Saturday, November 22, 2008

Me vs. Grief: Version 4.6

In Elijah's lifetime, there were a finite number of pictures taken of him.
There were quite a few pictures, but he lived for thirteen months and eleven days.
So there are thirteen months and eleven days worth of pictures. Considering not many pictures were taken of him at the end, when he was sick. It never occurred to us that it could or would be the end.

There was also video taken of him. This was before we had a digital video camera, so we have some tapes.
I have never, ever watched any of that footage. Not one second.
I have thought about it, I think I will do it, I think I am ready.
Then I conveniently forget.
Until the next time.

Right after Elijah died, I was incapable of even looking at his pictures. The day that he died, I came home to pictures of him all around my house - pictures of him alive. Pictures that taunted and mocked me, reminding me only of the fact that he was - gone.
A photo of his shining blue eyes reminded me that they were closed and unshining. A picture of his chubby smile reminded me of giving him mouth-to-mouth CPR for 45 minutes. A picture of his platinum hair reminded me of cutting a lock to drop into an envelope (which, to this day, remains 'lost') just hours after he took his last breath.
A picture of his life reminded me only of his death; of his expressions in death, of the panic, of the failure to revive him, of the fact that it was all over. Forever.

And then, as I would reach to turn the picture face-down, I would sob with guilt. What kind of mother looks at her child's smile and is reminded only of his death? What kind of mother could cradle him in astonishment as he took his last breath, cradle him just hours later while the shock overcame her that he was just an empty shell, and then, just a few hours later, be unable to look at his face?
Grief of this magnitude is difficult to navigate, it is suffocating - it is breathing in thick mud, it is impossible for the beholder to comprehend, and it is overwhelming (think catatonic) to feel. It is pretty much like a head-on collision with a large truck that doesn't kill you.
Sadness that runs so deep, it carries its own albatross of grief.

It has been four years and six months since Elijah died. That itself, seems unimaginable.
Not once have I been courageous enough to view any of that video. I know it exists.

I imagine what it might be like - to watch him wave his hands around again, to see him reach for his favorite toys, to watch his bright eyes dart between us and the fairies, and oh! to hear him coo and sing...
...but not be able to reach for him, kiss him, hold him...

I don't know. If I cannot write those memories without tearing up, perhaps I am not ready to see him.
I wish I could say I was strong.

But you can see, that really, I am not.


MFA Mama said...

OH YES YOU ARE! A lesser person would lie down with those tapes and wallow and never get up. They'll wait for when you are ready.

Special Needs Mama said...

I found a picture I took of Evan the day he died. I almost deleted it, then decided not to. While I am not ready yet to look at it, and won't be in a long while, some day I will be able to and be happy I still have it.

I have a friend who lost a husband very tragically who told me this: "I turn the photos face down and then, when I miss him, I turn them back up again." That's how I see this going, for a long time.


Anonymous said...

Gwendomama, you are absolutely incredibly strong, and you really are an inspiration to me. Perhaps its silly, but to read of someone coping, of someone else who can get up every day in the face of such incredible grief.. it's an inspiration to keep going.

I wish I knew you personally, you seem like an amazing person to know.

My question is how on EARTH do you keep going? How do you keep it up in the face of such sadness and negativity?

I'm doing the best I can right now, and life is very topsy-turvy, and reading your posts is always a nice thing.

Don't doubt your strength for a second. You're a fabulous person, and ALL your children are lucky to have had you as their mother.

RoseRedHoofbeats said...


I don't really know what else to say, except this is all incredibly fucked up and I hate that it happened to you and Elijah.

Kelley said...

I have no idea how you feel. I think I do, but in reality I have no idea.

This post broke my heart a little.

<3 babe.

You are stronger than you know.

The Turtle and the Monkey said...

You are strong. You have the courage to continue to enjoy and live your life in honor of Elijah. The videos will wait until you are ready to look at them. There is no rush.

I am approaching two years since losing Noah and you have unknowingly been a guidepost for me. I began reading before I lost my son. You offered me hope and courage when it all seemed impossible. You are not alone in this journey. If anything, you have taught me that.

Thinking of you...

Lunasea said...

OMG, I think just having the courage to smile again, to pull yourself up and let yourself enjoy your other two children must take a reserve of strength I don't think I have.

I think you're incredibly strong. Just the thought of watching a video of my child after they were gone kills my heart. You have done an amazing job keeping your heart alive.

Anonymous said...

Aww Babe....
Hugs to you. Like someone else said. The video will be there when you are ready.

Sophie said...

I stupidly tried to watch a video of my baby girl only three months later. It made my husband and I physically ill. Literally. I had to stop it and throw up.

I keep thinking that it will get better in time. I thought at Christmas maybe I would try again. After reading your post now I'm not so sure.

I admire your strength but I wont ask you where it comes from. I already know.


zoe krylova said...

your strength shines through every word of this passage. only a strong person could write of such sadness with such beauty. only a strong person could write about it at all, rather than shut it away somewhere deep and damaging. you will know when you're ready to watch those videos. there will be a certainty about it. until then, continue to process in the way that you do. you are doing everything right.

Tracey said...

Gwen, I don't know what to say, other than your pain is felt by those who read it here. I can feel your tears and hope you can feel my hug that I send to you...

Whenever you are ready, IF you are ever ready, the videos are waiting for you.

Perhaps you could think of having them made into a disc, as well? Some other way of preserving them and then placing them in a lockbox at a bank? I can only imagine that those would be the ONLY pictures and videos that would matter if a fire were to happen at your home...

Anonymous said...

PS: thanks for stopping by, it's very exciting when I get traffic.. haha :)

Tricia said...

"What kind of mother looks at her child's smile and is reminded only of his death?"

A mother who watched her child die after doing everything in her power to stop it.

A mother who loves her son, still.

A mother who continues to move forward.

A mother who is still mothering.


Redneck Mommy said...

Oh honey. I'm so sorry.

I have watched a video of Bug alive only once since he died.

It just about killed me. It was almost like losing him all over again.

I understand. I'm here for you if you need me.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and sending you love. A lot of love.


Mama Deb said...

My friend and I met four, fun 50-60 year old women at a winery in Sedona and ended up having a blast hanging out with them. Toward the end of our time together, it came out that my friend and I had connected because of our children's special needs. One of the women admitted that she had been somewhat jealously looking at us and remembering a time when she was young and carefree 'just like us.' She said how humbled she was by her inaccurate assumptions, and that it was a big realization to her that sometimes things aren't as they appear on the surface.
You are another one of those women who seems carefree and bubbly. No one would ever guess the suffering you have gone through. I hope that the joy others perceive in you is what you feel more hours of the day than not. And those hours when you don't feel have rightly earned them to grieve in any way you see fit. Big hug.

Anonymous said...

I lost my 3 year old daughter to cancer 11 years ago. To me, the grief is always there. I always want her....always. I look at her videos differently. I love to watch them. I love to see her smile and look at me and say, "I love you, Mama". They offer me peace. I don't know where I would be without them.
I often worry that I will forget about her...the videos keep her alive, even though I cannot touch her, I can still see her.
My heart goes out to you. I can only offer that you are not alone in your grief. There are many of us out here just like you. We just live each day, day by day. I don't think that it has anything to do with being strong. It is just something that we do. Bless you.

just me Tara said...

I am so sorry, my son died 2 years ago. I will give you this to ponder after accidentally viewing a video i wasnt expecting him to be on. I had become comfortable with the pictures in fact i relish being able to see his face i touch the pictures every day here and there and say hi to him, miss you, this has been my life!( my hubby doesnt like the pictures he would be a face down picture person)

then about 3 weeks ago i was watching a video of our old home that i didnt know he was even on and there he was moving, alive, talking, and it killed see him animated after years of posed pictures.( i still like my photos) I have no intention of actually purposely watching any more anytime soon. I wish i could find joy in them, wish i could happily sit and go look at him and not cry. i consider myself a strong person and that i have dealt and helped my other children deal with this extremely well.

I cried and cried, i felt like i was back in the horrid grief of those first weeks and months. I had forgotten how he moved and forgot his goofy nature, his smile moving, his body moving.. its like my brain had forgotten what him animated was like. instead my memories of him singing were his voice, the poses were him in life that he was frozen in the positions and smile in pictures and i am comfortable with him inanimate maybe because he is now? the video made me want to have those moments of animation back to tell him to do something different, making me want to change history.

someday i too may be ready for home videos but not yet. maybe it will happen the same way? see one, see another then maybe i will be okay??

so take your time, and go at it with this knowledge( knowledge is power). that seeing your precious child moving again may bring back the missing more intensely than you expect.. and being prepared for that would have helped me immensely and maybe made it more enjoyable rather than knocking me for a loop?

Julia said...

You know, people tell me that I am strong and I want to tell them to fuck the hell off. Because I don't know about strong. I move because I have to. I care for my other children, I laugh with them even, and genuinely too. But sometimes I walk smack into a wall of grief. More often I float quietly on the surface of a deep ocean of grief, and it bounces me gently. Fuck strong. We are who we are. We are where we are. There is no wrong way to love and to grieve. You do what you have to do.