
- wishing that none of this had ever happened, that I had never gotten pregnant in the first place;
- mentally bargaining with the universe (e.g. if I can just get pregnant again, I’ll stop being so busy or so perfectionistic and praise-driven and I’ll stay in bed the whole time).
To some degree, I think the phrase “I would give ANYTHING…” comes from the same place. It’s a hurt place, a wound. It’s a reaction rooted in an egotistical view of the world – as if I have the power to bring back or replace my deceased baby. I still honor it. I wonder what I have to learn from it. I recognize that it is probably more useful to just observe this place, rather than choosing to live in it.
One thing I notice about these reactions is that they stem from a core belief that human agency is the star of this show called life. I’m in the midst of a complex process of questioning and deconstructing the worldview from which this belief stems. Call it the Anthropocene. Call it the Cartesian-Newtonian cosmovision that assigns all intelligence, sentience and meaning to the minds of human beings and deprives the rest of the universe of these qualities. Call it what you will, I was formed by a world that consistently puts “man” at the center.
I am becoming curious about what happens to me or through me when I open myself to other agencies. I’m loosening my fixation on what I can accomplish through the force of this individualized human will. I am holding still long enough to allow the words “to find me;” I aspire to let this entangled and mysterious universe work through me… to be taken hold of by the multiple entities around and within me. These words from my brother, Bayo, have been nourishing manna for me on the journey so far :
“What if the world we want to save is alive and has imperatives of its own?”
“We are not free. We are tethered and anchored by more-than-rational beings and influences. There is an invitation in this time to meet those agencies that we’ve chased away with our modern project.”
“Be wary of a world in which you are the center.”
I am reflecting and acting from new places. This is only possible through humility and recognizing that there is no fixed subject here, no arrival. There is only becoming and becoming and becoming.
Where does that leave me now? Shuttling back and forth between different worlds: one moment trapped in my entitled ideas of fairness and bargaining with the universe; another moment asking myself if I would really want to be in quarantine with a nearly two-year-old toddler… or a nine-month-old infant or if I would want to be living through COVID-19 and nineteen weeks pregnant. None of this matters. But I’ve thought these thoughts countless times during these past months. I’ve contemplated the shitty-ness of this world aplenty. I’ve also lived moments of magic, synchronicity and connection with my ancestors, with forces that supersede my limited human perspective. I’ve felt Rafa and Ramona and this latest little one present within and around me. I’ve felt whole just as I am. This constantly shifting barrage of thoughts and feelings is pretty disorienting, to be honest.
This experience is a challenge for me to describe, but I found this note from Tad Hargrave the other day that seems to lay it out quite clearly:
Of course, if we could turn back the clock so that a loved family member would not get sick or die, we would. If we could somehow find some other possible future in which we didn’t have cancer, we would. We would trade what we lost for all these unsought blessings if we could. But the world isn’t offering that up.
There you are, having a blessing you don’t want to have gained from a loss you didn’t ask for and, all the while, wishing for it all to be different. Finding blessings while wishing it had never happened at all and cursing the whole endeavour. You can do both. You can be a mix of grateful to be alive at all, resentful and heartbroken by the loss and grateful for the gifts in it. That all seems to be part of the story.
At the moment, I’m in the middle of an experiment in cultivating more presence and spontaneity in my life. I’m taking the next two to four weeks “off work” to see what happens if I don’t make any plans. I’m practicing being available for the universe to work through me, to set aside beliefs in the supremacy of my human will. Does that sound nice to you? Well, it’s scary as shit.
I’ve had moments in this time where I feel: “Yes. I am ready to fully surrender my desire to be a biological mother to a living child. I can let it go.” And I’ve had moments of deeply wishing to become pregnant again… even believing that it could be so. None of these moments last for too, too long. Something always changes (as is the nature of our world). What permeates is a longing to know what the future will bring, to know whether I should give up or keep trying. On the other side of that desire is the more persistent understanding that we cannot know the future… never, ever. There is only a constant invitation to accept things as they are in this present moment. It isn’t sexy or glamorous – in fact, it often leaves me feeling dull and unfulfilled – but it does open the possibility of some insight, further integrity or learning in the place where I am right now… even if it feels (often) like an interminable limbo.
It has taken me more than two months to finish this post. Just the thought of coming here, of taking up this subject again, of completing my half-formed thoughts has caused feelings of lethargy, confusion and sadness. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I don’t know if it has to do with being ashamed of revealing some of these things about my ego and false sense of entitlement. Or that admitting there’s nothing to do but accept that all my babies are dead is devastating and simply true at the same time. Maybe just recognizing that there’s nowhere to escape to… no to-do list or urgent crisis or drama or whatever… is deeply distressing.
As we move towards the two-year anniversary of Rafael’s death and birth, all around me I see symbols that remind me of his existence and his absence. I see the blanket we wrapped his body in. I see the little shard of green glass, the crocheted heart with his name. I see his photo on the altar and his urn. Sometimes, betraying the feeling in my heart, I think: “You really need to stop focusing on this so much and ‘get on with life.’” I think that one of the things I never realized when Rafa died was how I would think about him, remember him, wonder about him every single day for the rest of my life. I knew that the experience would change me… but I didn’t know that it would stay with me in such an alive and morphing way, on such a quotidian basis. This simply is what it is. Yes, I am afraid of falling into a deep depression while taking “time off.” I am afraid that if I am not doing, that if I am nothing, then I will just disappear (something I yearned for at times during the first year). And yet, I am learning how sadness and fear of despair will walk with me forever. I know that grief is my companion and that by journeying together I am creating spaces for others to also invite their griefs to accompany them in a day-to-day way.
I’m also tired. Tired of fighting so hard to try to organize the future and make sense of all that’s happened these past years. I’m tired of planning and counting and comparing and bargaining. I long for levity and joy. In general, things are quite good; I really can’t complain. But my mind – and as a result my body, spirit and soul – is weary of these thoughts and burdens. I wonder where the respite is, when I will find some sanctuary and if it can be found in this strange, liminal present I’m living in.