Sad Stories

Does everyone's life have to have a sad story?  Do some people get away with having no real unexpected blows?  I know everyone eventually loses their grandparents, their parents and 50% of all people lose a spouse, right?  These are incredibly sad things, but we expect them, don't we?  I am talking about the stuff we don't expect.  I have been reading a lot about grief and loss and most everything is written for people experiencing normal grief.  I don't want to belittle normal grief - it is heavy stuff.  I know that my father misses his father every single day, that my mother misses her mother all of the time, that my stepmother still quotes her mother to all of us.  They will miss those loved ones forever and that is normal grief (although I am sure there is nothing "normal" feeling about it since it can be very heavy).  Losing Max was not normal.  Losing an infant suddenly is not considered "normal" grief.  It is considered complicated grief and it is known to take 3-5 years to "normalize" - in other words, it takes that long to feel about it the way someone feels about their "normal" loss.  I hope it doesn't sound like I am trivializing normal grief.  That is not my intention.  I am simply stating that there are certain experiences that go outside of the normal expectancies.  There are also non-death kinds of losses - divorce, loss of a job, natural disasters.  These are things that often are unexpected or certainly not something that you plan for...they take a great emotional toll.  Is it possible to get away with a lifetime that doesn't have any complicated grief?  Somehow we all think we are above it.  That it won't happen to us, and yet, it happened to me.

I was so naive to think that my "sad story" had already taken place.  A sad story that isn't even sad in retrospect.  In 1999 I was engaged to a great guy.  I loved him.  He was (and I am sure he still is) so funny and smart.  And though our love was never electric and consuming, we were very compatible and best friends and whatever, we were young.  He started to get cold feet about 2 months before our wedding and we called it off.  At the time, I felt beside myself.  The expectations, the humiliation, the unexpectedness - it was hard.  I had a broken heart.  For a few months, I walked around in a haze and then I realized that I could take control and start to live the life I always wanted.  I applied to graduate school, I signed up for the AIDS ride, I went on a mission to Israel, I started dating.  I turned the lemons into lemonade.  What I didn't do for a long time though was let anyone in.  I didn't want to get close to anyone because I didn't want to get hurt again.  I lived like that for about 7 years until I met Ted.  As soon as I met Ted, I realized that my "sad story" wasn't sad at all (even if I did tell him that I didn't want to "emotionally invest" in him).  Actually, I think I realized that my sad story wasn't very sad a long time before Ted, but I started to hope when I met Ted that my story would have a really happy ending.  And it did - for a little while.  I ended up with the right person for me and so I could look back at everything that happened before and know that it all happened for a reason.  I packaged up the old memory neatly and everything in the world made sense.  Still, I thought somehow that that would be the sad story that defined my growth personally.  How silly I feel now.  How wrong I was to even have thought that story was sad at all.  I was so lucky to have not known sad.

When I found out that I was pregnant with Max, I threw my whole heart in.  One of the most beautiful things about children is that you get to emotionally invest in them without fear of getting hurt, or at least, that is what I thought.  I let myself love him so deeply and I could see that his love for me went just as deep.  I had never, ever experienced anything like this.  Even with my own parents, whom I love deeply, I feel I am on guard.  I want them to be proud of me.  I want them to understand me.  I want them to care about what I am going through.  So, I have an agenda.  If Max had grown up, he would probably have had one with me too.  But, baby Max had no agenda.  Just to love and be loved.  Who knew that this simple, pure, perfect love could cause me so much pain?  Never in a million years would I have guessed.  And so I wonder what the lesson is here.  Should we be on guard always?  Never let anyone in ever?  They might hurt you with intention or hurt you because they die?  Would it be best to just detach and take care only of myself.  I did that for a long time and it was lonely.  Lonely is so much better than this complicated grief that I feel.  How would I feel today if I hadn't thrown myself entirely into the love I felt for Max?  Guilty?  More sad?  Ted and I want to have more children - should I protect myself by not getting too attached?  I was careful not to get too attached to the pregnancy that I had several months ago and I am sort of glad, since I miscarried.  There are some who would argue that perhaps I miscarried because I didn't get too attached.  I am guarded when it comes to spending time with friends and family since Max died.  There are too many people who I know could hurt me.  I have done my best to control my bubble, even though it is impossible to control completely.  My head is usual.  Unlike when my fiance and I broke up - this story isn't going to end up in a neatly wrapped package with a happily ever after bow.  This story remains sad, no matter how many trees get planted, or dollars are raised for SIDS research, or stories are told about Max, or siblings are born for him to NOT get a chance to love and play with.  I will never look back and say, "oh, that story wasn't as sad as I thought it was".  It might hurt less one day, but it will always be sad and tragic.  I will be sad about losing Max for the rest of my life.

I try to look for people who are further along on their grief journeys to see how they are handling them.  I have written about some of the blogs I am reading.  Some are helpful - I can see how the family continues to love each other and to honor the memory of the child that they lost and find comfort in this life.  Some are less helpful - people are angry and feeling misunderstood sometimes still after many years.  They feel no support and all of their happiness died with their loss.  I think about people I have known personally - those people who are living with an extraordinary amount of loss.  For example, I spent about two years working closely with an Israeli General, Doron Almog, through my work at JNF.  He lost his brother, Eran, in the Yom Kippur war.  Then his son, named Eran for his brother, was born with severe developmental disabilities.  The family loved this son and spent so much time and effort in fundraising through JNF and other sources and working with the Israeli government to build a residential village for individuals with such extreme disabilities.  Not a sterile, sad facility - but a beautiful place with gardens, and a petting zoo, and art workshops and a beautiful swimming pool.  Aleh Negev was already open for residents and Eran had been living there when at age 20 he died unexpectedly.  General Almog also lost 5 members of his family in a suicide bombing in a Haifa restaurant in 2003, including his cousin and my friend, Moshe Almog.  So much loss in one lifetime and Doron and his wife are still fairly young.  I try to look to them for strength.  They still manage to enjoy their family, to take vacations, to spend time with friends, to love and spoil their grandchildren and to continue to fundraise in their child's name for the village he was to live in.  Make no mistake about it though, they are incredibly sad.  And, what about the Holocaust survivors who lost their entire families and had to rebuild all over?  Many lost a spouse and several children and then remarried and had more children.  I know that some of those individuals loved their second families with abandon, so incredibly grateful to have this kind of love and hope again.  Others kept themselves removed from their children - either consciously or unconsciously trying to protect themselves from ever being so badly hurt again.  These stories are extreme and then again, you never know that you aren't going to experience the extreme until you do (or don't).  There is no way to predict the future.  

So, this is the next part of my mental debate.  Do I protect myself by envisioning the worst possible scenarios and figuring out what I will do if each of them happens? (Ted leaves me, we have another miscarriage, or many, we lose another baby to SIDS or childhood disease, one of us loses the other one far too soon.......the list goes on and on).  It makes me want to seal myself in a room and never come out because life has hurt me so much I don't think I can take it anymore.  Or, do I just live and see what happens and hope for the best and continue to love my husband with all of my heart and soul, and get excited about the idea of lots of Leviss babies and all of the fun and wonderful things we will do with them and how much I will love them for the rest of my life, and start letting friends back into my life and just hope that they can put stuff into perspective and try to be loving with me?  I think I choose the latter, but it is not an easy choice and it won't be easy and I am not there yet.  I will do the best I can and try to live one minute at a time for now.  It's what I have to keep coming back to because I really have no alternative.  


Steven said...

There will always be this dichotomy in your life, but it is what you do with it that matters. My son, Colin, died nine+ months ago and I am still angry and sad, and confused, and everything else that comes along with his death, but I have a wife who loves and needs me, a daughter who loves and needs me, family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors who depend on me for various things and at various levels, so I realized that I would have to let them in and experience the "new me" and let them choose to still be a part of my life or not. Colin's death (also SIDS) has profoundly changed me and after much turmoil and then reflection, I realized that I am me, but a very changed me...either accept it and try to love or like me for who I am now, not who I was before, and definitely not who you think I should be now.

I guess I am saying all of this because I am a bit further down my journey than you and Ted, and the only thing you can do is keep moving forward, embrace the love and good that is still in your life and hope for the best. As tough as it is, even Max's death can not destroy your hope. If it does, it has already destroyed you, and from your words, one can tell that you are understandably devastated but far from destroyed. So, my advice is to hug Ted a bit tighter, love him a bit stronger, and embrace the good in your life to the best of your ability each day knowing that your best may not be all that good on some days, but it was the best you had that day. Asking more of yourself would be, and is just too much right now.

Wishing you and Ted peace, love, and solace

Rebecca Patrick-Howard said...

Fancy meeting you here, Steven. It's like a little party. :-) Granted, not the kind you want to be invited to, but nice to "see" a familiar face. (Abby, if you haven't yet "met" Steven he keeps his own SIDS blog. It stands apart from most because it's from a father's perspective. My husband has kept up with it himself and he's found a lot of comfort in it.)