So far, for me, parenthood is much, much harder than I ever expected. It hurts a whole lot more — infinitely more. It’s hard and sharp and brilliantly beautiful, like looking straight at the sun through a diamond prism. The hardest thing in the world; the most compellingly gorgeous; so bright and dazzling you can’t look away, but the longer you look, the more painful it becomes, the more you cry, and the more permanent damage you sustain.
Sometimes I think about the saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’ve thought about that idea so many times over the past two years. August’s death didn’t kill me, but it most certainly weakened me. Applying the above metaphor, I guess my soul is the part of me that has sustained permanent damage. Or maybe not my soul, exactly, but my emotional self: the part of me that feels broken due to this one event — his death. Or maybe my soul and my emotional being are one and the same, and both have been changed forever; both are less whole than they once were.
Since August died I have wrestled with questions about meaning and meaninglessness — “What the fuck is the point?” kinds of questions. Losing him is teaching me such a worthwhile lesson about myself: that I am not special. That I am just one among many in this world, this life. Believing I was lucky or untouchable was the most misleading of illusions, and one based in the simple fact that until August died, nothing ever happened to challenge that belief.
That is a great thing to learn. We are all the same. Losing August is also teaching me about pain, suffering and compassion: I have such a much greater capacity now for all three. This enables me to connect more readily and genuinely with others in pain.
But I don’t know if that helps them. They are still in pain, even if I’m feeling it exquisitely with them. How does that help? Besides, when you’re in pain, you aren’t really aware of others sharing it with you. You just hurt. And hurt, and hurt. At least for me, it created a huge self-absorption that lifted only when the pain stopped being quite so constant. I think this may be common: You only start to notice other people again, and feel grateful that they were there the whole time, helping you carry that impossibly heavy load, once your pain has begun to lift.
Also: Two years ago! August was born and died two whole, long years ago. Soon it will be three, and five, and ten. Pearl, August’s sister, will be a toddler and a child and a preteen, a young woman, an adult. As we move further and further from August’s existence in time, will his absence hurt less? Will the trauma of his birth recede? Will his life turn out to have more meaning, or less, or both? Will this mountain of shit seem less like it happened yesterday? Will it become more abstract? Will it start to seem like just an event — a particularly sad one, but just one amongst the jumble of all the events of our lives?
I think I am glad for the lessons… I’m not sure. All in all, since becoming a mom two years ago, I just feel sadder and more confused. Everything is even more of a contradiction than ever before. I feel more fucked, but also luckier, because August died. Eternally devastated, and yet richer: Had he never been here at all, I would be like a paper-cutout version of myself. Now the truth of life, the wisdom of the universe, the complexity of being human, seem somewhat closer, and yet entirely out of reach. I will never understand. Anything. Ever.
Speaking of things I will never understand: My friend Esme died on January 1 this year. I keep thinking of her mother — how she must be feeling the screaming shock, the bright, mad, ripping pain that I felt when August died. Right now, she is inside that insane fun house that I was inside once. I hold her in my heart with so much love and commiseration. Most likely, she will find her way out of that fun house, but right now I imagine that all she can see is her own, warped reflection, stretched and twisted in countless mirrors, and the Exit sign nowhere to be found.
One of the biggest fears you have when your child dies is that after a while, no one will remember anymore, and your child will no longer matter. One thing that comforts me about my friend Esme is that I do not think that’s possible with her. She was the brightest light, the kindest, most encouraging and enthusiastic person I think I’ve ever known. She had hundreds of friends; maybe thousands. She made each of us feel like her favorite person. There’s no way we could forget her. I hope her mother knows.