Category Archives: Grief

Four years

Today was a normal day. Eleanor awoke first, as she usually does. She tiptoed into the game room and sat down in the corner with whichever Calvin and Hobbes book she is currently reading. When I got up, I came downstairs and made breakfast for the two of us. Eleanor had a banana and a bowl of Puffins cereal. She is trying to eat 20 boxes of Puffins so that she can send in the labels to adopt a wild puffin.

Henry slept past 8, as he likes to do. Once he was awake, the babbling began. He is forever carrying on a conversation with me, though I have no idea what he is saying. After his breakfast, he crawled up the stairs and pulled “Flowers for Algernon” from our bookshelf. How does he always find that one book in a line of 300?

We went to the park. No one fought over the teeter totter. Eleanor nearly swung across all of the monkey bars, a moment of intense bravery for her. Henry started up the steps to the big spiral slide while I had my head turned. He hovered at the top for a bit, afraid to proceed, and then toddled back down the steps with me grasping his hand. Later, a friend brought us dinner, and Henry said “kiss” for the first time while giving me a big, toothy smooch. I noted every blessing.

Living without you, Genevieve, may be normal for us now, but it will never be easy. I wish that you had been here to bounce out of bed first because it was your birthday, to help Eleanor eat all of those Puffins, to encourage Henry to go down the slide, and to tell us that you actually prefer chocolate cake to this lemon variety that we insist on making every year on your birthday. You are always missed, my little girl.

Genevieve's 4th Birthday

One year ago.
Two years ago.
Three years ago.
Four years ago.

How life looks without her

Wednesday is Genevieve’s birthday, and you would think that I had just left the hospital after having her. That first year, I quit my job (which I was going to be laid off from anyway because of restructuring), went back to school to become a nurse, and ran a half-marathon. Nothing mattered to me outside of Greg, Eleanor, and Genevieve, but I knew that I had to keep moving forward. Any time I had an idea, I latched on and threw myself into it.

Every year when I reach Genevieve’s birthday, it’s as though I’m reliving that whole year in the span of a week. In the past 24 hours, I have gone from “Maybe we should have another baby,” to “I can’t possibly stay home anymore. I need a full-time job.”

It always takes me a while to realize what’s happening, that I’ve spiraled into my mid-July funk. I know that I’m going to be upset around her birthday. I await the sobbing and the sad movie watching and the ice cream eating. There is some of that. But mostly there is the feeling that I am suffocating. I make no plans for the week because I expect to be sad, and then I regret that I’m spending so much time sitting around thinking about her. I need to do something to feel better. The only way to feel better is to let the days pass.

Greg arrived home from work today and listened to five minutes of my panicked ramblings. Henry had just had a diaper explosion, and I hadn’t yet checked to see if his shirt had been hit because I needed to attend to our dinner, burning on the stove. And Eleanor’s dance class began in 30 minutes, so it was time to shovel in the sad meal I had prepared. Also, could he collect her dance shoes and leotard and also load her bike in my trunk because we were meeting friends at the park right after dance? Also, Eleanor had told me earlier in the day that I looked angry at her, which had made me feel like a terrible mother because I hand’t been angry at the time, just exhausted of trying to maintain normalcy during the most abnormal week. And Greg did everything I asked and acted as though I were a perfectly reasonable person.

People sometimes compliment me for my good cooking, for the fact that I serve my kids a lot of vegetables, for my clean house. Sometimes my life looks good. And sometimes my kids are eating “crispy” potatoes that came out mushy and undercooked broccoli that is chunky instead of finely chopped into a bruschetta and bread that is flipped so the burned side is down. “What is this, Mom?” Eleanor asks.

This is the part that others don’t see. This is us accepting things that didn’t turn out as we had hoped.

“Inside Out” and making space for sadness

Eleanor and I went to see “Inside Out” yesterday, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I’m going to try not to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.

This is a movie for adults. I know it’s an animated movie marketed toward children, and Eleanor definitely enjoyed it. It’s not inappropriate for kids. If I had it to do over, I might have had her watch it when she was older because I think she would have gotten much more out of it. The message of the movie is that joy and sadness need to co-exist. I love that. I sobbed through a lot of “Inside Out,” to the point that I think Eleanor was becoming worried.

In the early months after Genevieve died, I was sure my life had been ruined. Even if I survived the crushing sadness and depression, I knew that I would be sad every day for the rest of my life, that I would never have another day of unfettered joy. Who wants to go through life like that?

That’s the message society sends us, isn’t it? Life is only worthwhile when packed with shiny Instagram moments. There are dozens of books — many of them best-sellers — on how to lead a happier life. Those of us who carry some sort of permanent scar struggle not to be outcasts. We are outcasts because we want to talk about sad things, and that isn’t allowed in our society. Then other people might feel sad. Can’t have that. We might miss out on a couple minutes of happiness.

I needed a lot of time and struggle to see that embracing sadness improves my life. People don’t talk about my middle daughter because they think they will make me sad. In truth, it is when people gloss over my daughter, when they ask whether I will have a “third” baby, that I feel sad. My kids give my life meaning, all three of them.

Most of the loss parents I know are funny and sarcastic and joyful, after they get through the first year or two of grief. The people who have the most reason to be sad are the most grateful people I know. It’s that flipping coin of joy and sadness.

I do think it’s growing more acceptable to talk about sadness and grief. As always, I want progress to happen quickly.

I love Pixar for putting out this movie during the summer when every other thing at the theater is Super Hero Movie, Part 9. And for tackling a topic that we seem to handle so poorly. Perhaps “Inside Out” will help spark conversations that lead to more emotional maturity and to the understanding that a rich life can include, and indeed must include, both joy and sorrow.