I walked Bess today like I do every day. As I turned around the corner back onto our street, on to the last block before our house, I saw a family I know only very casually pulling up to the curb in front of their house. They are a family of four, and their youngest son is just a few days younger than Hudson. We first met in Halloween of 2008, when they came trick-or-treating at our house with their older son. The mom and I were both very pregnant and discovered our due dates were only days apart. We ran into them a few times walking in the neighborhood after that and said hello but haven’t seen them since Hudson died. Every day, I walk the dog past their house and always wonder what’s going on within. Sometimes, it’s late enough that evening is falling outside and the lights are on in their dining room and I can see them sitting around the table together. Whenever their car is parked outside, I glance in and see the toddler seat for the little boy Hudson’s age and the booster seat for his older brother. Every single time I walk past their house, I think to myself, “Therein lies our old life.” How our life used to be. How our life should be. An intact, happy family, carpooling to and from work and school together, squeezing in a meal between busy daytime schedules and little ones’ bedtimes. I guess I still just haven’t accepted the reality that our lives do not exist on that plane anymore.
I thought surely they had heard about Hudson, since most of the families in the neighborhood are on our Brookland family listserv, where news of her death spread when it happened. So as I turned the corner and saw them all piling out of the car, I cursed my luck, not wanting to have to face a conversation where they might not know what to say and therefore might not say anything at all and we’d all feel uncomfortable until I said goodbye and walked on.
Unfortunately, it was even worse than that. They hadn’t heard. I stopped to say hello and the first thing out of the mom’s mouth was “How’s your daughter?” For some reason, every time I hear a question that will require me to tell my awful story, I do a double-take and ask the person to repeat herself. I don’t know if my brain really doesn’t hear the question (I do have slight hearing loss), or if it hears the question and is just taking a few extra seconds to compose itself and try to prepare a response. But it seems like I do that every single time.
“I didn’t know if you guys had heard or not, but she actually passed away last year.” That’s another weird thing I do—I always say, “She actually passed away.” As opposed to what? She virtually passed away? She apparently passed away? She supposedly passed away? What are these strange fillers my brain creates? And why? And for some reason, I always say “passed away,” not “died.” I don’t know why that is either—I guess “died” just sounds much harsher in that circumstance, when someone is hearing it for the first time. I remember I said it once: “She got sick and died” and it just sounded so abrupt. I don’t seem to have any trouble saying “when Hudson died” in other contexts. It’s so odd, though, because I don’t even know what “passed away” means. I guess it may have originally been intended to imply an afterlife, some journey after death into which a person passed.
All of this I said with tears growing in my eyes and throat. There have been a few times in the last few weeks when I’ve been able to say it without crying, like to the pedicurist who asked me if this was my first and then asked me how old my older child was. I don’t know why I can sometimes say it rather matter-of-factly and other times I can barely choke the words out.
My neighbor said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and pulled me into a hug. I thanked her and went on. “Yes, she got meningitis, which is not usually fatal for kids her age. They don’t know why it was so aggressive.” I was just babbling at this point, filling the space between us, not even knowing what I was saying or why I was saying it or whether anyone really wants to know how a 17-month-old child died.
And then, still working hard to keep the tears mostly at bay, I said, “That was in May. And now we’re due again in May,” and patted my belly, which was somewhat covered up by my coat. At this point, I tried to laugh through my tears, a way of shrugging my shoulders at how ridiculous the world seems sometimes. This is another thing I tend to do—when I drop the bomb of Hudson’s death on people, I immediately follow it with news of being pregnant again. I have no idea whether I do this for them, so they can move on from the horror of hearing that Hudson died, or for me, so that I don’t have to keep watching them try to process it.
There is just no good way to tell someone that my child has died. Every possible way to say it sucks because nothing I can say can make it not true. Every possible way to say it sucks because the truth of it is just too awful for anyone to take in.
I guess it’s still too awful even for me to take in.