15. Sometimes I feel spiritually bereft.

I have done so much reading since August died about the experience of losing a child, and one of the most interesting topics for me has been the spiritual side of this experience, if there is one.

I am not religious and never have been. Always, my spirituality was something very private and very much my own, wrought from a jumble of things that were both precious to me and difficult to put into words: bits of poetry and philosophy that spoke to me; heart-swelling, meditative moments experienced beneath starry skies; hours-long, late-night talks with my best friends that made me feel as if we were tapping into something enormous and profound…even, yes, things I “figured out” while taking mind-altering substances. I filed these feelings and perceptions away, mixed them together, and sensed in them some kind of beautiful truth. And always, these perceptions were positive. I felt spiritually connected to the universe. I believed that what many other people called God was actually, simply, love. I felt able to tune in to that current of love and be filled with and healed by it. I believed we were all connected — humans, animals, plants, water, the earth. All connected by love, and empowered by each other. I believed in possibility. I was truly agnostic: All I knew was that I didn’t know, and I was open to anything. I believed deeply and gladly in that quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

When August died, a harsh and sudden change happened within me: I no longer trusted my instincts. Always, I had operated largely on strong gut feelings that steered me truly. I relied on them. After August died, that sense of inner truth and knowing was just…gone. It got twisted and fucked up when this thing happened that was so against everything I had ever wanted or expected.

My spirituality was gone along with my instincts, all in a second. I felt betrayed by what I had previously understood to be a benevolent universe, and that shut off any sense of belief, or faith, or openness. In essence, I was suddenly unable to perceive anything except my own, direct experience — those things I could see, touch, hear, feel. And I resoundingly, gapingly, did not sense August.

I read about people who sensed their dead, beloved children just “beyond the veil.” About people who contacted their dead children in dreams or through psychic mediums. People who saw the same bird on their morning walks every day and believed that bird embodied the soul of their departed child. People who were comforted by these perceptions, since they meant their children were, in some way or form, still around.

Since August died, I’ve never sensed his presence in any way. I’ve never had a message from him in a dream or a psychic reading. Even my atheist friend once said she felt he was nearby somewhere, and that he was glad I had friends around to help me through this. I felt jealous that my friend could sense this. All I could sense was that he was Gone, with a capital G. No trace of him left behind; no aura, no spiritual residue, no message from beyond the veil. Everything that August ever was was simply gone.

Over two years later, I’m still wishing and searching for contact with him. (Will I ever stop wishing for that? Probably not.) I feel angry that he hasn’t visited me in a dream or a psychic vision. I feel jealous of other people who seem to have psychic or spiritual experiences that I just don’t have. I want those experiences, too! I want to know that August is still around, somehow.

I used to think our souls couldn’t disappear when our bodies broke down — they must transmute, like energy, into a different form, maybe into the collective unconscious, maybe into another body-as-vessel. But where did August’s soul go when his body died? It didn’t go anyplace where I’ve been able to find it. And that pisses me the fuck off. I wish he would send me a message. It could be really short and simple: “Hey, Mom. I know you loved me and wanted me. Sorry I couldn’t stay.” That would be plenty; that would be, oh, so much.

But instead I get nothing. No contact from the Other Side; no shivery, meaningful moments of sensing that my departed son is somehow still with us. I’m like the guy in my favorite Buzzcocks song:

What do I get? No love.
What do I get? No sleep at night.
What do I get? Nothing that’s nice.
What do I get? Nothing at all, at all, at all, at all…
Because I don’t get you.

14. Sometimes my brain didn’t work right.

Two days after August was born, we had to drive to the funeral home to make arrangements for his cremation. It was a chilly, rainy morning. E drove, slowly and carefully, while I lay back in the passenger seat with the back of the seat reclined. I wasn’t supposed to be up and walking around yet.

At the funeral home we sat on small upholstered chairs across a large, dark desk from a man who looked at us sympathetically as he asked us questions in a gentle voice. We answered as well as we could.

At one point, the man said something, I don’t remember what, but something that made me think August’s body was there, in the building somewhere. I sat up straighter.

“You mean, he’s here?” I asked. My heart had started to pound. I felt more alert than I’d felt in days. “Can I…” My words trailed off. I wanted it so badly I couldn’t ask.

The man paused and looked at me; his eyes widened slightly. He seemed to be searching for words. Looking back, I realize he must have understood that I was a crazy woman — the mother of a dead baby — and I craved seeing that baby again. Whatever he had said that made me think August was somewhere nearby had set off that craving.

Which meant the man had to backpedal, make up an excuse, put me off. You see, in the moment, I wasn’t thinking about anything beyond wanting to see my baby boy one more time. Hold him again. Touch his soft, chubby cheeks again, hold his little hand and feel his tiny fingers in mine again. Just once more.

I wasn’t thinking about what state his body would be in, two days after he had died. I wasn’t considering the fact that we had donated his body to the Blood and Tissue Center, and they had long since removed his heart valves and his corneas and I don’t know what else.

Later, realizing my mistake, I felt ashamed. What a huge oversight! Even if August were there, even if the man had brought him to me, of course I wouldn’t have wanted to see him like that. What had I been thinking?

But I was only thinking of how much I wanted him back. That’s all. For months and months and months, that was all I could think of.

The man at the funeral home stammered some excuse about, “Oh, I don’t mean he’s here — he’s actually at our other facility, awaiting cremation.”

I slumped a bit and sat back in my chair, dejected. “Oh. Okay.” I wouldn’t be seeing him once more after all.

Later that moment of wild hope — he’s here? Can I see him once more, just for a minute, I’ll make it quick, please please please?? — seemed so ridiculous. And yet, what mother wouldn’t have felt that way? To have a child who dies is to want something every minute of every day that you can never, ever have again. No matter who you ask, how hard you beg, how craftily you bargain, the answer is always, and will always be, No.