I’ve been a little quieter on the blogging front lately. (#SorryNotSorry)
Some of that quietness is trying to navigate day to day life. Some of it is trying to engage in face-to-face conversations about grief with friends. Some of it is just a lack of words for what I’ve been experiencing.
I remember early on last July and August reading about grief and secondary losses. At the time, I was so deeply entrenched in the grief of losing Alexander, that my heart and mind couldn’t even comprehend that I would eventually begin feeling the effects of losing other things as a result. And yet, now, as though someone finally knocked over that first domino that has been teetering on it’s edge, I am starting to feel the weight of secondary losses.
This blog post does a pretty good job of laying out what that is like. The reality is this: There is the loss of Alexander that everyone around me sees–the initial cause of my pain and grief. Beneath that, however, there is an avalanche of secondary losses that are triggered by the loss of Alexander. Losses that other people can’t necessarily see, but that are very real and that cause fresh grief and are also sometimes difficult to pinpoint in the moment.
Who are we? Scott and I spent the months between finding out that I was pregnant and finding out Alexander’s heart was no longer beating preparing to transition into new roles in our relationship. It was no longer just Scott the husband and Erin the wife. We were preparing to be mom and dad. We were preparing for how taking on those new roles would move our marriage into a new chapter. When we lost Alexander, we had already fundamentally changed as people. Our roles had already begun to shift. Our relationship can never go back to being exactly what it was, because we are different as people and we are different as a couple. However, our roles as mom and dad don’t look like society tells us they should look. As Scott said the other night, we’re kind of in this “in between” of not knowing who or what we are. We are grieving the loss of who we used to be, both as individuals and as a couple. We are grieving the loss of the roles we were preparing to step into as mom and dad. And, we are trying to navigate what it looks like to be us in these new roles. It’s hard work.
What should I do? I have found myself lately being extremely indecisive. (Although, if you ask Scott, I’ve always been at least a little indecisive.) It’s hard for me to make a decision, because it still feels like so much of my energy and brain space is still taken up by grieving–both for Alexander and for the secondary losses that I’m starting to feel weighing on me. Sometimes, that indecisiveness is exacerbated by a loss of my ability to focus or to remember simple things. A lot of things that used to feel really important no longer matter to me–especially when it comes to choosing battles and setting priorities. At the same time, sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out what to do because my brain is so overloaded that I can’t even hold onto one single thought. It’s as though everything seems either exponentially more important or exponentially less important than it used to. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and it feels like a loss in and of itself.
Where do I belong? I have spent my whole life trying to figure out where I belong. I know a lot of people, but I have spent a lot of my life feeling like I didn’t quite fully fit in fully anywhere. (Ask me sometime about my birthday parties as a teenager.) I know that I have people who care about me deeply. I know that I have a support system and a community that wants to walk with me through this grieving process. At the same time, I find myself feeling (rationally or irrationally) overly-sensitive about little things that leave me feeling isolated regardless of what other people are thinking or feeling. Why isn’t so-and-so wearing their #AlexanderScott wristband anymore when other people are? Why do people ask others how I’m doing instead of just bringing it up with me directly? Does it make me an a$$hole to want or expect people to check in with me? Am I being overly sensitive? How do I keep myself from looking or acting like I don’t want to talk about it when all I really want is for people to ask how we’re doing and really mean it? I hate being the center of attention. People know that about me. But, at the same time, it feels like because I’ve lost some of my identity (okay, a huge part of my identity), it’s even harder for me to figure out where I fit in than ever before.
When will I…? Losing Alexander has precipitated a lot of other feelings of loss. Loss of identity. Loss of security. Loss of roles in relationships. Loss of the familiar. Loss of self-confidence. Loss of direction. Loss of health. I often find myself asking the question: When will I be ready for…? When will I stop…? When will I feel…? However those questions end, being patient with myself is not one of my strong suits. I know I am my own biggest critic. I know that I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I know that grieving Alexander will be a lifelong process, and that I can’t expect myself to just “get better.”
Why am I suddenly crying several days a week during my drive into work? I’ve found this happening more in the past month than I’d care to admit. I jump in the car and start driving my fifteen minute commute into the office, and by the time I make it to the freeway entrance ramp, there are tears streaming down my face. Anyone who knows even a little bit knows that youth ministry is, by far, one of my greatest passions. I love what I do. It is a privilege to walk alongside families and help young people form faith. Grief, though, has changed me in ways that affect what I perceive to be my functionality at work. I feel less productive. I feel less patient some days. I feel emotionally disconnected and aloof. I know that my ministry has changed as a result of my grief. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not all bad. I have also grown to be more compassionate and understanding. Grief has refocused and refined some of my priorities in walking alongside young people in faith. My grief has empowered the young people and volunteers I work with to really step up in faith and leadership. But I still find myself grieving for what my youth ministry life used to be. I find myself grieving the fact that Alexander doesn’t get to grow up in this faith community that was so anticipating his arrival. I find myself grieving the fact that when I drive to work each morning, he’s not in a carseat in the back headed to our child care center. I find myself grieving the fact that when I walk into church on Sunday morning, I never know what grief triggers I may face.
It’s hard to really describe all of the undercurrents of loss that I am experiencing below the surface. I feel pulled in a lot of different directions and some days I get so overwhelmed by it all that I just shut down. Still. Nine months later. At the same time, some days are totally normal. Some days I laugh and enjoy the company of friends and go out for dinner and shopping with Scott. All the while, I can feel the undercurrents pulling me this way and that way. Some days I do okay at keeping my head above water, and some days I am pulled under the waves by those undercurrents… and I never know which undercurrent will pull me under on which day.
Today it has been nine months since we sat in that doctor’s office and heard the words, “I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat.” It feels like an especially heavy day, especially in light of all the other dominos of loss that seem to be falling around me.
I just miss that boy.