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Grief, Guest Posts

What Is Grief?

October 7, 2016

TW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Kate Kane

I hate the spring. All that sunlight and daylight and exposure; shocking and achy. All that light exposing the world.  Poor little buds trying with all their might to push out of the cold, icy dirt.  It’s so bright, the colors and clarity; it startles and hurts.  I want winter to keep on going.  The dark evenings and the cold nights. I am never ready for the spring.  The pressure of it all.

I remember I was wearing a bright orange skirt when I told you. And I remember you turning to straddle the concrete bench where we were sitting so you could look squarely at me; absorbing the news. And then you taking my hips gently between your hands and kissing the low part of my belly. Leaning your forehead against it.

Weeks later there we would be in the waiting room; you nuzzling my neck, and me having a distinct feeling that none of this was actually happening.  I remember you folding the white jeans that I had dropped on the floor while we were waiting for the doctor to come in. You, folding my white jeans. The irony of it all.  You, tidying up the mess.

“Is this your significant other,” the doctor asked with a casual gaze in your direction. We look at one another. “Yes,” I finally say.  Then the white, fuzzy image of the baby on that machine and both of us simultaneously straining to see it.  The monitor was a little behind me and I couldn’t really see the screen from where I was lying. But I could see you.  You. Looking intently with an expression I couldn’t quite pin down.  Those beautiful dark eyes narrowing. Leaning forward with your strong, tan forearms, resting on your legs. Squinting to see your baby. What were you thinking then?  I still long to know.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor says.  And everything fades to black.

I won’t forgive you for what you said to me later in the car. Because, no, I was not even a little relieved. We spent that afternoon together. Me feeling faint and dizzy, you managing to lose your phone, your house keys and your car keys in the span of a few hours.  The metaphor is not lost on me.  We went to your classroom to drop something off.  The window was broken – glass in the shape of a spider web.  It looked so violent and harsh. The sight of it made me cry.  You were busy emptying boxes of books. When you looked up, you looked pained for me, came to me fast and hugged me too hard but then went back to your work.

I was surprised to discover the pregnancy back then. I sat in the bathroom with the test and then another and even one more for a long time on that hot July day.  And in my body, an unfamiliar feeling of fullness and tenderness and a strange tugging sensation like something jaggedy was in there.

I felt guilty for being so happy while you fretted so, and I feigned more concern than was real. I had the happiest secret inside me and I relished every second of it. Bliss. It was such a sweet, sweet time in my life. The marvel of it all. The doctors were just as surprised as I was.

I could never seem to fully recover from the loss of the baby. My spirit had shifted. A report came in the mail not long after with the image from the monitor. A little curled up person in an oval of grayish blur. Just lying there with its heart all broken.  I saved this with other important documents in my desk just to prove it had actually happened. So someone would come across it one day after I was long gone, with my tax returns and bank statements, my last will and testament, and they would say with surprise: “There was a baby.”

I came close to recovering.  There were times I would not think about it. When joy would return. But invariably something would frequently trigger it back and the memory would threaten to swallow me whole, if only for a moment.  I couldn’t fully process it or integrate it into my life in a way that made any sense to me. None of the experience existed in the visible world. It was vapor, the whole thing. Like an amputee with a phantom appendage. The most intense experience, poof, gone one day into the abyss. And just as quickly, you were gone, too.

Something strange happens to me now when I see a pregnant woman. A switch that flips in my mundane, unconscious routine of picking out apples at the grocery store, a song in my head as I’m walking home down my beautiful block with the magnolia trees blooming. And the simple sight of that oblivious woman with her taught, round belly and the blood can just drain out of me.  And I want to cry just then and there, fall down in a heap on the sidewalk. The grief.  The grief.  The awful grief.  Grief is not sweet and poetic like you read about.  It is ferocious and ugly.  It is full of rage and it consumes you in the most violent way.  You can’t reason with it. You can’t share it or express it.  It comes out of nowhere and consumes you.  It has no mercy. It has no rationale.

I feared my grief.  It would creep out of nowhere, just when I thought I had found peace. There she would be.  My own mother walking down the street in a trench coat, looking her smart, assured self.  Of course it was not her. My mother was dead.  But I could almost smell the perfumed blush on her soft, pink cheek.  And wham, the grief would come.

The mothers who had daughters. The daughters who had mothers. The daughters who weren’t orphans.  I hated them.  I felt justified in my hatred of them.  They did not deserve to have mothers or daughters.  And these women walking their baby strollers down the street, tiny hands and feet peeking out – I could never bear to look inside. They didn’t deserve those babies.  And then the lightening quick grief would flood me.  Where is my baby? Why did he disappear?  How to move on when the why is never answered.

And yet.  And yet.  we go on. And the sun keeps on rising and setting.  And the stupid springtime arrives every year right on time. And someone somewhere needs us. And some funny thing still makes us laugh.  And the grief just gets folded in. Into the puzzle, Into the wayward journey. Into who we are. It becomes an old friend, who we turn to when we want to remember.  For better or worse.  We are never really alone.

Kate Kane is a freelance writer and early childhood educator. She writes a blog on the topic of classroom community called Chronicles of the Classroom (chronicleoftheclassroom.wordpress.com)

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Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

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