December 2, 2010
“Things people say” tend to be a popular topic when you’re talking to other people that are grieving. I, myself, have learned that there are few things that you can really say to a person in this situation to make them feel better so instead I have resorted to “I’m sorry.” Because I am. Also, sometimes the person doesn’t always WANT to feel better. They just want to talk.
I remember not long after Toby died when I was trying to sort out the “whys” and whatnot, a well-meaning friend (and they’re ALWAYS well-meaning, which is one of the things that makes it difficult) tried to give me some advice. I told them that I couldn’t figure out why I had dreamed about Toby before he was born and saw him as a toddler, when it was now obvious that he would never reach that age.
Wait, I should explain something…My dreams are often prophetic. I’m not saying that I am psychic or anything at all. But I put a lot of stock into my dreams. They usually tend to be literal, too. For example, we were traveling in the Czech Republic one Christmas and I had a horrible dream in which my boyfriend at the time got a shotgun for Christmas and then chased me through a field, trying to kill me. The next day, I called my best friend back in the US and before I could even tell her about the dream she goes, “You don’t think he would ever try to hurt you, do you? Because I don’t trust him.” That came out of thin air. A few minutes later, I called him and he had good news-he had received a shotgun for Christmas. It wasn’t that long after that we broke up so I’ll never know about the rest of the dream.
As a kid, I had a recurring dream about my cousin, Nick, moving to an apartment that had a cliff next to it. There was water at the bottom and kids would play on the side of the cliff. One day, a kid fell in and drowned. Nick lived in Oklahoma at the time. When I was 7, he moved back to Kentucky and lived with us for awhile. Then they found a place in Sandy Hook. Not long after, we went over to visit and sure enough, there was the cliff next to his apartment building, and there was the creek below it. A kid DID fall, but only broke some bones.
I had many Sam-oriented dreams before he was born. I knew exactly what he would look like as a toddler and often heard his voice. Things he said to me in my dreams are things that he says to me now.
So, I was confused about the Toby dreams. I was telling my friend about this, and in trying to be helpful, they absolutely freaked me out. They said that maybe God has wishes for everyone and what he WANTS to happen and that what I was seeing in my dreams were some of God’s wishes for Toby. So why did this freak me out? Because, to me, it meant that he didn’t have to die. That things COULD have turned out differently. If only I had gotten to him sooner, if only Pete hadn’t fallen asleep, if only he had been born earlier and not been premature…yeah, you see where this is going. I don’t know about other people, but one of the only ways that I have been able to get through this is by telling myself that it was destined to happen and that NOTHING I could have done would have prevented it. If there is a slight chance that things could have worked out differently, or that I could have done something to prevent it, then I really think that would drive me insane.
Plus, I don’t exactly follow Christian ideology and doctrines and while I respect Christianity and people that do follow it; I have never found a lot of Christian beliefs very soothing. In fact, a lot of them scare the hell out of me. (No pun intended.)
I wonder if other people feel this way, but sometimes I feel very guarded and protected about Toby. Once he died, it felt like a lot of people became involved. I don’t mean “involved” in the sense that they helped us out. Great, I know people are going to take this the wrong way. I mean emotionally involved. Like, they’re grieving, too. With the people that met Toby, I can understand that. Even with those that met him briefly. And it IS kind of funny that the people that spent the most time with him, outside of me, Mom, Pete, Uncle Ray, and Aunt Fran, were the people at the writer’s retreat in Southern Ohio.
But sometimes it makes me angry at the people who weren’t that connected to him that take the grief on as their own and then get sympathy from their own families and friends regarding his death. Sometimes I want to say things like, you weren’t there during my pregnancy! You weren’t there for the birth! You never met him at all! Don’t even try to tell me that you are mourning him more than I am…
And I get that sometimes guilt and wondering what could have been are strong motivators for guilt. My 19 year old niece was killed in a car accident on her way to get chocolate chip cookies in 2004. This was around the same time that I stated getting stalked by the crazy-ass chick that still rears her ugly head up every once in awhile. So on top of Christina getting killed, I had to deal with that nonsense, too. Anyway, I have to say that I was not close to Christina. In fact, I only ever met her a couple of times. I am not close to my sister at all. I’ve only met HER a couple of times. And twice have been at funerals. In fact, sometimes I even confuse myself because I’ve always referred to Robbie as my sister and occasionally it does come as a shocker even to me that I DO have a “blood sister” and two nieces and a nephew that I never see. So when Christina died it was really sad that I never got to know her, spend any time with her, or be an “aunt.” Plus, it was incredibly sad to be at a funeral of a beautiful 19 year old. I still kind of mourn that loss and I never even had it to begin with. So I can understand mourning things that you weren’t necessarily close to.
I think maybe the anger that I feel is tied in with the fact that Pete and I weren’t allowed to feel any grief by a lot of people in the early days. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that people would NOT be supportive after the death of a child. You almost never hear about that. It did occur to me that people might try to blame us, or expect that we must have done something wrong, but I never thought that people would be out and out rude.
I felt like I had to be completely perfect all the time. If Pete’s dad said something cruel or did something to hurt us, then we were told, “He just lost his wife. You need to treat him better.” He got an excuse. But if I did something that made someone mad it was like, “There’s Rebecca, causing problems.” It didn’t make any sense.
Nobody heard us, and that was infuriating.
I was also thinking about something else recently, too. I know, all of this is probably going to sound really random…anyway…it strikes me that there seems to be a big difference in having another child after a miscarriage or stillbirth and having another child after the loss of a live birth. Mom said I should do a whole blog entry about that. Let’s see how long this thought gets, first…
I have a lot of friends who have had stillbirths and miscarriages and one of the popular things that they find people saying to them is, “Don’t worry, you can have another one!” Not only is this incredibly insensitive, but it might not even be true. Without getting into their medical history, you have no idea if they can have another one or not. Not to mention the fact that it minimizes their grief to something as trivial as replacing a tire or buying a new memory card for your camera after losing the old one.
Still, there is no stigma attached to getting pregnant after that. In fact, a lot of people are relieved when they hear that the couple are pregnant again and they sometimes get the “I’m so happy for you” comments.
On the other hand, if Pete and I talk about having another baby, I have found that we get a lot of “Are you sure you want to?” “Is that such a good idea?” “Really? I don’t know…” and Simon’s speech about how we should wait a year and devote our attention to Sam (as if we are currently avoiding him) like it was any of his business. People fear for our mental health, our emotional stability, my physical health, and from what I gather-their own nerves. So it’s kind of taboo to have a baby after the loss of your live birth, yet encouraged after a stillbirth or miscarriage.
Well, the physical health won’t get any better until I can have the hysterectomy and I’m afraid that until there is a cure for epilepsy I’m stuck with that. I’m probably always going to be a little crazy, too. I’m also practical, though. I don’t want a 5, 6, or 7 year age gap between my kids. I don’t want to raise 2 only children. And I don’t want Sam to be in school and then start all over from scratch. I want my kids to play together, I want to be young enough to be able to play with them, and I want to be able to enjoy my retirement while they’re off in college.
On a similar note, there is always the “at least you have Sam” comment that always gets me. I know I’ve said that before. Yes, I am very glad that I have Sam. And yes, if something happened to him that would probably be the end of me. But Sam does not replace Toby. A new baby would not replace Toby. And while I am grateful that I have one, that does little to ease the grief of losing another.
I could only imagine going to my friend Chasity, who lost her mother, or Emily, who lost her father, and saying something like, “Well, at least you still have one living parent!” That would be absurd.
I have heard the “at least you have one child” bit a lot. And it’s not true. I have two children. It’s just that one is not here. Very difficult question to answer, though. I had to go to the hospital the other day for the gallstones and they asked me how many children I had. I answered that I’d had two live births and one living child. That seemed to suffice, but it was hard to say.