I remember it quite clearly. Driving with my sister, Xavier in the back-set only precious days old. I remember telling her how blessed I felt. How everything in my life felt pretty perfect. That there were a few little things I would change but in the grand scheme of things they seemed so minor that complaint seemed ungrateful. Did I throw down a challenge to the universe when I uttered those words? Did life suddenly notice that heartbreak had been conspicuously absent for too long? I have given up searching for reasons as to why Xavier died, but in the early days that was a big one. Life had been too good for too long and the balance needed to swing wildly in the other direction. When my son died, the world beneath my feet crumbled. And I had been so sure of that solid earth. And even now, more than two and a half years later, the ground still shifts.
I might have imagined grief as an ocean of tears to swim through. Or a staged process with an outcome. I might have thought sadness to be the primary emotion. But it turns out, that’s not how grief works. Grief is, above all other things, unpredictable. It changes your footing. Even when you think you have slain a particular dragon, it rears up and strikes again. At the moment, my self-confidence is taking a beating. There are a variety of reasons for this – I am challenging myself and pushing myself into uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory. That’s never easy, but I can’t help but think the girl who I was before Xavier died would be tackling it with more confidence. That she wouldn’t second-guess herself so much.
When I headed back to work, months after we buried Xavier, I was frustrated with myself. Tasks I once found easy took three times as long. Words that once flowed were stilted. The escape that I sought in work didn’t prove the distraction I’d hoped for. Before Xavier died, I swam easily through clear waters. After he died, that water turned viscous. Everything was a struggle. And that, in and of itself, was so frustrating. I was continually exhausted from the effort of merely appearing normal.
Eventually, I found my way. The viscous thinned, but never returned to the consistency of water. And now, as I embark on a new adventure, I find myself thrashing again. I know I am not the only one to do this – to turn on myself and become my worst enemy. I throw unhelpful thoughts and walls up. And when you are busy beating yourself with a stick, telling yourself that you failed to protect one of your precious children delivers a crippling blow.
There are so many things that change with grief. Self-perspective is a large one. Where once I believe the earth beneath my feet rock solid and incapable of movement, I now know it’s quick-sand. When life travels along beautifully, I watch over my shoulder, breath held, for the pendulum to swing the other way. And I find it hard to believe the universe will deliver simply because I wish it to be so. I know that the only way for me to succeed is to believe in myself. To realise that the self-doubt may never leave, but to walk on fearlessly anyway.