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Sunday, April 01, 2018

Grief and labor

Labor has begun. Only it isn't in my abdomen, the tightening of muscles as contractions mount. No, this time, it's in my heart, my pulse accelerated. My feet twitch and there is a heightened anxiety coming on. Rapid pulse, almost hyperventilating. This labor isn't about giving birth to a baby. This is emotional labor, the intensity of reliving grief anniversaries. Tomorrow is Riley's 15th birthday. And while his birthday is unrelated to his death, it is a distinct marker that he is not getting older. His shadow life is growing up, a teenager with a deepening voice and peach fuzz and hairy legs, while his actual life ended three-and-a-half years ago.

Fifteen years ago tonight, I was 10 days past my due date with my first baby. Contractions would begin around 3 am on April 2, and would continue until 11:20 pm, when my 8 pound, two ounce boy entered the world in a frenzy of activity. Doctors surrounded us, even though I was oblivious to their concerns, about his heartbeat that had decelerated during contractions. About his failed APGAR tests. Tonight, in this heightened emotional state, I have created a flurry of tasks to accomplish. I'm too twitchy to be still.

Riley came into the world, and in a matter of hours, everything stopped being real. The certainty of walls and ceilings and the physics of gravity and the science and technology that gave me a monitored hospital birth were gone. I went from being an exhausted postpartum woman to an exhausted postpartum woman who was told that in order for her infant son to survive, he would need three open-heart surgeries. And he would need the first one in a matter of days.

We agreed to those life-saving surgeries. And then we agreed to some more. And my son still died. And I continue to get donation requests from the hospitals that treated him. They show pictures of children who have survived, who have lived beyond expectation. Those children are smiling and their parents are smiling. And yet, my son has died and they think that I want to give them more money. I write "Return to sender" on the envelope. I also write, "Please remove me from your mailing list because my son, despite his six heart surgeries, has died."

Tomorrow will come, and I will wake and put on my Riley grief bands. I will wear my Riley necklaces. I will wear green, his favorite color. I will hike in the hills near my house and visit his tree stump decorated with his name. I will donate blood to help some other person in need of blood. I will sob and the technician will ask if it hurts and I will say that my arm feels fine. I will make his favorite dinner. And I will hate that he is dead. Just like all of the days. And I will wait for this nightmare to end, the one that makes my son dead while I am alive. I just want to wake up into a world where my son is in 9th grade. Where he is at the table eating Honey Bunches of Oats or garlic toast for breakfast. Where he will get 15, and 21, and 30, and 75, and all of the ordinary years in between.

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