Our last labor and delivery was completely silent. A void of sound so deep, only someone born hearing, now deaf, could fathom. No beep of monitors, family chatter, or happy banter with the nurses. Our Ruby Claire slipped silently from me. We had 20 weeks of pregnancy with our precious daughter. This May, she would have turned 6.
I was thinking of her today, as I often do. I realized that I didn’t quickly change the subject in my mind. I was thinking of her, all the way back from the store, and..I could still breathe! I was no longer immobilized by my grief. It changed nothing about the heartbreak; my love for her didn’t diminish in any way as a result. The importance of her life didn’t lessen with the sharpness of her loss. But, I had released the guilt that was a part of our story. Mine and my daughter’s. Mine and my sister’s.
My sister, Shannon, flew in soon after we had lost Ruby Claire. I wrote a poem, The One Who Came, I have no idea where that is. The faith I had relied on to paint lovely pictures of my daughter’s heavenly home, had crumbled. I didn’t share a lot with her. Only the poem, and the tiny wrap they had put Ruby Claire in. We sat on my bed and smoothed that little scrap of satin and lace, a piece of someone’s wedding gown. Did you know, there is a special cabinet on maternity wards? It holds disposable cameras for photos many will not be able to develop. Hand-sewn wraps, in all of heartbreak sizes.
I was greedy with what little I had left of my baby. It was a drastic change from sharing everything with her. She was understandably hurt, and confused, by my unwillingness to open up. I was furious with grief. Seething under the surface so long, my attitude cool and removed. For years. She told me that I had changed. My heart was not so tender.
One month from her saying this, 4 years since Ruby Claire, I lost my sister to depression. I hadn’t softened the edges of my fury enough to really see that her illness was winning. I unconsciously, and in ways, consciously, minimized the depth of her sadness because I had given my own loss such weight. She hadn’t lost a child, I thought. She doesn’t understand how deep, how dark, the places in my heart. Oh, the selfishness of my grief!!
I navigate the minefield of regret several times a day. Suicide survivor’s grief is described as ‘complicated’. It’s very difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. So far, for me, the best memories don’t come to mind when I think of Shannie. Instead, it is more like what I imagined being in the judgment seat would be like. The slideshow is every negative word, thought, or deed that involved my sister. The last weeks of her life, everything that I missed. All the ways that I failed her. Far back to childhood, innocence is no longer an excuse. I have put myself on trial for her death. Our closeness only compounds the weight of my guilt. She was my person, and I, hers.
Not that I haven’t had blame that I was willing to share. I have. I do. It is still no respite from the responsibility that I hold. Years have passed, with no shift from this mental maze, this ‘complicated’ grief. That I had noticed anyway.
Then today. Today, I thought of my precious daughter. I forgave myself for not being able to share her with my sister. One reprieve. I understand now, that the rage was the glue holding me together. That I relied on it to move forward. It was my momentum to get up, be a mom, and a wife. Healthy? No…probably not. But it wasn’t without purpose. It fueled living. My Shannie, my sister, ran out of fuel for living. She would forgive me for using my fury to continue on. Today, I do too.