A few weeks ago, when I was doing the mid-month challenge for still life 365, I wrote down the quotes that have most affected me during my grief. I picked one about how people who love me don't know what to say, so they say nothing.
"Even as your therapist, I think you come off as a little too competent."
My therapist, the one that saw me both before and after my Lucia died, said this to me. I couldn't even begin to make guerrilla art from that shit. But I thought about it so much after he said it. I am still thinking about it. What did that mean? Here I was in therapy because I can't do this. Because I felt completely incompetent, inadequate, out of my league...I couldn't figure out exactly how to live without my child. My daughter was dead. I felt like walking into therapy was my way of saying, "I am floundering. I don't know what to say to the neighbors or my mother. My daughter is dead and life is confusing and impossible and so very cruel. I don't know how to keep it together. Help me. Please."
But what I really said is, "My daughter is dead. No amount of praying is bringing her back. I have a living kid who needs me to pull it together. I'm not sure how to do that." The therapist told me I was too blunt, and it even caught him up when I would say things like that. He told me it was no surprise that I was alienating people with that kind of talk. He wondered if perhaps I wasn't trying to shock people with that kind of statement. People don't like bluntness about mortality. And I would lean forward in my chair, head in my hands, and stare at my feet.
I didn't know any other way to describe what happened to us. I was so confused. She actually was dead, not lost, not passed away, no born sleeping. She was actually dead. I wasn't about to use euphemisms regarding Lucy's current state as ash in an urn on my antique secretary. Imagining my daughter in a better place might have helped me, but heaven is not something I can force. Particularly, in therapy, it felt best to state the facts: my daughter died. I birthed her little bruised lifeless body into the world. I held her for three hours until she was cold, so they could take her away and take pictures, which I would never receive. Her ripping skin disturbed me. I feel guilty about that. After that experience, I no longer know how to play in the sand box with others. I fear. I felt like I was stubbornly and squarely stuck in an existential nightmare.
It was a Catch-22. I was competent because I knew I wasn't competent enough. This I do know: I am not too competent; in fact, I think I am the Mr. Magoo of Competency. Things work out, somehow, in spite of myself. I am somehow almost eighteen months out from Lucy's death with absolutely no idea how I got here. I didn't meditate on acceptance. I didn't make peace. But somehow it happened. Time moved forward. I get it. I fucking get it. She is dead. I miss her.
I will always miss her. I will always be sad.
What I don't miss about therapy is the fucking hopelessness of talking about Lucy's death. Finally, after months of going to therapy. Crying. Talking about how my daughter died. Crying again. Repeating. I left sadder than before I walked in. I stared at my therapist, bored with myself, frustrated with his frustration. He could not fix Lucy's death. She is just dead. I was not delusional. I was not suicidal. I was kind of competent. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do everyday. I wanted him to follow me around and tell me what to do. He wasn't willing to do that, so I needed silence.
I'm sorry your daughter died. There are no words.
For others there were no words, but for me, there seemed to be an endless supply of the same indignant words. Finally, though, I reached the end of the speaking the words. The last echos of my first cry, "Lucy is dead," died out to a hollow empty silence as I stared at the Buddhist therapist. It happened in therapy. It happened because of therapy.
A headline on the Onion this week reads, "Existential Firefighter Delays Three Deaths." That was what therapy was like for me. "Existential Bereaved Mother Can't Believe that We Are Even Surprised by Daughter's Death." It shut me up. The endless repetition of the obvious: my child died. We are all going to die. And I don't think that was a bad thing.
Of course, my emailing dried up. My non-babylost friendships fell into this abyss. I couldn't hear about other people's shit. Not even my own. I somehow could only muster writing it once, on a blog, and disappearing into silence again. I feel lost trying to explain all this. It doesn't even make sense to me. It seems easier to start fresh. And now, I can't quite imagine how to do that. Fresh? I am anything but.
Still, what I miss about therapy is the deconstruction. That one comment about my competency has been replayed in my brain a thousand ways. I have broken it apart. I have thought about it. I have juxtaposed it with my friend's wise words:
Such is a bitter lesson for the strong: Because we are strong does not mean that those around us - though they may revel in this quality - will be equally strong when we need it; Indeed, it is in times of weakness that you find that those around you who rely vicariously on your strength are nowhere to be found because they cannot fathom the responsibility of shouldering the load; they cannot be strong for you... And you must find it in your heart to forgive them.
I once had a dream that I took my skin off, and laid it out on the table, and smoothed out all the scars and blemishes. I plucked unwanted hairs. I ran my hands along the surface of me. Then I grabbed my paints, and began painting me again. Making me beautiful. Making me the person I wanted the world to see. That is what I liked about therapy, figuring out what makes me tick in any given situation. Pulling off my skin, smoothing out the wrinkles, pulling out the bumps, and trying to make me more compassionate.
I have a tiny boy now. He replaced no one. He is eight weeks old.
Apropos of nothing, he smiles. And then when I smile and say hi, he coos. He seems to like us, even the dog and the very tiny urn of ashes. I feared he wouldn't be a happy baby. I was grief-stricken in pregnancy, sad and anxious, afraid of his health and happiness. When you are pregnant and in desperation for someone to listen, you might admit to someone you aren't that close to that you are scared and depressed. And that person might be kind and say, "I can imagine." Or they may say things like, "Relax. Anxiety isn't good for the baby." It fucks with you. You imagine that bout of anxiety has caused your child be sad too. Old superstitions die hard. Mal de ojo. Tie a red ribbon around his wrist. You know, a theoretical one. But Thor appears to be, you know, normal. Just thought you should know, in case you too are worried about the evil eye and anxiety.
For some reason, I felt compelled to send my therapist a birth announcement, even though I can't quite remember if he knew that I was pregnant. I also sent it to all those people who didn't say anything about Lucy, who didn't even know I was pregnant again. I debated it in my head. Maybe I should just become a ghost too, I thought. The ghost of a friend they once had who had a stillbirth and went crazy, you know, in a very competent way.