Ten years ago right now, I was six or seven days away from a hospital admission for premature labor. Our son, Natan, did not survive after being born on the cusp of 26 weeks. I have to repeat that story often. My family and I have moved states several times since then and otherwise formed new communities as I’ve changed careers and our 9 year old, Samuel, has begun to form communities of his own.
As people who’ve read my blogs for years (and back when I posted more than every few months) have heard me say over and over again, I don’t think I’m particularly wise and I’m averse to advice. Nevertheless, as this anniversary approaches, I can’t help but want to say something about what I think I’ve learned.
1) I’ve learned to fail. In the hospital, they moved me to different rooms several times over the week, and I can remember my state of mind in each one. In my last room, we thought I’d settled in for the long haul after a few days of no change. I remember steeling myself for weeks of hospitalization, thinking, “I’m tough, I’m strong, and I don’t fail.” The universe had other plans.I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not culpable. I tried as hard as I could. But I wasn’t in control of my fate or Natan’s. I failed to bring about the outcome I desired because I did not have the power to do so.
This happens often in our lives, that we can’t control the result. Natan’s death wasn’t the first time I experienced grief or a major disappointment in life, but this time was the first time I couldn’t find a way to blame anyone’s choices, my own or another person’s. I had to accept my own mortality.
2) I’ve learned to forgive. I forgave the doctors and myself for being human and having imperfect tools.
3) I’ve learned to accept my place in the order of things. During my short career as a historian, from my undergraduate thesis to my dissertation, I read hundreds of diaries and letters. I thought I was researching the Lowell Mills and labor struggle for the former and celebrity and popular culture for the latter. But the collections I really remember all included the death of an infant or toddler. I wrote those portions down, not knowing what if anything I’d ever do with them. I read them before Natan’s death and returned to them after. They are my intellectual fodder. My experience is historical. Mothers grieve for years while still finding joy in their lives and I am one of them.
4) I’ve learned that grief is common. I am going to experience it again and again, until it is my turn to be grieved. I am lucky to have a brain chemistry that seems to seek out joy anyway.
Such is the order of life.