I was sad the other day. Not aching grief, just sad. Low. At first I wanted to reach for grief as an explanation. But I know how grief feels. I can feel it’s distinct pull. This was apathy and malaise and exhaustion and not being bothered. I desperately wanted to feel something else – I had things to do and words to write but it all felt impossible with the weight of this sadness. I tried to bully myself out of it. I am convinced that I can think myself out of any situation. That if I tell myself to snap out of it, I will. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t work the other day. I tried counting my blessings. It just made me feel more miserable that I was sad in the face of blessing. Sadness feels like failure. We are not meant to sit with sadness, we are meant to strive for happiness. It has become the default expected emotion.
But maybe it’s okay to sit with sadness sometimes. In the darkness of my grief I sat with sadness as a constant companion. It was not possible to think myself out of it. I could not shake it off like a skin, it had permeated my being. And I was given permission to be sad. The saddest thing I could imagine, a baby dying, had happened and it happened to our family. There was no pressure to be happy – to count my blessings and put away the tears. Sadness was to be expected and it was okay. This permission to be sad taught me something. I don’t think it’s fair to expect our emotional lives to ride on a constant high. Constant happiness sounds like a great idea, but expecting it and panicking when it’s not our reality, seems to cause more angst that happiness. There is a lot of guilt associated with being sad. Immediately my mind asks “What right have you to be unhappy?” When I had a very good answer to that question, I could let the pressure go.
There are times when sadness feels like sitting in a great big hole. People pass you, shout down and invite you to come back up. Someone might throw down a ladder or the tools they think you need to build one. And then, once in a little while, someone might come down and join you. Say “I know you won’t be down here forever, but for just a little while, I will stay with you and keep you company.” And with that kindness, the hole doesn’t seem so deep anymore.
I don’t want to feel miserable. I would prefer happiness. But pushing myself to be happy when I feel blue isn’t the answer either. I can’t tell myself to be happy. I can do things that make me happy – and that’s generally where the magic is – to find those things that bring me joy and immerse myself in them. To write, or to create, to dance, to laugh or to read. Sadness is a part of our human experience – it’s not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of humanity.
Baby Elijah is a hesitant walker. At eighteen months old he still prefers to shuffle along the floor, one leg extend out the back to provide momentum. He is surprisingly fast. He took his first hesitant steps at around sixteen months and we expected him to start running shortly thereafter. That hasn’t happened. The doctor says it’s okay – that at least he IS walking and if doesn’t move to predominantly walking within the next few months we will look at it further. We are cautiously watching. There is a part of me that is worried. There is a part of me that doesn’t mind at all. A part of me that aches to keep him a little baby. When I see him on his unsteady feet, cautiously placing one foot in front of the other, my heart catches. Another milestone Xavier never had a chance to reach. And a reminder that Elijah is leaving behind a babyhood that Xavier is forever frozen within.
When Xavier died, I ached for him and if I couldn’t have him, then another baby. I wanted my arms to be full of dimpled skin, baby scent, peach fuzz hair and helplessness. I wanted my arms to be full of baby. Then Elijah arrived, and my wish was finally granted. The aching arms finally had someone to hold. But my arms are not quite as full anymore. Life is yet again beckoning in a different direction. My days are no longer completely full of tending to a little one. Elijah is in daycare two days a week, allowing me time to set up and run a new little business. Isaac is back at school and taking to grade One like a duck to water. I am faced with new challenges and once again redefining myself.
After Xavier died, I had to figure out who I was – it was a difficult thing – to become someone I hardly recognised. But slowly the pieces came back together and we were gifted hope when I became pregnant with Elijah. I became someone else again as I emerged from the darkest parts of grief, the hope and the happiness of a new baby coaxing me from under that heavy blanket. I found a new purpose in bringing up my youngest son. He consumed me where once grief had consumed me. And now, things are changing again. Chapters in life close and new ones open. The poignancy of that seems to be sharper when you have left someone behind.
The other day, I felt the turning of that page keenly. I dropped Elijah at care. He did not cry and he happily played with a toy as I left. I went into town and met with people and for the first time I spoke about my new business like it was a realistic proposition. The wheels started to turn. I caught the bus home, feeling confident and excited, rather than scared and deluded. The lady next to me started chatting about the weather and it led to other things. She asked if I had any children. These days, I say “I have one at primary school and an eighteen month old” and then I whisper “and one in heaven” to myself. I asked her the same question. She looked at me sadly “I have one son. He died two years ago to the day and I am feeling very lost today. He was my only child. The love of my life and he died of cancer at not even forty years old.” She had no grandchildren. Her son and his wife had chosen travel over babies. She told me about her son and I asked her questions. I was going to tell her about Xavier, but she didn’t need my story. She needed to tell hers. I got to learn about her one true love and I was reminded, yet again, that each of us has a story to tell. No-one lives the perfect life. We need to be kind and mindful of each other – for every one of us has shards of glass in our hearts. And how blessed am I, that I get to see my baby Elijah grow up.
And so I will smile and clap as he shakily walks, letting go of my hand.