Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Is the first year after loss really the worst?
I tend to think so. But what do I know, sixteen months out? In the first few months after my loss, people would sometimes say, “The first year is the absolute worst.” This would come primarily from those who have suffered baby loss, so I trusted their opinions. However, in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, “I’m not so sure.” Everybody grieves differently. Our minds, our hearts, our bodies, everything “recovers” in different ways and paces. I place that word in quotes, recognizing that grief is a lifelong process, and from what I know there is never complete recovery from the loss of a child. But there has to be some degree of healing for any of us to continue living. Not merely surviving, but truly living, which is what I’m starting to finally do. Back to the questions at hand: So how could anyone know that my first year of grief would be the worst? I’ll tell you. I’m sixteen months out. So maybe I don’t know a whole hell of a lot. But so far, it does seem that the first year IS the absolute worst. I know I will have days where the grief knocks the wind out of me probably for the rest of my life if not at least for many years. I know I’ll be in a retirement home talking about my precious son. I hope to be. He deserves that. However, the pain, the pain lessens. It has to. And while I hope that I will always honor and acknowledge my son as part of our family, I also hope that the pain continues to lessen. I don’t feel I need to hold onto the pain to hold on to him. I know that his legacy is about so much more than that. My epiphany about the first year being the worst came to me at the most unforeseen time. A visit to the dentist. For some reason, the dentist always brings flashbacks. I always think about the last time I was at the dentist and how I was feeling. This dental visit was going really well. I got a clean bill of dental health, and everything was perfect. I flashed back to before my loss when TTC. I kept asking if this or that was okay during pregnancy (just in case I was pregnant), and the woman kept reassuring me. Then, she told me about a woman who had a stillbirth that was attributed to gingivitis. I thought that was just absolutely horrific and thought I would never forgive myself if something like that happened to me. (And of course, I did NOT lose Elias to gingivitis. But oh my, if hearing that story was not incentive to keep my teeth clean, I don’t know what would have been!) Flash forward to my next appointment. This was only a few months out from my loss, maybe four or five. I just wanted to get in, get out, go home, and crawl under a blanket. You know, typical day. So I go in, and to my surprise, the hygienist says she’s sorry for my loss. I had no idea how she even knew. But I didn’t want to talk about it at all, and I felt so exposed and panicky and self-conscious and just OMG get me out of here! So they proceed to do the cleaning and had plenty to say. In nice tones, of course, but still. Teeth not in great shape (thanks, grief). Hadn’t been flossing enough (thanks, depression). Enamel worn away (thanks, months and months of barfing due to multiple gestation). I felt like sitting up in the middle of that dental visit and screaming, “My son died! I’m sorry I didn’t brush my teeth twice a day and always remember to floss! I was kind of busy trying to not off myself or end up in the freaking loony bin! Can you cut me some slack here?!?!?!” I’m sure I had a visit in between that one and this one, but I was likely in my numb phase of grief (rather than the anger phase), so that visit doesn’t quite stand out so much in my mind. But this one? It went so freaking well that the lady didn’t even give me the special “sensitive” toothpaste. She sprayed cold-ass water during those rinses, and it didn’t bother my teeth one bit. We talked about a bachelorette party I’m going out of town for and what salon treatments I might get beforehand (it’s at a water park). She told me all about her experience getting waxed for the first time (I know, right?!) and a little about her family back in Romania. We made jokes and talked about the weather, all that NORMAL stuff, and I walked out of there feeling like a million bucks. And almost like a normal person myself. I felt so awesome, I walked next door to FroYo and treated myself to some delicious calorie-laden teeth damaging frozen yogurt (I’d never been there before. Let me say that it is fan.tas.tic). Driving home, scarfing my ice cream (unsafe, I know), I realized something that should have been so painfully obvious all along. I guess I’d just never really thought about it. But here it is. The first year after your loss, amidst the raw grief and anger and all that, there’s always that nagging agonizing feeling of, “This time last year I was __________”. Whether happily TTC, happily pregnant (or, admittedly at times miserably pregnant). “If only I knew then what I know now!” And that feeling where you trick yourself into thinking you could have changed the outcome now that you know what you know, which makes you feel panicky and guilty and so.freaking.upset. After the first year, you start saying, “This time last year I was __________”. Suicidal? Hating everybody? Not sure my broken heart would continue to function? Not sure I would ever care to brush my teeth or shower on a regular basis? And you kind of stop wanting to go back. You start being okay right where you are now. And you realize that a year from now, you’ll look back without panic attacks, and just think, “This time last year I had FroYo for the first time, and it was fan.freaking.tastic.”