22 October 2011

Grief & Gratitude

The grief still throws me for a loop sometimes. Though I accepted some time ago that the loss of our son was one I'd be feeling for the rest of my life, the how and the when of the grief as it takes me manages to catch me by surprise almost every time.

As I was preparing yesterday's blog post on Thursday night, I was (as I so often do) going through pictures of Ewan and trying to find pictures of him in the blankets that are now draped over the sides of the crib in our nursery. I found the one of him swaddled tightly, intubated again, and lying on his side. That was in the morning, right before he went into the cath lab. It had been a rough night for him and his nurses. He fought the intubation and resisted every attempt to get the breathing tube down his throat (we were told between doctors and nurses, it was about five attempts). When we arrived that morning, his nurse told us that even with morphine, it took several hours to get him calm again. That's the day the curtains were drawn, the lights were low, and there would be no holding him.


That one picture had me feeling that moment all over again: mourning what he suffered, and us, not there and completely unable to do anything about it. It is no use telling me there's nothing I could have done even had I been there and frankly, I understand as much. But in that moment, that picture drew out of me the grief I still feel that we had to be separated at all, that at just five days old he was screaming at doctors and nurses and resisting intubation instead of sleeping soundly at home, resting quietly in the arms of his parents.

I had stop writing then. I drew a hot bath and then gave myself the freedom to fall apart, let the grief have its way. I've long since learned that there are moments where there is no use in trying to control the flood. The levees have broken, the tide has risen, and the water will have its way. So I let it.

And a beautiful thing happened in that moment. In the middle of all that pain and all those tears, there was gratitude. The gratitude I experienced was not for my present pain or for the memories I will always bear of what Ewan suffered -- rather, it was for the love: our love for him, his for us, and the love that James and I have for each other that sustained us through a very dark time. It was gratitude for the love and loyalty we experienced from friends and family, and the love sent from people who had never met us before, but still cared deeply for a baby boy with a broken heart.

At the root of all that grief and pain, there was love. And if there had been no love, there would perhaps have been no grief. This may have made things easier in the present, but that love was the greatest thing I've ever experienced. It occurred to me that there are people in this world who probably never experience it like this.

Facebook Status_10202011
Thursday night's status update

A status update on Facebook could hardly capture it, but all these things were so astounding to me, I had to share it. Mentions were made of optimism and a good attitude and no doubt those things play a part. I suppose I could have just as easily reasoned that it hurts too much for me to be thankful for it. But really, this gratitude was more blinding revelation than choice -- a clarity of thought I didn't previously possess, plopped smack dab into the middle of my consciousness, too glaring to ignore. I've long known that the love we experienced is a gift, but the realization of how deeply and inextricably the love and the grief are intertwined is a new and tremendous grace.

So I embrace them all. Grief, grace, and love are inseparably conjoined.

The morning after all of this, I recalled our last moments with him. I whispered many things in his ear the night we were saying goodbye. I told him how much we loved him. I thanked him for how he loved hard and fought so hard to stay with us. But I also remember telling him: You're the best thing that could have happened to us. You are the greatest gift I've ever received.

And so he is, and even everything that came after he was gone. How is love like that to be expressed? I know many would think what happened to be pitiable -- and it is that. I still wish Ewan was with us. I wouldn't wish the loss of a child on anyone. But it's not only that. To know a love that goes to such depths, that not only survives, but lives and thrives in those impossibly dark places -- that is a tremendous gift. That makes us not pitiable, but fortunate. That, I wouldn't give that up for anything.