I woke up Wednesday morning with a smile on my face. I can’t remember the last time that happened. The night before, I received a text from my closest friend at work that she had delivered her first child, a boy. I had lived through her pregnancy in a way that I hadn’t ever done with my other friends. I remember helping her navigate the early days of pregnancy, getting baby bump pictures while I was in the hospital with Shawn and watching my daughter tenderly touch her belly at Shawn’s funeral. When I came back to work, we talked a lot about my life, which was sad, but we also talked about her happy future. I loved the distraction, and the excitement I felt Wednesday morning was real.
I got myself to work and even managed to pull myself together for my classes. Sometimes I have this out-of-body experience where I see myself, laughing and joking with students and I think, “wow, I’m totally holding it together.” That was how it was that morning. Somehow, I was continuing on with life.
Just as my last class let out, I got a text from my friend Mike that he was at my school. He’d recently sold Shawn’s car and now he needed my signature to turn the title over to another person. I appreciated that Mike had taken this task off my plate but it meant that all the grief surrounding selling Shawn’s car came falling down on me right at that moment. I didn’t cry, but the pit in my stomach was awful and I felt as though I was going to faint when I walked out to meet him. Let me be clear – I don’t need another car, I never really drove that car, and Shawn was actually about to sell that car because it was totally impractical. And yet. That car was his.
But I signed the paperwork. I had a lunch meeting just then, and so rather than deal with my emotions, I took a deep breath and went to that. I got in my car immediately afterwards, because today was the one day I would be able to deliver a new mama gift to my friend and her newborn baby. I snuck out quickly and made my way down to the hospital. My plan was to leave a goodie bag at the front desk as I didn’t want to disturb her. But the front desk ladies said I needed to bring it back to her room, and one thing led to another and I found myself in her room with her perfect baby boy.
She looked beautiful and her husband looked at her and the baby with awe. I remember that look. I have a photo of Shawn giving me that same look right after Claire was born. It’s a look you can’t quite imagine until you have your own child. Because, of course, it’s a type of love you can’t really understand until you experience it yourself. It’s parenthood, I guess, but it’s the raw and unfiltered look of brand-new parenthood.
I apologized for dropping by unannounced and she gracefully said she wanted me there to meet her baby. Her parents came in after a few minutes and her mom hugged her and scooped up the baby and everyone was overjoyed and laughing. Including me. Who can feel anything but joy around a new baby?
I left after a few minutes. I had a smile on my face and I even told all the people in the elevator about how amazing it was to see such a tiny baby.
And then I got into my car and started sobbing.
I guess I knew it was coming. Up until that point, I had to hold so much in just to make it through the day. I was so happy for my friend and her new little family.
But of course, I was so sad for me.
This time in life is supposed to be about new pregnancies and new babies, preschool snacks and baseball games. It’s not supposed to be about death. Yes, I’m at the tail end of my friends having babies, but there are still times like I had today where I hold a brand-new life in my hands. We are still young and we are still so full of life. Our children are still small, though admittedly not as tiny as the newborn I saw that day.
I should be going down to visit my friend and then telling Shawn about it at night. He should be saying back to me with a smile, “I’m in trouble! Seeing that baby made you want another one, huh?” We should be reminiscing about those first days in the hospital with each of our kids, the newness of it all and the grossness of their diapers. At the end of the conversation we should be talking about how we know we’re done with having kids, but gosh, wouldn’t it be great to have one more baby?
I know, because I remember having that exact conversation a year and a half ago when our friend Stefanie had a baby.
Instead, I drove back to school in silence. When I was almost there, my friend Mike called. The DMV needed the original death certificate in order to transfer the car title. “I’ll drop one by,” I told him. “I keep one in my car.”
Because that’s where I am in life. The bottles are gone, and I even took the last diaper out of my car last week. Instead, I drive around with death certificates in my glove box. And I’m not even 40 yet. It just feels so messed up.
The rest of the day went on, and I managed to make it through a staff meeting at the end of the day before I got myself to a casual dinner with my kids and some friends. I relayed my day to a few of them. “And now I’m going this evening to my last church grief group!” I told them, almost unable to fathom how this was all my life.
Later that evening, I arrived at church. The grief group was calm, as it always is, and we talked about life and death and God. I cried when I told them about my day. “It’s amazing that you can do all of this” one of the members said to me. “You have such great energy.”
Sometimes it’s true. I do have energy, at least in public, even though grief can suck it out of me at times. I wish it was because I was a special type of person, but mostly, I’m just doing everything because I have to. I have to do it for myself and for my kids and for Shawn.
As I was responding to my group, I thought of something that my friend Becky told me the other day. Her son, who is eight, asked her out of the blue, “Mom, what would you do if Dad died like Mr. Shawn?”
Becky was a bit taken aback, and told him that she wasn’t really sure. Before she could say anything else, he said to her, “I think if that happened, you’d just brave through it like Ms. Marjorie.”
Brave through it.
I guess that’s what I’m doing. Braving through it. I like the way that sounds – more powerful and hopeful, rather than like I’m a victim or someone who is just enduring the worst.
I think that was how I did Wednesday – I just did it. I sold the car and I delivered the death certificate and I held a newborn baby even though doing all those things together made me cry.
Sometimes I am weak. Sometimes I don’t feel like I am making it. But some days I brave through it.