I am writing this as part of Angie’s Right Where I Am project, and it’s already striking to me that where I am is different than where I was last year. Not that last year feels all that far away, but even so, I feel different.
There is still a complicated happiness – my family that adds up to some impossible mathematical equation – three, but four, really. Or is that four, but three, really? I don’t know. I never know. I just know that the fourth, the one most people don’t see, is important, is loved, is powerfully here with me and also powerfully gone. There is still delight in my family and in my daughter, who grows more amazing every day. I would love to believe that grief brings with it the magical gift of true and constant appreciation, but to privilege honesty over modesty, appreciation has always been my gift and recognizing the beauty of the moment is something I was able to do before Teddy’s death. There’s an added poignancy to small everyday beauties now, is the main difference. Which is a long and tangled way of saying that I find things to revel in, things that nurture my soul, every day.
But I think part of what I’ve done this year, and it’s probably part of the healing process (though, frankly, it’s one of those parts that I wish I could have skipped), is to recognize my broken places (and my still-broken places) and the ways that those broken places are affecting my family and my work and the way I move (or don’t) through the world.
Because I am broken. This is more apparent to me than it was last year, or even the year before. I am broken, and the family that I love so much has other breaks in it, too. And some of those breaks – our missing fourth, for instance – are just there and are part of who we are. But some of the breaks are things that need to be fixed. Maybe, now that I’m almost four years out, I’m finally beginning to see that.
Because on the one hand, I live in a hyper-aware state of beauty and blessing, with a family who dances together to songs about butterflies.
And, on the other, I am struggling with my work (even though I love it) and I am married to a partner who is struggling with an addiction that touches almost every area of our lives. What bravery I used to have has retreated to the depths of me, and I only seem to be able to summon it up for crises and emergencies. I’ve closed myself off from friends and family and am only now starting to reach out with the knowledge that I can’t hide my broken places from them even though I want to. N and I are only beginning to tackle the problems that have surfaced in recent years with our struggles to talk with each other, with the strange silences that fall uneasily between us in the car, on walks, late at night in the kitchen. I write like mad at work, trying to save my job and knowing it may be too late, that my colleagues may look at my two most broken years and decide that not writing published articles during those times was unforgivable, that even if I manage to submit a solid piece before the end of June I may still be asked to leave at the end of my tenure process.
I am so full of fear, over all of these things. I want a safe place, a stable home, a family who can hold me up when I fall. I crave safe with each particle of my being, knowing full well that nothing is truly safe, not in this life. That’s the sort of thing that people say all the time without thinking much about it because while we recognize the kernel of truth in that commonplace, bearing the knowledge of the absolute vulnerability of yourself and everyone you love is exhausting. And I’m exhausted. But I’m also the mommy. I’m Dot’s mommy and I’m Teddy’s mommy, and my childhood days, the days when I could rest in the safety of being taken care of, are behind me. I do the taking care now.
And I’m finally working my way through the fears to see how I can do a better job of that. I finally see that I need to grow myself into a better colleague, a better partner, a better parent, and I finally feel that I can start to do this. That I can recognize some breaks that need fixing and how they are different from the broken places that make me who I am. It’s a fucking terrifying place to be, this place where you look back and take responsibility for your big failures. It’s a place I never imagined standing, even as I held my little Huckleberry in my arms as he gasped his last few breaths and realized that everything was precarious, and possible, and impossible all at once.
I am trying to let go of the shame of failing my son, and of all the smaller shames that followed it. I know, somehow, that it wasn’t my fault that I was broken, and I’m not going to hate myself for the past three years, eight months, and nine days. I’m not going to hate myself for my partner’s demons, or for my withdrawals from the people who probably would have supported me better if I would have let them.
I’ll carry the fears with me, I think, always. Once death has taken the baby from your arms, you can’t ever not see him, and he is everywhere. But I’m here in this terrifying place and I’m not pretending to be fine, and I’m still standing. I need to fix what I need to fix – to take responsibility for my role in my relationships, for all those times fear has paralyzed me into inaction. And I need to honor what needs to be honored – Teddy, and my love for him, and all the ways that he is missed.
I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do all of this yet, but I am strong enough to see it clearly now, and surely that’s a place to start.