When a baby dies, we are fragmented. Shattered, we must pick up the pieces and put them back together as we pay tribute to our children, our tables forever missing one, our families incomplete, our treasures in heaven, our babies alive only in our hearts.
It is through our stories that they live forever. These children were here and they mattered. They were loved.
They are loved.
I saw your pajamas last night.
No, they weren’t the exact ones, of course. I returned yours to the store, along with your bassinet and baby blankets.
These were the same though, your pattern. The ones I picked out to match your nursery. Bright teal, with lime green, hot pink, and bright purple flowers. And panda bears. Lots of pandas.
I showed them to Ian, tried to brush off the longing for you, and made some lighthearted comment. He could tell it upset me, though.
It’s been three years today, October 12. One would think it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Or that I would have tried to heal by having another baby by now. They’re wrong.
It does still hurt. In the lonely nights, when I feel the ghost of your movements, deep in my belly. In the unguarded moments when I let myself watch the baby shows on TLC. When I pass by someone pregnant, and I find myself passing a hand over my empty tummy.
I would have loved to have another baby by now, but it felt a betrayal of you. How could I insist that I missed you when I was holding a new child? Who would believe that there was a hole in my heart bearing your name when they heard my happiness over this new baby?
Is it wrong of me then, that I do crave to hold another baby in my arms?
I’ve given myself time, and I continue to mourn you. But I still have so much love to give. And Ian wants a baby. I want to give him this gift, to share this part of our future together. A part of me still feels I’m forsaking you to do so.
So tell me, my sweet Bella, what am I to do?
How long am I to go on missing the sound of your heartbeat, the feel of your somersaults?
How long before it’s “acceptable” for me to want another child?
How long before I can say your name and not feel the tears in the back of my throat?
And when all these things pass?
How am I to go on living with myself?
You are invited to add your child’s name to our wall of remembrance.
We were married for 17 years, 6 months, and 2 days.
Up until day 6,217, when he told me he wanted a divorce, I thought we were the happiest married couple ever. I said those exact words to my best friend when she tearfully called me to tell me she was considering leaving her husband. I told her that she deserved to be happy.
So, when my dear husband told me the same thing shortly after, I knew he didn’t deserve anything less.
Up until the last day of our marriage (day number 6,394), I thought the divorce wouldn’t actually happen. I couldn’t process the concept that WE – my husband and I – were not going to be married.
Even then, when I was sad and broken-hearted and disbelieving, I nutshelled it all
. I do that sometimes when I have trouble recollecting events – I pare the story down to basic facts and repeat it until it sinks in. In this case, it made me realize what a shocking and kind of hilarious story it is.
This version is a little more than the nutshell – context is important – but it’s still hard to believe. Plus, some parts were left out for too long and it’s important that I’m honest about them.
So, right – back story.
I met him on my first day of junior college and we became inseparable. A year and half later, he enlisted in the Army while I was moving to continue my education. I couldn’t stand to be apart from him, so I broke up with him.
Kids are stupid.
He showed up out of the blue, all crazy and romantic, two weeks later. I agreed to get back together with him. Two weeks later, we got engaged over the phone. We planned a wedding for eight months later – that April.
Happy, happy day! Huge family event. It stayed a huge family event for more than 17 years. We had three kids, one failed business, somewhere around a dozen moves – including one cross-country and back.
This is where I leave out one part.
Well, where I used to leave out one part. After child number three, our beloved baby girl, things went south.
Meaning, The South wouldn’t rise again. He started having trouble getting it up.
Then, it didn’t come up at all.
I thought we were strong. We were best friends. I really thought we’d be together forever. I even had his name tattooed on my ankle in a big flaming heart. (It’s covered up now. No worries.)
If we talked about our intimacy issues, he just told me I didn’t do something enough. I didn’t initiate enough. I wasn’t there for HIM enough. I wasn’t enough. We tried Viagra; it didn’t work. We had sex a total of four times during the last seven years of our marriage. I gave up.
I’ll skip ahead to tell you how this turned out.
Between leaving me and marrying her, he visited a doctor. For her.
It turns out that years of untreated diabetes shredded certain blood vessels. He had liquid Viagra injected into his penis (OUCH!) and it still didn’t work. He’ll never have another erection without surgery. I have no idea if he got it or if he intends to.
But bottom line there is, it wasn’t – and never was – my fault. I never told ANYONE about his situation downstairs until I had to.
That brings us to Year 16; two months shy of our 17th anniversary.
In February, he found his high school girlfriend on Facebook. She requested him as a friend. He was perplexed and flustered; he asked me a million questions.
Should he add her?
Was she still mad at him for breaking up with her?
Could they be friends?
I was calm. “Honey,” I said. “Oh honey. We’ve been married almost 17 years. We have three kids. We live two states away. She’s married. It’ll be fine. Be friends.”
See how funny this story is already?
The emails, texts, and phone calls started immediately. At one point, I asked him to stop texting her. Emails were fine, stay friends on Facebook – just don’t text.
But I wasn’t built to be the text police.
So, you want to text? Fine. I trust you.
April was our 17th anniversary. We talked about having more anniversaries, staying married. I pushed for a quick answer; he said he wanted to stay together.
In May, there came a day he couldn’t stop pacing. Over and over I asked what was wrong. He couldn’t give me a clear answer.
I kept at it until he said the words, “I want a divorce.”
We both cried.
He moved out of the bedroom to the couch downstairs.
I cried. I howled. I screamed. At one particularly low moment, I was on my knees, sobbing, before him on the floor, while that stupid Sugarland song, “Stay,” was on the television.
He told me to stop; Just get up.
He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want counseling. He was just done. Wanted his Facebook girlfriend.
At that point, he said she was still married; they were just friends. She “helped” him through this rough time.
In June, he took trips to meet her, the first in the city where we had our honeymoon because it was “more convenient.”
In July, I saw he’d been tagged in photos from a high school friend. We were still friends on Facebook. (I told you this story was funny.)
These photos were for his birthday party, to which I wasn’t invited, but there they were, arms around each other. Someone commented what a cute couple they were.
About that time, SURPRISE, I started dating. I’ll admit, I wasn’t just dating; I was down to fuck. After only having sex four times in seven years, I wanted some.
And I got some.
Never anywhere near my house – no one came over. He was still sleeping downstairs on the couch. He moved out in August.
At one point before our divorce, after he followed me to a park and took pictures of me partially naked and in an obviously sexual embrace with another man, he said, “You’ve got your get out of jail free card.”
At the time, I didn’t feel like our marriage had been a jail.
Of course, now I see that it was – we were both unhappy for a long time. Now, I’m thankful he gave me the card. When his business failed, we had to start over again and I didn’t see him the same way.
I lost respect for him, loving him a little less each day thereafter. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him.
Our divorce was final in October.
At Thanksgiving, which our divorce decree states is always his holiday with the children, he took his girlfriend, her kid and our kids to his family’s holiday feast and announced their engagement.
They got married in January on the beach with our children in attendance. I made arrangements for him to take them out of state for the event. I bought clothes for them to wear. I spent hours convincing our eldest, then 16, to go with them. I thought I was helping our kids through the transition by accepting the situation and being positive about their relationship.
They’re still together. I don’t say negative things about them, not around the kids. Of course, I hate them.
If I could explode people with my brain, they’d be first on the list. Clearly.
Sometimes I look around this house we shared – our last home together – and it’s hard for me to think that he’s not here, that he’ll never set foot in this house again. That loss has left a scar on my heart. A sensitive one.
I’m still shocked. I don’t know that I’ll ever get completely over it. I’m taking a break from it right now, but I have happily dated A LOT.
Four guys I’ve dated have left me for their high school girlfriends. I started asking men if they were still in touch with their high school squeezes because if they were, they’d soon find those bitches irresistible.
I laugh about it – to hide my pain.
I’m broken, yeah. I’m working on doing better, on being better.
But now, I’m the one who’s laughing.
It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
I took your mom’s suicide hard.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.
As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.
Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.
When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.
With much love,
When I think back through my life, I feel pretty sad. It’s been a kinda sad life – at least I think it’s been. You know, childhood can be pretty rough when you’re the Outsider. No friends to speak of – token or otherwise. You’re just alone. Your folks send you out to play every day, but there’s no one to play with. No one you get along with.
Sure, you made attempts, tried to make friends, but it never happened.
That’s how my childhood went. I just couldn’t make a single friend, not for the life of me. So I focused on alternatives to social activity. Being alone all the time, books and video games quickly became my consolation. But I clung onto my anger at a world where I couldn’t have even one friend.
“Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be a librarian or a scholar.”
None of that ever came to pass, though. It was like I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for living after I gave up on the world around me. I never really thought about it at the time, however, I was caught up in myself. I was really, truly lonely, all the time. I didn’t think that would ever change.
Even today, I often can’t shake that feeling.
Have you ever thought about what animal best represents you?
I think most of us have. Maybe most people would think about the animals they like best and choose one of those: a lion, tiger, wolf, bear, fox, horse, something cool.
I think I’m most like a bunny: shy, nervous, and looking for social attention, cuddling, and friends. I’m more prone to flee than fight.
Earlier tonight I was feeling alone, frustrated, like my existence and struggles were all pretty futile and pointless. What I really wanted at the time – and even now – was just someone to hug me, hold me close, and be soothing and calm. To know someone was nearby who cared. What I have right now is not at all like that.
Part of the downside is that I don’t have good coping mechanisms. Talking – hoping people care, or listen – is the closest thing I have to someone being here and holding me so I feel safe. I feel like a nuisance because of my lack of coping mechanisms and because being held isn’t something that I only need a few times a month.
It’s a few times a week, at least. My anti-suicide mantra has been:
“Why bother rushing what’ll come soon enough anyway? Maybe I can use the rest of my life to be helpful, and if I’m really lucky, find some value in myself.”
I lean toward a belief in rebirth, that I have lived innumerable incarnations before this life and will continue to do so after this life. Going forward or backward doesn’t seem particularly important, it’s just a point in a stream. It’s what we do in the present that has more relevance, our planning for the future that matters.
I tend to ramble, sometimes I don’t make a lot of sense; I’m not even sure why I’m writing right now. A friend linked me here to Band Back Together, and I’ve held onto the link for a few days.
Today I felt like I needed to do something. And I didn’t want to log into a suicide chat room or contemplate means of suicide.
Even knowing I have a few folks who care about me, I just hate that feeling of being alone.
Addiction isn’t called a “family disease for nothing.” The family of an addict is just as impacted as the addict.
This is her story of her son’s addiction:
My child has become an addict and loving my child is so very hard. I’m trying to find my happy as I learn to deal with his addiction.
With the overload of health issues around here, along with the common “life stuff,” I willing took a break from blogging after the last attacks from trolls; trolls who don’t know me, know my child, know my life, know my situation, and will never understand my life or my thoughts.
Simply: I took a break because I wasn’t strong enough to keep going,
Three blogs, five days a week, and two little freelance writing gigs with groups have kept me tied to the computer dumping out my odd take on humor, insane fake advice, and occasional a vaguely serious topic.
I have decided I will blog, on my blog, and the trolls will not, cannot affect me. I won’t allow them that kind of power. I have to share this story because as odd or awful as this is, I can’t believe I am the only one. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone, can make a differences on your life. It has in mine, just like everyone here at Band Back Together.
For a very long time, I’ve been living while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I call it “living” but it’s really just existing – when I can muster the strength to push the elephant in the room to the back of my mind. This horrible addiction elephant.
When someone you love makes horrible choices, you can still love your addict child, but you also have to make a choice.
I made a choice to love from a distance to allow my son to deal with his addiction on his own time, allow that person to do things at their will, wherever they wanted. The condition was: I would not support that person, their activities: not emotionally and definitely not financially.
Of course that comes with a higher emotional consequence for me, a soul-eating, mind -boggling, hellish existence.
Torn when the phone doesn’t ring, furious, emotional and torn when it does. There is no happy medium, is no mutual enjoyment of life, it’s an inner ring of hell.
It’s odd how the human brain learns to process things so completely outrageous and unacceptable if they happen often enough; the brain removes logic to save the heart. The brain knows if one more little piece of your soul falls to the floor, you will collapse and finally fade away.
Things you never thought you would hear, become expected. Disappointing? Of course. Scary? Almost every time. Seeing red with anger? A lot. Somehow, your brain allows it to roll off your back.
loving an addict through childhood
You can’t fix it, they don’t want to be fixed, no matter how absolutely insane and ludicrous the situation, you cannot even point out how completely illogical the situation is, let alone offer solutions. There are no less than 683 million reasons why all of your ideas are completely stupid.
You learn to focus not on the highs, not on the lows. Not the shocking news, but only that you love that person, your child, who just happens to be an addict.
You make sure whatever you say won’t offend them, or their choices, and you make double damn sure that person knows you love them, you love them deeply, you love them completely, you love them from your soul. You only want the best for them, safety for them, happiness for them.
No one really has the same idea of happiness.
it took me 43 years to realize that.
Another thing I learned; just because it’s ” the normal” thing that you’d make anyone happy, happy and delighted and feeling so very lucky, this can seem like hell on earth to someone with a different view of happy. So who am I to attempt to enforce my idea of happy on anyone? Simply put, I am no one. I am just a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend.
I am made up as we all our of a unique cocktail of our childhoods, our teachers, our elders, our peers, our life lessons, co-workers, books, and shows we have seen. Just a big casserole of a human being trying to find “happy.” When I achieved happiness, I assumed it would be wonderful – more than wonderful – and that, in turn, everyone else would become happy. Everyone would see how hard work brings happy, how loving each other brings happy, how walking the right road, singing your own song, and smiling would obviously land you in happiness.
The past 20 years, I tried to shove people into the happy, I tried to drag them into happy, push them in, beg them, lure them, slide shows of happy, handmade cards, long emails, song dedications, heartfelt talks, and hugs, I could surely get them to happy. Once they saw happy they would be like “duh, I want to be happy too!”
I was wrong. Their happy was so different than mine so I had to accept they would not be in my happy with me. Maybe they were taking a different route, and we would meet up in happy. Maybe their happy just meant more pit stops, more experiences, different criteria, maybe their happy would never lead to the same location as my happy. What would I do then?
Their happy could be really good for them, so I will work on being happy for their happy.
Little crumbles of your heart fall as your soul tears.
In the end, all you really want is for them to be happy. You convince yourself not to be such as narrow-minded selfish ass who demands everyone’s happiness is within arms reach of your happiness. We are not all alike, and really, what a boring world that would be. Keep telling yourself this as it makes it easier to persevere your heart, mind, and soul. Besides, it makes them happy that you are happy for them. It’s painful but it’s good for them and for the relationship.
Then the call comes, not a happy call, you are prepared because you know when this disease spins ’round, the calls come in two forms and two forms ONLY.
One, the world’s best thing ever, everything is amazing.
The next call, though, could be in a week, a month, a day, or within several minutes: the world is ending, there is no hope, no escape.
There’s not a single thing you can do to make it better. So you listen, try not to cry, remembering to love, offer helpful solutions, offer to make arrangements or calls, you do what you can and it’s usually for nothing. It rarely works out, but you make damn sure they know you love them so much you can’t breathe when they are in pain.
The calls – you see the caller ID – it’s a number from a state that you don’t know, but you do know who is on the other end, you never know the type of call, only that it’s from them. So you take deep breaths and you prepare to play the roulette game of their life. What kind of call you don’t know it could be: an incredibly fantastic words of grandeur.
Or the call can be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, sobbing pleads for help.
You don’t know, because you can’t know but you answer the phone, inviting the roller-coaster of love and hate and pain into your world.
Nothing surprises you now.
As long as it’s their voice on the end, you are prepared, it’s now become common practice. You’ve learned to stop yelling, begging, urging, and learned to focus on conveying the fact that you love the elephant in the room. You love that elephant when your eyes open in the morning, and you love that elephant when your eyes close at night without a tear running down your cheek. No one sees your tear.
No one hears your cry and no one, no one can understand why this elephant is needed, deeply; it has become comforting.
Then as you are in your happiness on the back porch wind blowing you sit with your little family, cross-legged looking at your happiness, eating sandwiches, and thinking how peaceful and loving and happy this all is.
The phone rings.
The addiction elephant steps outside. The elephant sits on your chest, takes your breath, and overcomes you. Sometimes, when that elephant climbs on you, you compartmentalize you soul, your heart, and your brain as this allows you to attempt to speak in a sane, calm, tone, using gentle words, no blame, just love.
The call ends, with mutual ” I love you’s.”
The happiness is now gone for them as they are faced with a very adult matter that can’t be “worked away.”
You don’t remember the rest of the happy picnic: the people in your happiness with you do not have a conversation about it. You move on as you do after every call. But something is wrong, very wrong
You can’t tell anyone, yet you don’t cry, you don’t sob, you don’t fall to the floor, you don’t steal a car to get to the addiction elephant to hold them.
What the hell is wrong with you?
Why are you not responding like a human?
Why aren’t you happy?
Why not like the other times?
You haven’t fallen apart yet.
Will you fall apart?
Will this change your ability to move forward?
You know that If this person comes back, can you handle it?
Can the happy team handle it? What will be the cost of the elephant if you don’t?
What will be the cost of happy if you do?
I know the other shoe will fall, there’s just no way to process this without dying more inside. Maybe I am out of a soul, a heart, tears. Maybe I have been cried out, maybe I am stronger, maybe my brain is trying to protect me.
I am very much not okay, mostly because I feel okay, there is no way that I should feel okay.
Why am I not shaking, sitting in the shower crying, sobbing, and vomiting like I’ve done before when the bad news comes?
I’m not even shaking.
The shoe will drop, I hope, I beg, I have the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the compassion, the ability, the life experience, balanced with the brain, the heart and soul, to take this journey.
To share my happy, to understand their happy, to make a new happy, but most of all, to convey they undying, deepest of love and the basic humanity to make their happy the best happy I can.
Please find your happy; let everyone you know how much you love them – no matter what what makes them happy.
I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.
Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it. We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers. We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience. We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.
She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it. Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was. He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.
I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.
And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair. A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears. Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face. I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her. She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized. I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children. It takes me a minute. I don’t know why she is crying. I only know what she needs. And I have it to give. So I hold her.
She wipes the tears away and catches her breath. “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago. Seeing your children makes it hurt more. Even though they are beautiful. The holidays make it hurt more. Even though I love them.” I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences. My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second. I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either. I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.
And that it makes her sad.
As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly. I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief. The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad. I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.
They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead. And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.
The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another. We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies. I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us. But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us. I bend down, tuck my children in close. The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.
You can’t wish for people to come back. It doesn’t work that way. Pennies can’t move mountains. A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts. In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over. So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain. We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from. But more and more we will be able to live with it.
The holidays can be hard. I have always known this. I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold. I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.
And it is enough.
It is more than enough.