When my Grandpa Bill left my Grandma Marilyn for another woman, she was devastated. They had three children, the youngest was just an infant. She had been a stay at home mom, married to a handsome pianist who I suppose she was very much in love with. Her heart was broken, she had to figure out how to make a living and balance three children. It was really hard. Eventually, she found a job working at Kaiser and met my Grandpa Jack, and they fell very much in love. He was a well respected Pathologist with two children of his own and he was crazy about my grandmother. And, although she really ended up with a beautiful life (I mean, she really really did), the cheating and the heartbreak and the strength that she had to muster to move forward broke a part of her. And, every so often, she'd bring it up. I think she wanted people to know that her happiness had not come easy. That she had struggled deceit, and heartache, and the challenges of being a single mother. I never felt it was self indulgent of her to talk about that period of her life, even when a part of her still sounded sad. I always just felt like she was honestly sharing her life with me and I admired that she'd been through an unconventional hardship (for her era) and made it through to another side. I know there were some who felt she should stop telling and retelling the story because it all worked out fine - and that it was somehow insulting to her second husband and maybe to a certain extent that is true. But, overall, she was scarred and I doubt she ever went to counseling or spoke to anyone with great insight about the situation. She just buckled down and kept going. Of course it scarred her. I adored my grandma Marilyn - she was honest, and good, and kind, and generous, and nurturing.
I think about these women all of the time. I do. And, I am pretty sure my parents each worry that I will end up like their respective mothers. They've hinted as much to me since Max died. My mother worries that I will carry the loss of Max on my shoulders for the rest of my life and that even if life looks beautiful from the outside for me again someday, I will still be crying over my child. She is right. I will. And, I know there will always be people that will say that I should be over it, and that I should count my blessings, and that life turned out lovely for me (assuming it does). That is ok. The fact is my grief isn't all about me. It's about Max- and the life he won't get. They can say whatever they want anyway. They haven't lived through what I am living through. They don't know how much strength it takes to even imagine a lovely life when your child dies. They don't believe my struggle and I can't, nor do I need, to try and convince them. But, I will share Max forever, because I love him and because I believe his life was important. The truth is that people can move forward and still have deep scars, like my grandma Marilyn did. That essentially sums up the human experience. We get knocked down, we lie there for a while (sometimes a minute, sometimes a year), we get up, we move forward and then we get knocked down again. It never bothered me to hear my grandmother say her heart had been broken - because it was the truth. And, by the way, when my first boyfriend cheated on me, she is the one I went to about it and she understood like nobody else did. I'd be happy to end up like her.
My father, I am sure - worries that I will end up like his mother: Bitter, mean, entitled. When I first lost Max, this was a real possibility - I could have ended up like her. Though, I'd be quick to point out that unlike her, something horrible happened in my life - in fact, to the most important person in my life. She hadn't lost anyone close that she loved or been left by someone she trusted or had anything bad really happen to her. I've always wondered whether her husband was very fond of her, but honestly, I am sure he wasn't. She was really a difficult person. And, who knows why? Maybe there was some reason that she never shared with us. Regardless, I have been very aware of who she was and how much I don't want to be like her. She never expressed gratitude for what she had and the truth is that her life was full of abundance. She could be generous, but rarely with warmth and love. She was mostly miserable to be around, and I guess I should feel bad saying it because grandmothers are supposed to be sweet and warm and lovely - but mine just wasn't and that is ok. In fact, I truly believe that if I had any kind of understanding of what had made her the way she was, perhaps I would have felt some compassion. But, as it was, I didn't.
I've been thinking about these two women and how they have shaped my life and more importantly, my parents. I know that both of my parents have felt disappointed at various points that I haven't been able to be stronger in the last two years. They have wanted me to be the bigger person in certain instances and encouraged me to put one foot in front of the other when that felt impossible. I think my mother and I have mostly reached a place of understanding, where she knows I am doing the best I can. I also think my dad might see that but I can't be sure. I wonder if they notice how much strength I actually have had to muster to keep going - to have another child, to take care of him and make sure he feels loved, to nurture my marriage, to plan for more children, to keep my job, to find ways of coping and even enjoying life. I worry that they are more worried about my becoming one of their mothers than they are about my becoming my "new me". And, I hope that my parents can see the difference between having lost Max and the experiences of their mothers. They have each spent large portions of their lives listening to women who felt sorry for themselves on a certain level, and to have me in that same place probably feels familiar and scary. My feeling sorry for myself is a trigger for them. I hope that eventually, they will fully recognize how natural it is to feel sorry for oneself when a child dies. I think they feel it too but they are also afraid of becoming their mothers, so they mostly "buck up". I hope that one day they can feel proud of how far we've come since Maxie stopped breathing. Perhaps I am being too generous with myself but I believe that though my life has been influenced by both of these women - neither one of them is me. And, the two of them couldn't have been more different. My life, my experience, my love, my loss - it's different than either of them and so am I.