On my self-imposed isolation

Saturday night we went out with friends.  This is something we NEVER do anymore.  Literally.  Earlier in the day, I went with my friend Suzy to get massages (I found the best pregnancy massage ever in Burbank a few months ago!)  Then, in the evening, Ted and I went out with Suzy and her boyfriend Spencer (both close friends of mine from high school).  It almost felt like a normal night out with friends...something that hasn't sounded like a "fun" thing to do in months but actually ended up being fun.  Ted wanted to try a new brewery in Burbank.  They have indoor and outdoor seating and it is in a cool warehouse nearby.  It seemed like a perfect activity...until we got there and found more babies than I have seen anywhere in ten months.  No joke.  I counted 10 babies between the deck and the inside space.  Little graco carriers everywhere.  More babies than I see at the yoga studio when I happen to be there when the mommy and me class is lining up.  I was actually up for braving it but the others made a group decision to leave.  It was probably the right decision.  On our way out, we bumped into Paul - my brother!!!  Kind of funny.  He was there celebrating one of his best friends birthdays.  We chatted with them for a few minutes and then continued on to a saloon in Burbank where Ted and I went a few times while I was pregnant with Max and where we have been a couple of times since losing him.  It is a dive and definitely not a place that anyone would bring a kid.  It is the kind of place Ted and I would have hung out before we were pregnant with Max.  They have lots of beers on tap and really good burgers.  We had a really nice time.  Suzy really has been by our sides since the very beginning of this nightmare.  She and Spencer are very "safe" people for us to spend time with.

Going out for burgers and beer probably doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment to any normal person out there but, for me, it was a big deal.  A few months ago Ted and I went with my mom and her boyfriend, Ken, to a comedy show to support Shawn Pelofsky - the comic that organized the line up for Maxie's benefit.  That was an equally large accomplishment for me.  We went out to dinner, made small talk, watched a comedy show, and laughed about the acts that we saw.  These normal social interactions come easier for Ted.  I know that they come easier for some other bereaved parents.  Some people need these types of interactions just to keep from going crazy.  I have no way of understanding why they are more challenging for me...but they are.  When I am able to let go and enjoy myself, it feels like one million pounds lifted off of my shoulders.  These experiences are few and far between though.  It's nobody's fault but my own.  I generally don't feel up to it.  In the early days, I tried a few times to go out with friends and I woke up the next day feeling hungover from the energy I had spent trying to act normal and make others comfortable.  It was too soon.

When Max died, I was given a copy of "When Bad Things Happen To Good People" by Harold Kushner.  I read the first chapter and wanted to throw it in the trash.  I could tell that the book's premise was going to be that we should not blame god for the bad things that happen to us.  That god's role was to be the figure that we embrace when those bad things happen.  Oh no!  I was too angry at god to read that bulls*@t.  Frankly, I am still angry at god and I still don't accept that theory.  Still, I decided to give the book a second try because enough people have suggested it to me and I am out of helpful reading material.  There is a chapter about depression and isolation that really resonated with me.  I will get to that in a minute.

During the days leading up to Max's funeral and during Max's shiva, it never occurred to me how people would treat us after they went back to their real lives.  For the most part, everyone was so supportive during those first two weeks.  They dropped everything to be by our sides, they cried with us, and helped keep our kitchen clean and put their arms around us and told us how sad they were for us.  I wrongly assumed that people would still handle us delicately when the shiva ended, knowing we were still so hurt and devastated - that just because the official period of mourning was over didn't mean that our grief was suddenly gone.  It was a traumatic experience and a real wake up call when that isn't what happened.  I have said so many times - and I am sorry to be repetitive but what happened was that many people acted like nothing happened.  In fact, it felt like they out of their way to act really really normal.  They went back to trying to gossip with us about the nonsense we gossiped about before Max died.  They stopped mentioning him and our tragedy.  They stopped putting their arms around us.  They wondered aloud when we would start to get over this.  I showed up at work just two weeks after Maxie's funeral where everyone treated me as if I'd just been away on a cruise or something for a few weeks.  Not one word about the devastation that just tore my world apart (except from one person - who did come into my office and put her arm on my shoulder and asked how I was holding up).  People invited me to "come out and play" and see concerts and go out on the town (I guess they figured I wouldn't have to worry about babysitters anymore).  They all meant well but -Holy Moses - it was way too soon and way too much.  Many of them then acted offended when I said I wasn't ready.  I just needed people who would come over and sit with me and talk with me and try to listen to me.  It felt like I was living in an alternate universe.  Was I really expected to be over the death of my son just a few weeks after his shocking death?  As a result, I totally isolated myself.  I was criticized for that too.  I was told that I was "too hard to be around".  Honestly, if you were told that you were "too hard to be around", why would you invite anyone to be around you?  Was the idea that I should lighten up so that others wouldn't have to feel so bummed out to be around me?  My son had just died.

I realized after a couple of weeks that there was no way for anyone to understand just how tragic and devastating losing Max was and rather than have to just fake "happy", I decided to sit home - alone...all of the time.  It felt much safer than being with people.  The strangeness of people feeling like they were doing me a solid by inviting me out but then totally ignoring the devastation I was living through was just overwhelming and nonsensical feeling.  So, I have been sitting at home in the dark for the last ten months.  I have tried to explain my feelings about losing Max and the kind of support I have needed on this blog.  Some people have started to get it a little, most haven't.  Some very unique individuals have understood right off the bat.  I have had visitors - people that I feel safe with for the most part.  People who have let me cry and talk about Max and been with me in my pain.  They have put their own issues aside for the time they spent with me and just supported me.  I am lucky.  I am not sure everyone has people like this.

In his book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", Kushner says, "One of the worst things that happens to a person who has been hurt by life is that he tends to compound the damage by hurting himself a second time.  Not only is he the victim of rejection, bereavement, injury, or bad luck; he often feels the need to see himself as a bad person who had this coming to him, and because of that drives away people who try to come close and help him".  Part of the problem, Kushner explains is that the people who come "to comfort us" don't always bring comfort.  He speaks of the biblical story of Job - who lost everything - his wife, his children, all of his possessions.  He says that Job's friends did the right thing by coming to him but they tried to make light of his losses and they explained that there must be a reason for them.  "He needed friends who would permit him to be angry, to cry and to scream, much more than he needed friends who would urge him to be an example of patience and piety to others.  He needed people to say 'Yes, what happened to you is terrible and makes no sense," not people who would say, 'Cheer up, Job, its not all that bad.'  And that was where his friends let him down.  The phrase 'Job's comforters' has come into our language to describe people who mean to help, but who are more concerned with their own needs and feelings than they are with those of the other person, and so only end up making things worse."  I am sure I have been one of "Job's comforters" in my past.  I have had lots of "Job's comforters" try and cheer me up as well over the last ten months.  Kushner goes on to say about our society that "We either stay away entirely, so that the suffering person experiences isolation and a sense of rejection on top of his tragedy, or we come and try to avoid the reason for our being there.  Hospital visits and condolence calls become discussions of the weather, the stock market, or the pennant race, taking on an air of unreality as the most important subject on the mind of everyone present is left conspicuously unmentioned."  It's this "air of unreality" that I have had to avoid.  I am no dummy.  I know that Max was "the most important subject on the mind of everyone" who came to visit us, but it was too hard for me to play the game that everyone else was playing.  My soul was aching to leave this body and join Max in a place where I would't have to feel so unreal anymore.  To save my own life.  I had to isolate myself.

I have wondered to myself if this self-imposed isolation was good or bad for me and I have honestly had mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, I have been in the deepest pit of darkness for all of this time and I have been there all alone.  The loneliness and isolation have darkened the pit.  On the other hand, I have needed to be there and not with anyone who was going to belittle or ignore this very real grief.  I have needed to sit and reflect on my life, to saturate my soul in my love for Max, to feel every terrible feeling I have felt.  For me, this has been the only way to feel like I could release the pain, little by little, and begin healing.  Having a bunch of people around me who wanted to make everything normal would have been (and was in those times that I couldn't avoid it) more painful for me than just feeling the pain has been.  Everyone has their own path.  This has been mine.

I am beginning to feel ready again to let in a little light.  To open the door to some activity, to some dear friends, to life.  I am taking baby steps.  I can't handle much more.  This is what feels right to me today.  It may not be what feels right to me tomorrow.  But, again, this is MY journey.  You can't force me into rushing it.  Getting out just a little, dipping my toes back into the world has been good for my soul as I have entered a new stage of grief.  I have a long, long road ahead of me but I am feeling more up for the challenge than I have this whole time.  Perhaps it is the promise of my Baby M  - my second little love - coming in just a short eight weeks.  Perhaps this is just how grief goes as you begin to get more used to the constant pain.  I don't know.  What I do know is that if you happen to catch me away from my house - you might find a smile on my face (though you might still be more likely to catch me crying).  That is a small accomplishment for me in this great big tragedy.


NikaM said...

Getting out again is a huge deal! I'm happy to hear that you are making baby steps....and especially that you are giving yourself time with those baby steps.

Kathleen said...

I hope kind, nonjudgmental, compassionate...hands to hold with each small step...

Fiona said...

I feel the same way as you. There are friends (and in-laws) who are "safe" and others who make it more of a chore. My mother-in-law recently told us that my in laws were all worried and they need to see us to make sure we were okay. I told her that we're not okay and them seeing us will only serve to underline that. I also told her that I don't have the energy for people who need my comfort.
Take your time, you're doing well getting out at all.
Lots of love to you.

Sig said...

This makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing.
I can't believe you're due in 8 weeks. Baby M is one lucky little guy. He has two incredible parents to look forward to.
love lots.