This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011, and my hope is that by sharing them, newly bereaved parents will recognize that they are not alone in their experience.
Grief is a long and confusing process.
This post was originally written in July of 2013.
This week, I’ve found myself feeling grumpy and short-tempered with my family.
The everyday demands of life with four young children have been overwhelming me. I know it’s a hard job, but suddenly it feels impossible. Like I can’t possibly survive another day of arguing and getting cups of juice and changing diapers and picking up toys. I just can’t do it. I want to get in a car and drive away from here.
I’ve been trying to figure out why this came over me suddenly, and I’m surprised to realize that I think it’s because of my grief.
In the days following Brigid’s funeral, I checked out, mentally. I remember feeling my mind slipping away during the service. My body was there, going through the motions, but I couldn’t focus on anything. I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like a deer in headlights. My eyes were wide and the face that looked back was not my own. I didn’t look like me. I needed to go somewhere other than our home afterward. For whatever reason, I really wanted to get to the ocean, sit by the edge and just stare out at it. I knew the sound of the waves and the time to think would be comforting.
My husband, Patrick, and I stayed in a hotel that night because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to care for my three boys. I remember waking up and feeling like my head was not attached to my body. Like I literally did not know how much effort to use to raise my arm. I learned later that this was a form of post traumatic stress disorder. Apparently, watching a team of emergency personnel gather around your preemie baby’s three-pound body and perform CPR while she is dying is a little too much for the brain to process.
I remember fearing that I was going insane. That people would say, “Gee, she was fine until the babies died, but then she just was never right after that.”
I did end up getting my head and body back together, though it took a few days of doing nothing. I had to sit and stare in silence and just keep thinking about what happened over and over again. I had to say the words, “She’s dead” out loud. A hundred times. Scream them. Cry them. I’d drive around in the car aimlessly by myself and just say it over and over. It was as if my mind wouldn’t accept it unless I did that.
After one or two nights away from the house after the funeral, it was back to reality with three young boys, and my grieving got pushed aside. I had to focus on these small children who needed juice and help with the potty and baths and meals and I didn’t have time to just sit and cry or think. I did a lot of that in the evening, after they were in bed. Or in the shower. But the demands of the day meant that I could not do it when they were awake. So some of my grieving didn’t happen then.
There were days when I recognized that it would probably be harder to grieve the loss of a baby if I didn’t have any other children, and days when I imagined it could be easier. If there is ever an “easier” way to deal with that. Sometimes, throwing myself into life with the boys was a welcome distraction. Other times, they were just a distraction from the quiet and tears in which I wanted to lose myself.
And so now, two years later, is it any wonder that I still need to process it? That the anniversary of Brigid’s death just brings all of that back to mind and I need to grieve it all over again? And yet, here is my little family, the boys having moved on from the sadness of losing their sister – which is as it should be – and still needing me to be present with them, making chocolate milk and paper airplanes and hearing about the features of their latest Lego creation. And our new little “rainbow” daughter who brings us so much joy being a typical seven month old, in need of care and cuddles.
But my brain still wants to just sit and think for a bit. About the daughter that I had and now I don’t. About the times that I held her and sang to her. About her warmth and her smell. About the way she would smile, even behind the ventilator tube taped to her lip, when I came into her hospital room and started talking to her. About the ten or fifteen things that I can think of that might have possibly prevented her death, wishing I’d been more pushy about them, and wondering if that would even have made a difference.
I need to think. I need to process it and heal from it. And the reality is, there just isn’t time for thinking right now. There’s groceries, and diapers, and “Mommy, Mommy Mommy,” and laundry, and juice, and meal planning, and organizing, and diapers, and nursing, and bedtime, and dishes, and cleaning (and did I mention diapers?), but there’s not a lot of thinking. There’s not a lot of alone time. And I think that makes me feel a little grumpy. More than a little, actually – I’ve been snapping at everyone and feeling like I can’t do it anymore.
Funny to me that the very thing I had in abundance when I was single, not ten years ago – the thing I hated the most about being single – is the one thing I would give almost anything for right now.
Grief has been described as a cycle or a spiral, and anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and lots of different things can put you right back into that spin.
Right now, I feel somewhere down at the bottom.
But this is where the Lord has me right now. He knew that I’d have three little ones to take care of when our twins died. He knew that there would be another baby in our family, too. This is my vocation, caring for these little ones. I can’t begrudge them their neediness – they’re little. They’re just being kids. It is hard work, even without the grieving factor added in. But He can give me the strength and wisdom to do it. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And they are some of the most amazingly wonderful kids in the world.
I’m surprised by my grief this year, and the unexpected emotions that have come with it. I had to figure it out for the sake of my family. They need me to be consistent. They need to know where they stand and not be walking on eggshells around me. And I know that these few weeks of feeling out of control and overwhelmed is not going to ruin them, but it might be best for me to carve out some solo time to work through some of the feelings I’ve been having and to think about my baby and miss her.
And actually, just recognizing that and verbalizing it has helped me feel more able to handle all the other things that I have to do each day, especially since I’ve spent much of the past few weeks wondering what was wrong with me.
Nothing is wrong with me. I just need to grieve.
Have you ever felt surprised by the way grief made you feel?