Thursday, February 7, 2013
It’s been just over 18 months since Madelyn was born. Today marks 17 months since the date of her death. And I want to give up.
It is commonly accepted among mothers of dead children that there is a hierarchy to our horror. A miscarriage and stillborn, while tragic, rate slightly lower on the scale of horror than the death of an infant. And the death of a child is the absolute worse, although the death of an adult child is preferable to the death of a young child. I’m not 100% sure who wrote these rules, but if you say anything to challenge these rules within the grief community, you will be promptly and thoroughly corrected.
Mary Todd Lincoln had 4 sons. One died in 1850 at the age of 6, one died in 1862 at the age of 12, one died in 1871 at the age of 18. Her husband, Abraham, was shot and killed in front of her in 1865. I read tonight that she was not allowed to be present at his deathbed because she was so overcome with grief.
It is rumored that Mary spent many years “resting” in bed with the help of opiates. I’ve read that she often claimed her dead sons would come and sit with her, gently holding her hand, during these times of rest. She had no less than 3 suicide attempts, one extended stay in a mental institution and several incidents of “erratic” behavior that publically embarrassed her surviving son, leading to their eventual estrangement.
Read about the mothers of Ray Charles and J. M. Barrie. While the specifics of their stories differ, the theme is same. The grief was too much and they quit life.
I’ve decided that isn’t an option for me. So far, I’ve had two nervous breakdowns (my mom calls them breaks with reality.) One resulted in a suicide attempt and a 5 week intense outpatient program. The other break resulted in the end of my marriage. I do not know what lies ahead, but I recognize more trauma, depression and hardship may still lie ahead.
I imagine that there are people whose child can die in their arms and they somehow walk through their grief without medication, counseling, and the struggles that Mary and I have shared. And God love them.
Grief is palpable. It has weight and it has mass and it is 3-dimensional. When it overcomes you, it sits heavy in the air, steals your breath and short-circuits your brain. For me, allowing grief into the room takes over everything else and leaves me completely incapacitated and drained.
I have a choice to make every day. I can ignore grief, but it will only grow. I can be overcome by grief, but I will never grow. Or I can deal with it little by little, as one would eat an elephant. I cannot rush while eating an elephant, but you go on ahead.