Five years ago, I lost the ability to think about the future, plan for the future, hope for the future. A few weeks ago, we watched some old home videos, from the time just before and after Genevieve died. I hadn’t ever watched some of them. The “before” videos were actually more painful to watch. I look tired but relaxed, confident that I am about to bring home my second daughter and be done with pregnancy forever.
The first “after” video was taken on July 19, the day after I arrived home from the hospital. My eyes are leaden. I am talking to family members and interacting with Eleanor, and I am alive only in the physical sense.
In those early months, I spent most of my time reading about grief and crying. I tried to take care of Eleanor, but some days I couldn’t even do that and had to call Greg to come home from work. The books said that if I could take a shower and eat, I was doing OK. The bar was set very low, and I was skimming by.
When I started therapy, I learned that anger was a byproduct of sadness. When we can’t stand to feel sad, we get angry. I got really, really angry. I collected grievances in my journal, noting the painful things that people said or didn’t say. The books said that only the passage of time could soften the pain.
Time couldn’t pass fast enough. I wished for my days to unspool, wished to forget almost everything that was happening. At Christmas, I was still just subsisting. It was hard to see how I could keep getting out of bed and showering and eating. What was the point? I was only doing these things so that I could move one day farther away from the worst day of my life.
Many people say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Yet, we are surrounded by people who are on the journey with us. Being the parent of a child who has died? That is one tough gig.
Around the time of Genevieve’s first birthday, I began to really think about how to be her mom and brainstorm work that I could do in her honor. I stopped wishing for my life to fly past. I started to register happiness again.
Part of the reason life feels good five years out is not just that time has passed. It is that I have learned how to continue being a mom to her. I have had the chance to write passionately about an overlooked problem, and I have been connected to amazing people.
A few weeks ago, I went to a local hospital for an interview. I’ve been taking steps to become a hospital volunteer. When I arrived, the volunteer coordinator wanted to know about my life. Why was I interested in volunteering? I began to talk about Genevieve.
She asked, “Do you know Threads of Love?”
I said that I did. Threads of Love is the nonprofit that provided us with hand-made clothes and baby blankets for Genevieve when we were in the hospital.
“I’m the co-founder,” she said. And she explained how the group came to be and how they still get together every Monday to make the clothing and blankets for preemies and stillborn babies. And then I started to cry because here I was, meeting a stranger who had helped me during the worst time of my life.
This fifth anniversary feels gentler than the others. Eleanor has become nearly obsessive about her little sister this week. She has made drawings with all of us, and when we played family, she used three figurines for the children. Henry has started to exclaim “I have two sisters!” We have actually felt like a family of five. For once, I am not worrying about what it means for my children to grow up with a missing sibling. We are handling the grief thing and the parenting thing just fine.