The real reason I hardly ever post to this blog these days is at least two-fold. One, it’s like a long overdue phone call to a dear friend who lives far away: I know it’s going to take a long time, and I’m going to want to give it my full attention, my full heart. So I keep putting it off, because there never seems to be enough time or energy in the day or in my body to say, Now is the time — now I am ready. But the longer I put it off, the longer and the more focus it’s going to take to do it justice.
Two, I think about potential blog posts all the time. All day every day. Memories resurface constantly. August’s name plays through my mind as I go about my everything. I want to write all these things down. But the idea of doing so is like trying to grab a leaf that’s swirling in deep, dark water. I imagine myself fumbling, reaching, missing. Again and again. It’s overwhelming. I don’t want to do it.
I’m reading a book called The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It’s about a teenage girl who is a terminal cancer patient, and her parents, and her sort-of-boyfriend, Augustus. (Of course. And of course he goes by Gus sometimes, but mostly Augustus.) In the scene I just read, the girl is recalling a time in the recent past when she very nearly died, but somehow pulled through it. In her memory, she’s in the ICU in the hospital, really about to die, and her parents are crying over her, and her mom says, “I won’t be a mom anymore,” and sobs into the dad’s chest.
I was reading that book in the tub, by candlelight — very luxurious, oh my. The book was hard to put down. But that scene made me finally put it down and drain the water out of the tub and blow out the candles. It made me cry. It made me think about how we had August, and then we didn’t have him; we went home from the hospital without him. All of a sudden, we were once again what we’d been before: a childless couple.
I remember I had all these darkly romantic notions about The New Me, post-losing August, and how I would fill my time. See, I’d expected to be a mom to a newborn baby, not a dead one. I’d finished my schooling for the moment (I’d become certified to teach, and had put the rest of my Master’s degree on hold), and hadn’t applied for any jobs since I would be at home with the baby. But then the baby died, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself anymore. It was winter. I imagined that I would start drinking a lot of Bushmills Irish whiskey and going out to bars, the way I’d done five or ten years earlier, in my twenties. I imagined I would go to see bands play, and my friends would be there, and they would know what had happened. They wouldn’t say much about August, but they would know he was gone, and that I was missing him with every part of my body, every second.
That didn’t happen. I don’t think I went to even one bar or to see even one band play that winter and spring. What I did do was contact one of my professors, explain what had happened, and ask if there was a course I could take toward my Master’s degree that she thought I might be able to handle, considering that I was freshly postpartum and dealing with a huge shit-pile of grief.
Have I written about that professor on here yet? That was one of those mysterious, divine-guidance-from-the-Universe moments, when I decided to reach out to her. She emailed me back and told me I should register for her class, and she would help me in any way I needed to get through the semester.
And it turned out she had a dead son, too. The first night in class, in late January, just twelve days after August had been born and died, I sat in her classroom at Texas State University, having driven forty-five minutes from home and walked shakily up a sizeable hill to be there. She introduced herself to the class and told us she had two sons: One was thirty-two, and one had died fifteen years earlier, when he was just sixteen years old, in an accident in a car that she had purchased for him.
I’d taken another course with her the previous semester, and she had never mentioned her dead son then.
All semester long, every week after class, she sat with me out in the hallway and counseled me while I cried and talked about August, and about how I didn’t know what to do or how to get through it.
I’ve always been so, so grateful to her for that gift she gave me. She was the first person who told me that this loss would help me become more compassionate toward other people in pain. I got through the semester, got an A in her class, enrolled in five more classes that summer, and finished up my Master’s degree in Education that August. (Of course.)
What was my point? Oh — not being a mother anymore. Being a childless mother. I’d heard the phrase motherless child before, but never the phrase childless mother; but suddenly that was what I was. I hated it. I did not want it. I didn’t know what it meant or how to do, be, it.
I thought of that again tonight, reading that book, and realized how fearful I am that I could become a childless mother again.
Sometimes I make morbid jokes, like, “I always wanted two kids, and then I had three, and now I want more; I never knew you needed spares!” It’s kind of a joke, but it’s also kind of true. I never knew children could actually die. How can that be? And these two other kids I have now, they are going to die too. Someday. That’s the way of it. No one here gets out alive.
Being the mom of a kid with special needs (Pearl having Down syndrome) means you think about lots of morbid things, like whether you hope you will die before or after your children. We think Pearl is doing great now, and expect she will continue to do great in the future, but there’s really no way to know what her adulthood will be like or what kind of support she will need until we get there. And I never, ever want to live through losing another one of my children. And yet… Part of me does want to outlive Pearl, because I want to make sure she has everything she needs, her whole life. I am afraid to leave this place before she does, and leave her to fend for herself. I know there are lots and lots of other people who love her and want to help care for her forever, just like I do. I know I am not her only family member or support person. I also know Zephyr might need support as an adult, too. And I feel the same way about him: I want to be there to make sure he has everything he needs, forever.
And I know that is a lot, too much, for me to take on. I am just their mother. They are their own people, with responsibilities to themselves. And I know that what is most natural is for them both to outlive me. And part of me wants that, very selfishly. Because I am so, so afraid of living through their deaths. Please, please, no.
But I don’t want them to be motherless children.
I guess there is no happy ending to this or any story. In the John Green book I’m reading, a character asks rhetorically whether a story should emulate a morphine drip or a variety of other alternatives that I’m forgetting now. But when I read that paragraph, I thought, No; a story should emulate a true and genuine hug from someone who loves you completely. A story should emulate a mirror that shows you the truth and the beauty of who you are.
After August died, I could not read fiction for a long time — years. I felt like reading a novel was akin to duping myself into believing pretty lies — trying to assuage myself with false promises of true-love-forever-after and stories that are all tied up in nice little bows at the end. And real life just isn’t like that. Everything ends, but not everything has “closure,” or a satisfying completion. Not everything allows you to sigh, as at the end of a good novel, and say, “I’m finished with that. Now I can close the cover, move on and not think of it again.”