Isaac is about to turn 18 months old. It’s the same age Nicholas was the day he sat on my hip as two police officers stood in my kitchen and told me his daddy was dead.
18 months – the same size hands that wave goodbye, the same soapy smell in their blond hair, the same yell of “daddy” with a toothy grin. It’s another thread of grief that tangles itself in this picture.
It’s so easy to compare our children – not to see who’s
ahead or who’s behind, but simply for nostalgia’s sake. They have the same
laugh! Remember when…?
But my memories of Nicholas at this age have sunk into
oblivion. Instead of nostalgia, there’s the imprint of raw grief and the regret
that I don’t remember more.
On my book shelf, on the second row, is a hoard of philosophy books. Pages and pages of words direct from the mouths of Heidegger, Kant, Kierkegaard, Descartes, Wittgenstein, and more. I’ve lost the fluency of it all – if I ever had it to begin with.
These were Chris’s books before he died, and I read over his shoulder. Like him, I graduated with a degree in philosophy, and it taught me the beauty of logic and questioning and truth-seeking. But when in this life am I ever going to pick up Nicomachean Ethics again? Or Gödel’s Proof?
There’s an odd sense of loss as I consider this shelf of forgotten books.
My plane descends into Detroit on a Thursday morning. One moment it’s sunshine and blue skies miles above the earth, and the next we slip under a thick blanket of clouds, into the dreary morning of a Michigan winter.
The airplane hums around me as I stare out the tiny window at the dismal Detroit River. It arches back and forth, with wild disregard for the miles and miles of neat, conforming squares of city blocks.
As the plane jolts onto the runway, the contradiction lingers with me: An inflexible grid of rules and systems interrupted by the unpredictable, defiant flow of nature.
I was wrong. I sat down at my computer and wrote a blog post about being in the trenches, telling the world about the year that had felt chaotic. A year where I could barely catch my breath. A year where I believed I was in survival mode.
It wasn’t an unfounded belief. A lot happened. I screamed a baby into the world, I emptied my bank account into a new house, I coaxed my anxiety-ridden first grader into a new school, and I nursed a baby into healing after a host of afflictions ranging from a fractured skull to oxygen-starved lungs and buckets of snot and vomit. All that along with the usual craziness of balancing full time jobs with housework, cooking, family and friends, playtime with the boys, and much-needed sleep.
It felt like survival, but I had been prepared for that.
I park the car at the monastery’s tree farm, haul the baby into his stroller while Nicholas dances around excitedly, and hand the saw to Mike as we prepare to trek through the muddy fields for the perfect tree.
I make the mistake almost immediately.
It is a year ago, and the stomach flu has hit our household. Except, it only hits Mike. He can’t eat. Everything makes him nauseous. His doctor said sometimes it can last a week. I coax him into eating soup and bananas, drinking coconut water in tiny sips. I am being the good wife. The one who vowed to be there both in sickness and in health.
Incredibly, neither Nicholas or I catch it. That’s quite the miracle, really, as we all know how eager the stomach flu is to spread from hand to hand, mouth to mouth.
After two weeks, Mike is still sick. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my empathy starts to break down. I wonder if he is exaggerating, getting carried away by hypochondria. Buried by work, by kindergarten homework, by 4-month pregnancy hormones, I rebel – just a little. I make my sick husband carry the laundry from the basement to the second floor. He is out of breath half way up, doubled over in exhaustion. I frown. I force more bananas on him.
After three weeks, the most I can do is keep Nicholas out of his way and beg him to go back to the doctor. It is a Monday morning, and, instead of the doctor’s office, he drives himself 45 minutes to work, where he almost passes out just sitting down at his desk. He goes to the doctor. And the doctor tells him to go the ER.
Your heart pounds against the silence. There is only the blood that pumps fiercely through your body, chasing down meaning at a cellular level. There is only the crushing pain, the weight of emptiness, the hope that flew off when we weren’t looking.
I wish there was something I could say to you that would make things easier. That would illuminate the reason behind it all. That would bring you healing and peace.
But there never is.
Almost everything about Isaac has been unexpected.
Six and a half years ago, I gave birth to my first baby, Nicholas. I was young, unsure, and overwhelmed, but he was a gift to me. I struggled, but I loved. I was challenged, but I grew.
He was the first baby, but when his daddy left this earth, I realized with a heavy heart that he would be the only one I ever had. The vision I had of my future family was permanently walled off the day the police uttered the words, “he didn’t make it,” right there in my kitchen with Nicholas on my hip. No more husband. No more babies.
More than three years later, Mike was the one who made me smile again, saying, “I do,” as the December sun went down outside the chapel windows. And with those words, another chance.
And so, there was the second pink line. There was the swelling of my belly. There were the kicks and rolling and shifting in my insides. All at once expected and unexpected.
I’ve shared a lot of my story here on this blog. My story about grief, anxiety, letting go of control, and living with gratitude and compassion.
But there’s a central part of my story I haven’t told because I always believed most people wouldn’t want to hear it. But omitting it feels dishonest. And so here it is.
Nine months after Chris died, I found myself somewhere I never expected to be.
“Motherhood is a carnival mirror in that you see, at times, the absolute worst version of yourself, and at other times, the absolute best,” writes blogger Erin Loechner.
And she’s exactly right. Because being a mom is HARD. And sometimes we don’t want to do it, don’t enjoy it, don’t feel we are cut out for it… and feel immensely guilty for feeling all those things. We yell a little too much, check the time a little too often, breathe soul-heavy sighs of relief when they finally go to sleep. And that’s when we look in the mirror and see the ugly. The pinched, stretched, bloated, twisted parts of ourselves.