I’ve been thinking a lot the last day or so about appearances. Many times when I sit out in public somewhere, I wonder if people can tell just by looking at me that I recently lost my child. Because I feel like it exudes from my pores. Sometimes when I’m with people other than Ed, I feel like my smile is plastered on my face—my brain, thoughts, and words are on autopilot, but the sadness still just emanates from my person.
I went to the office for the first time yesterday, just for a few hours. I had the weirdest feeling about it. As I sat here contemplating this post, searching myself to try to put my finger on the emotion, I think I’ve figured out that it is guilt. I think one of the (many) reasons I was dreading going back to the office is that it would seem to others like the ultimate act of “moving on,” of returning to normalcy—if Mandy is going back to work, she must be OK. I’ve had a similar concern with Facebook—many times a day, a third-person thought about something I’m doing or thinking pops into my head. In days past, those things would usually end up on my Facebook page. I’m also usually generous with exclamation points when I wish happy birthdays or comment on others’ good news. But since Hudson died, I have not wanted to post my normal chatter on my Facebook status. And I haven’t felt like exclamation points. All this time, I’ve been telling myself that I was worried that my Facebook friends would somehow think I’ve finally “moved on” or that exclamation points just aren’t appropriate for a mother who’s been grieving the death of her child for less than a month.
But I’ve only just this second realized, as I’ve been writing this, that it’s not what other people think that really worries me. I’ve said to Ed several times since Hudson died that I physically feel as though someone is standing on me, stepping right in the middle of my chest. The weight is nearly unbearable. As each day goes on, if I don’t have a good cry, the weight justs get heavier and heavier. When I finally do cry, the weight lets up, at least for a little while. The last few days, that weight hasn’t been the same, or at least, I haven’t noticed it as much. And it scares me. As it turns out, I’m the one, actually, who is worried that I am somehow “moving on” and leaving my grief and my little girl behind. It feels like a betrayal. Rationally, I know that this is totally absurd, but I also know that this is exactly what I’ve been subconsciously concerned about. (And I’ve certainly learned that grief is not rational).
Donna, one of Ed’s dearest old friends from Chapel Hill, spoke at Hudson’s memorial service in North Carolina about “dressing for power.” She suggested we adopt this mantra from the business world as we face a seemingly impossible future. “Fake it 'til you make it,” she said. After the service, she came up to me and gave me the string of beautiful blue beads she was wearing when she spoke (Donna doesn’t know this, but our favorite color for Hudson was blue—Ed always said that, like me, blue was Hudson's best color, too). I have worn those beads on many, many days since then—days when I feel especially vulnerable, like the day we went back to the PICU to pick up the keepsake box with Hudson’s handprints and footprints from the night she died, the day Hudson’s ashes were delivered, the day we saw our grief counselor for the first time, and many others. I wore them to the office yesterday. I call them my “power beads” (thank you, Donna). Wearing them does actually make me feel stronger. But my need to wear them helps me remember, I think, that although I am starting to heal, I’m not “moving on.” The sadness is still overwhelming, but I’m keeping up appearances. “Fake it 'til you make it.” That’s what I’m doing.