I know that often it is hard to know what to say when you learn of someone’s devastating loss. I know. Even after having been on the receiving end of every conceivable word of sympathy, I still struggle with the right words to share with others when I learn of losses they may have suffered, large and small. And I’m especially sensitive to trying to say something comforting because I know how much it can mean. So I know how hard it must be for people who haven’t necessarily experienced losses of their own to know what to say.
For some background, although the past week or so has actually been pretty tolerable, maybe even halfway decent, I have still found myself at some very low points at many times during the day. There’s just no predicting when I will be struck, again, by the sheer enormity of what has happened. Our ultrasound appointment last week was in the same office building as Hudson’s pediatrician. That appointment was the first time we’d been back there since we took Hudson there on that awful Monday morning, the morning we knew too little. I was quickly overcome with PTSD-like reactions as soon as we pulled into the parking garage—I could remember exactly where we parked that morning, exactly how limp Hudson felt on my shoulder on the way in and on the way out. As we passed through the lobby, we walked by the lab where we sat and waited for Hudson to get her blood drawn and her chest x-rayed. I remember my surprise when she barely flinched at the needle going into her arm. And I thought again about our time in the office, when I started crying when the doctor told us to take her home and keep pushing fever medicines and fluids—I was worried sick and just couldn’t go home without having some better idea of what was going on. Our kid just didn’t run 104 fevers. I thought again about whether this all might have turned out differently if I’d skipped the pediatrician and gone straight to the ER several hours earlier. As I thought of all of this as we headed to the elevator, my chest tightened, that familiar burning wound its way into the space behind my eyes, and I began to cry.
Last night, Ed and I dropped a friend off at the McPherson Square metro station, at the corner of 14th and I Streets. As we pulled over to the side, Ed recognized the spot and said, “I think you picked me up here one time, or we parked here or something.” As soon as he said it, I knew instantly what he was talking about. “We parked here for the kite festival last year.” The kite festival, where the photo at the top of this blog was taken, one of the several very vivid memories of our last two months with Hudson, the one I’ll write about next Sunday. After our friend got out of the car, I began to cry. “That still seems like it was just yesterday. I can’t believe it was almost a year ago.” I remembered parking there (there was some commotion with police cars about half a block up), getting Hudson out and loading her into the backpack, walking down 14th Street to the mall. I remembered all these details almost better than being at the festival itself. I just don’t know how a year could have gone by.
Today I was running errands in the car and just started thinking about her, about how desperately I miss her and want to see her, about how I still don’t know how to keep living on without her, how afraid I am of her fading into the background of our lives as we have more children, and I began to cry. Hard.
It takes so very little. There have been dozens of these moments over the last several days, even as the days themselves seem to be improving. These moments hurt. A lot. And then they are over. But I still cry. A lot.
Back to my original point. I was at my yarn store today trying to get caught up on the class I missed last weekend when I was in Chapel Hill. A nice employee was helping me figure out the finer points of decreasing stitches and using double-pointed needles so I could finish a hat I’ve been working on for Ed. Here was our conversation as I was checking out:
“When are you due?”
“Is this your first?”
“No, my second.” As usual, I cast my eyes down and smile awkwardly when saying this. I have grown accustomed to just leaving it at that most of the time. It answers the question and I figure if they want to know more, they will ask. I’m still not totally comfortable with this approach—because it leaves out the most important part of the story, I can’t help but feel sometimes as though it is a betrayal of my sweet girl’s precious life. But I’ve still gotten used to doing it this way. And every once in a while, there’s a follow-up.
“So do you have a boy or a girl.”
Here’s where I start to get flustered. Do I use past tense or present tense? Do I have a daughter or did I have a daughter?
After fumbling for a second or two, I say, “I have a daughter. She passed away last year.” And I began to cry.
“Ohhhh” (in a sympathetic voice). “How old was she?”
“Seventeen months.” Having trouble regaining control. Fumbling through my wallet trying to find my store membership card.
“Ohhh.” She is quiet as I sniffle and try to hold back the floodgates. I purposely laugh because I can’t find the damn card.
“Don’t cry.” Wait a minute. Really? Not “I’m so sorry.” Not “How terrible for you.” Not “You poor thing.” No, she says, “Don’t cry.” Now I am stunned. Completely befuddled. No idea what to say in response to that. So I give another fake laugh combined with a slight scoff.
“I’m sure that you have wonderful memories of that precious time with her.”
Yes, we do, you fucking moron, but I was supposed to have many decades’ worth of more memories with her. Have you ever lost a child? Do you have any idea how it feels every time I have to say out loud again that she died? Every time I have to acknowledge a truth that I desperately want not to be true? Do you have any idea what it takes not to cry at a moment like this? What it takes not to cry all day, every day? Do you have a fucking clue about anything at all?
“Yes, we do.” I muddled through some small talk as she finished checking me out and then got out of there. I jumped in the car and began to cry again. Hard.
I know people mean well. I know what a shock it is to learn that someone’s child has died. I know how hard it is to know what to say. I know when she said, “Don’t cry,” she probably meant, “I am so sorry for you. But I am happy for your new baby,” or something like that.
I know. But still.