There is the journal entry from November 2009, for example, written sitting cross-legged on the floor in the baby’s room, when I was 7 months pregnant. I had turned on the sweet little lights we had set up, one each in three of four corners; they cast a warm, dim glow that I thought wouldn’t be too jarring for the baby if I had to turn on a lamp in the middle of the night.
That November evening, I sat in the baby’s room, crying so hard and simultaneously laughing at myself for it. “I miss you so much,” I wrote in my journal, the one I had kept throughout my pregnancy, recording all the moments and sensations that I didn’t want to forget — my hilariously excessive appetite one night that was my first signal that maybe I was pregnant (somehow I consumed a half-pound of shrimp cocktail as an appetizer, followed by three tilapia fillets, two servings of potatoes, which I normally hate, a pile of greens, six chocolate-chip cookies and a slice of cheesecake; “OK,” I remember thinking, “I’m a pretty good eater, but something is going on here”); the first symptoms I experienced; the first time, at sixteen weeks pregnant, that I concentrated really hard and felt the baby’s tiny movements, deep inside me. “But how can I miss you when you’re right here?” I wrote that night. “In two months, you’ll be in my arms. I’ll be able to look at you and wonder at how incredible you are.”
Well, I did get to do that, for a few hours, anyway.
The feeling I had that night in the baby’s room was definitely one of grief, of missing someone who wasn’t there, or wouldn’t be for long. At the time I just thought it was strange, odd enough to write about in my journal. Now I wonder if it was some sort of deep intuition, an unconscious knowledge of my own body, which included my baby’s body: knowledge that the baby wasn’t okay and would not be sticking around.
I also wonder about my lifelong propensity for that soul-deep feeling of loss, which I could always access pretty easily, long before I ever experienced any great loss in real life. Growing up, any novel or movie about a character losing a loved one sent me into awful, shoulder-shaking, snot-dripping sobs. In Rilla of Ingleside, the last book of the Anne of Green Gables series, Rilla — Anne’s youngest daughter — loses her favorite brother, Walter, when he dies fighting in France during World War I. Rilla’s despair hurt me even more deeply than Anne’s (well, it was Rilla’s story, after all). I wept over that book many times, rereading those scenes again and again and feeling just too much deep, painful empathy for Rilla and her loss.
Another example from four or five years ago: that silly movie P.S. I Love You. I saw it in the theater and embarrassed myself by starting to weep about five minutes in and being unable to stop throughout the movie or even after it ended. I was still shuddering and snorting and wiping my nose as we headed back out to the parking lot, all because Hillary Swank’s character had to say goodbye to her dashing charmer of a husband who had some terminal illness and was destined to die.
Sometimes, before August ever came along, I would consider the possibility of reincarnation and past lives. Maybe, I occasionally thought, in a past life, I had had a lover or a close family member who died. Why else would that particular story line affect me so deeply, when I hadn’t lived through anything remotely similar in my own life?
These days, since August died, I wonder more whether those long-ago moments of grief and deep empathy, experienced while watching a film or reading a book, were not flashbacks to another life, but flash-forwards to my own life — premonitory emotions, shadows of the enormous, crushing heartbreak I would feel when my son died.