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.
When’s the last time you felt the startling realization that you left your phone/wallet/car keys in the store/restaurant/taxi?
That familiar stab of adrenaline, the quickening heartbeat, and sinking stomach? You don’t think rationally in those moments. You’re capable only of disbelief, fear, and anger.
If you’re a parent and you’ve ever lost sight of your small child at the park or in the store, you know that same feeling – or perhaps you can remember being that small child and you turned the corner only to find yourself entirely lost. Your lungs get tight, your stomach contracts, and it’s pure panic.
The women I know are spread out across lands and oceans, mountain ranges and prairies. I haven’t yet figured out how to make up for the hugs that cannot be sent three thousand miles. But there are words and photos, tears and laughter.
The women I know are stronger than they realize. They embody love to an extent that will carry them through the valleys. Their laughter fills gaps they don’t know exist, and their soft edges are the home they long for.
The women I know have faith so strong it knocks me over. They pick me up over and over again. They sacrifice and serve and shine. Until they hit walls. And then we pick them up in return. We share coffee and words, we pray and we laugh and we curse.
It’s my 30th birthday, and I’m not sure that I’m any closer to figuring how to be a person in this world.
That said, there are a few things I believe I’ve learned from three decades of life. I guess this isn’t a real blog post. It’s just a collection of learnings I’ve picked up along the way, which I’d like to share. Here goes.
There are some things it’s almost impossible to write about. These are things I can only live. Things that no number of photos or blog posts can do justice.
Virginia Woolf writes, “One can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes.”
What is true of the soul is true of other things. One of which is this: This weekend would have been my 6th wedding anniversary with Chris. Instead, it is a marker of having spent as much time as a widow as I did as a wife. The first three years flew by; these second three years have seemed an eternity.
You know the ones I’m talking about. At least, I hope you do.
The nights that feel overwhelming, the busy weeks that leaving us scrambling.
The nights the couch calls our name so loudly we can almost hear it. Oh wait, that just the four-year-old, scream-singing our name from his bed, two hours after bedtime.
The nights we don’t feel like cooking, so we take the four-year-old out to dinner. Only to remember that four-year-olds don’t do well in restaurants that don’t have play-places or where there’s other people who are trying to eat in peace.