Three weeks from today, I'm not going to work. Three weeks from today, Mike and I will meet our friend Jeanee at a park and take photos next to an oak tree. Three weeks from today, February will be four days from over, and my baby will be three.
Three. It has been three years since she died - and was born. Three years since I held her. Three years since I touched her face.
Now, with three years under my bereaved belt, I get it. It does get harder. It gets harder to keep a memory bright and shining when time tries so hard to dim and tarnish it. It gets harder to move in only one direction when that direction simply creates more distance between you and your child. It gets harder to grieve as openly as you did at the beginning because doing so will only bring judgement or concern. It gets harder to justify your feelings to a world who clings to a timeframe.
There is a saying that goes "Grief is the last act of love we can give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love". Grief never ends because love never ends. It's really as simple as that. Grief does not have an expiration date. It's not a gallon of milk. Yet, the pressure to toss it to the side and move on after some time has passed is felt by every person who has ever lost a loved one. Grieving people don't really stop grieving, though. They just stop doing it in the public eye and instead do it behind closed doors.
My blog posts are few and far between now, and it's not because my grief is less. It's really because there's nothing much more to say that hasn't already been said - and I also realize my level of grief will often be met with confusion or concern. Three years later - and I'm still dealing with grief? You betcha! Isn't that something that should be better by now? Nope. Grief is a lifelong process. Let that sink in. Life. Long.
If you have ever seen a Cirque de Soleil show or something similar, you might often catch yourself thinking, "Wow. They make it seem so easy." But you know that it's not. You know these people practice for hours every day and have probably been doing so for years. You know when they first started, they probably fell all the time, maybe even broke bones. But, they healed, and they kept practicing. What they do doesn't become an easier task, they just get better at doing it. They get better at making it look easy. Grief is similar. As the years pass, we have so much practice grieving, the outside world might perceive it as effortless - when it is really anything but. It's that perception that actually contributes to its difficulty. The safety net is taken away. The spotters leave. We are left alone to somersault and catch that trapeeze on our own. And when we do fall, after all this time, we feel like a failure. Because, really, shouldn't we have gotten the hang of this by now?
I'm three years down the road of this journey, and it's easy to feel alone. It's easy to feel like the world has moved on and that no one will really feel the emptiness she left behind like I do. At the beginning, we felt her loss together. We stumbled together. We hurt together. You understood why I was so broken. Three years later, you don't. You might want to. You might even try to. But, unless you have lived for three years with your firstborn in a little pink urn, you simply can't. And that's why it's so hard. The hole where she fits is still painfully empty. My heart feels her absence with every bit of severity of that first day. And, while you may try to empathize, you don't really know how much it still hurts....how it doesn't hurt even one iota less.
Here I am, three weeks away from her third birthday, and I have come to know that this is what grief looks like when it moves in and settles down. Three years of grief is tiring. The reality of child loss is really not something you ever get used to. It's not something you ever learn to accept. You watch your child grow up in the families of strangers. The baby in the supermarket. The toddler in the mall. The 4th grader at Disney World. With eager eyes, I will look for her everywhere I go for the rest of my life. I will see other people's children and I will wonder who she would have been. Three weeks from three. Five days from Fifty. As long as my heart is still beating, it will ache for her.