Four Years

After another year of neglecting this blog, I wasn’t sure if this post was going to happen. With so many lives and livelihoods being lost to the history-in-the-making events that have shaped the past few months, every time I’ve managed to steal a few moments alone with my laptop this week, I’ve found myself staring blankly at the screen before me, unable to shake the feeling that sharing yet another post about my own grief journey seems both self-indulgent and unnecessary.

In many ways, four years later, my grieving season hasn’t changed much. It always starts around the beginning of May, as the first hints of spring permeate the air and adorn the trees, never failing to taunt me with reminders of the blissful anticipation I finally started to feel as I neared the end of my anxiety-ridden first pregnancy.

I’ve been looking through the same photos, listening to the same songs, and watching the same videos that I do each year—the moving images of Leah’s brief life that I don’t share on social media; the ones that show her body being visibly ravaged by seizures and her tiny lungs gasping for breath. I’ve been sobbing the same tears alone in the dark as I whisper again and again, “I’m so sorry, baby girl. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.”

I’ve been mumbling expletives under my breath every time minor inconveniences throw a wrench into my daily routine, and occasionally yelling these sentiments into the air while slamming tables and punching walls.

I’ve even had a few difficult moments of critical self-reflection where I stop and wonder if writing an annual post for this blog is really about Leah anymore. Since leaving academia and joining the private sector full-time, this blog has become my only real outlet for meaningful writing. Maybe Leah’s birthday has become a justification for me to take time away from “real life” each year and invest it into a vanity project. Because, when I’m being honest with myself, I know it’s much easier to spend my time waxing theoretical about grief on this blog than it is to do the dark and heavy grief work that this milestone hurls at me each year.

Of course, as the past year has brought about some major life changes, this grieving season has looked different in some ways, too.

I’ve been thinking about the communities that have borne the lion’s share of grief during a global pandemic that has laid bare the ugliness of human corruption and hatred alongside the beauty of our kindness and generosity. I’ve been thinking about those for whom the rallying cry to end systemic racism that is currently reverberating across the globe is not merely a trending social media hashtag or fodder for political debate. I’ve been thinking about those for whom there is no “going back to normal” after the dust settles and the rest of us, with our chronically short memories, have focused our attention and outrage elsewhere.

And, more than usual, I’ve been thinking about Leah as I watch my living children go about their days. I’ve been thinking how I can actually feel time slipping through my fingers as these two beautifully complex little humans grow and change before my eyes. I’ve been thinking about how big and scary and cruel this world is, and mourning the fact that I cannot tuck them both away, warm and safe inside my mama heart’s infinite love, and protect them from it forever.

I’ve been thinking how glorious it is to finally hear my nearly-three-year-old speech-delayed son call me “Mommy,” and how cathartic it is to feel my seven-month-old daughter burrow into my chest whenever I hold her close and whisper, “I love you, honey girl. I’m so happy you’re here.”

I’ve also been thinking how similar yet tragically different my girls’ journeys have been. Unlike her brother and exactly like her sister before her, Charlotte catapulted her way into my world quite unexpectedly (all the more so after two false-negative pregnancy tests last March initially confirmed my assumption that I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, yet also couldn’t explain away my unrelenting cravings for egg salad). I’ve been thinking how, like Leah, when I got to see and touch Charlotte for the first time after she was removed from my body and taken to the NICU, her dark hair and chubby limbs were obscured by tubes and bandages, and when I heard her cry from inside the glass barrier that separated us, I broke down and cried, too.

And during the fleeting moments wherein I find myself with some quietude, usually while walking outside as my two living children doze off in the double stroller a former version of me never imagined I would purchase, I’ve been closing my eyes and allowing myself to imagine the other life I’d be leading if Leah was here. What would my four-year-old girl look like now? I always imagined that her hair would stay dark, but given the strawberry-blonde locks that have grown far too long down my son’s neck and forehead, I now wonder about that. What sort of cake would I be making for her? How would she feel about sharing her birthday with Father’s Day this year? The list goes on.

And this, I believe, is the one aspect of my grief journey that will never change—the lifetime of wondering. The lifetime of aching. And while I don’t know if writing a post for this blog will prove to be the most meaningful way to honour Leah’s memory on her birthday next year, or the year after that, I’m glad I was able to steal some time to write for her today.