17 December 2011

I Wish I Had a River

It is difficult to believe that just a week from today is Christmas Eve. We have four stockings hung over a large bookcase this year instead of three over a fireplace mantel. We've got a North Carolina fir lit and decorated in a corner of our dining room, and have twinkling icicle lights hanging in the front window. Instead of pulling on thick cozy socks when I get home to protect my feet from the chill, now I swing the front door wide open to let air in during the near 80-degree weather here. Last year, we were not two, but three minus one. This year, we are not three, but four minus one.

Much has changed between Christmases.

christmas tree

The closer we get to meeting Austen for the first time, the more I find myself turning to memories of our first Christmas without Ewan. Though by now I have some practice at being Ewan-less for birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, I find it has not gotten any easier. Though she hasn't arrived yet, expecting his little sister throws into sharp relief all the things we've missed out on with him in the past year and more. And I expect that enjoying each of her firsts will do the same thing for all those first rites of passage that Ewan missed: first smile, first laugh, first bath, first everything. All her firsts will be something that Ewan didn't get to do -- and that is impossible to forget.

It is these kinds of moments I was thinking of when I wrote about the challenge of loving them both. It was not the case that I didn't think my heart would have room to love two children so much as it was feeling like I might rip in half from what loving both of them means. Loving Ewan often means tears and tissues and a throat sore from crying. It means recognizing that there is every day more and more of our family life for which he is not present. It means wanting to hold him close and lamenting the reality that his body is buried over 3,000 miles away.

Loving Austen is so different already. There is not the dread and uncertainty accompanying her entry into the world like there was with Ewan. We expect that with her, loving her will mean kisses and cuddles and singing songs that we make up just for her (just like we did with Ewan). It will mean taking pictures of her sleeping and smiling and being held. It will mean dressing her up and changing her diaper and falling asleep beside her. It will mean being present for and enjoying all those things that we didn't get to do with our son.

one of ewan's christmas ornaments

My challenge lies in the reality that just as for a mother whose children are all living, my love for them doesn't take turns. There is not a loving Ewan time and a separate loving Austen time. All the heartache and all the joy are happening concurrently. And sometimes the intensity of both feels as though it will break me.

There are still questions I ask myself about Ewan -- about what he felt and experienced in his final moments. There are still "what if?" types of questions that I ask. And I still have days where I cry out to God and ask him for my son back. Then Austen will kick and with tears in my eyes, I'll laugh at her antics. I will look forward to a life with her at home.

It's both all at once, and I don't know what else to say about it but that it hurts.

As I was out running errands this morning, I heard Sarah McLachlan's rendition of the Joni Mitchell song "River" come on.
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I could teach my feet to fly ...
Though there are times at which it doesn't hurt as badly as others, it never really stops. And like anyone in pain, sometimes I wish I could just escape it for awhile in a way that wasn't forgetting or escapism or burying my head in the sand and pretending none of it ever happened. I wish sometimes I could outrun, outfly, or outskate the way it hurts on any day, just so I could find a little relief -- but most of all on the days where I feel stretched so thin I feel as though I will disappear.

Sometimes, I wish I had a river.