We're all mothers here, right?
It was as if a golf ball formed in my throat. At a table of eight women, only one other seated there knew me, knew about Ewan. I placed my hand over my mouth and clenched my eyes shut. I wondered if I should have come. This was my first social outing since Ewan's death and me bursting into tears and running out of the room was most decidedly not how I wanted it to go.
As conversation around the table resumed, I took a few deep breaths and concentrated on the salad in front of me.
I needed to stick this out. I needed to learn how to do this. I was determined not to allow grief to turn me into a recluse.
Earlier that day, I had spent a lot of time in Ewan's room. I can't say if anything in particular drew me there, but there was some tidying up I had long wanted to do and then seemed as good a time as any to do it. I dusted and rearranged, I re-folded clothing and diapers, I wiped down hard surfaces. As I handled the clothes he never wore, and looked at the bulletin boards on the wall that held some photographs, ribbons from baby gifts, and cards full of well wishes, I felt grateful. A deep peace settled into my body and thankfulness filled me.
And here I was now, feeling sad and awkward, emotionally volatile and flighty, wondering how to make conversation with a table full of women I didn't know. My extroverted tendencies had abandoned me utterly. It felt as though I had to relearn how to conduct myself in social situations. I nodded and smiled when conversation pointed my direction, saying as little as possible.
And what about you?
Conversation up until that point had been about their children, and now it was my turn.
My son died two months ago, I said. The words tumbled out of me so indelicately.
I saw the faces around me change as I told them about Ewan, our time in the hospital, about the roller coaster of everything. I pulled out my husband's phone and showed them a few short videos of Ewan, both before and after his surgery.
It felt good to be invited to talk about him, to share pictures, to shed a few tears with those around me.
And then I learned I wasn't alone. Right there at that same table were one whose son had died more than 20 weeks into the pregnancy, and another whose son was stillborn at full term. There at a table of eight women, three of us had experienced the death of a child. It had been some years for both of them.
I didn't have to struggle with finding the right words to tell them how difficult this time is, because they already knew. They had experienced some of the same cycles of good days and bad, of shock and numbness. They knew what it was to feel emotionally volatile and had experienced the unpredictable and wide ranges of emotion in a single day. They had used some similar coping mechanisms that they feared would make other people think they were crazy. They understood how difficult a night like this could be.
I saw in them something I already knew to expect: you never "get over" it, but you do learn to live with it and to find a new normal. And it might take awhile. I got a glimpse of the life that is possible beyond the rawest of moments: one lived with compassion, one where yesterday's pain leads today's grace and strength.