Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Blueberry Bush Revisited

My little boy would be one year old right now.  At times like this, two days after his would-be-first-birthday, it's hard not to imagine what life would have been like if he had lived.  I wonder what he would look like, if his hair would have stayed blonde, if he would have grown into those big feet of his.  I consider what life would be like if he had been born perfectly healthy, and how things would be if he had lived for a year with special needs.  I get to idealize life, and convince myself that I would still be nursing, that we would have stuck out the cloth diapering, that we would have a well-behaved and brilliant little boy.

Of course, I have to wonder also if things would have still gone sour with Ben, if we would be single parents now, struggling to co-parent as we lived separate lives.

There is no rule book when it comes to parenting, people say.  If there's no rule book for parenting, there's certainly no rules as to how to interact with your soon-to-be ex-husband on your dead son's birthday, which happens to follow said ex-husband's birthday, knowing Father's Day is also coming up soon, as well as the anniversary of your dead son's passing.

Gabriel's first birthday was a day that I have been anticipating for a year, but it turned out nothing like I imagined.  I foresaw a party of some sort to celebrate his life.  There seemed to be much disagreement about what kind of party, if any, would be appropriate.  Ben and I took flowers and cupcakes to the cemetary.  Unsure of whether he would like chocolate or carrot cake, but certain that he was every bit his mommy's and daddy's boy, we left him one of each.

For a brief moment on Gabriel's birthday, I allowed myself to get caught up in memories and to pretend that nothing has changed.  I think I hurt Ben by misleading him into feeling the same.  But everything has changed.  Everything.

When Gabriel was home I didn't have much opportunity to sleep, though I was exhausted.  I would occupy my time, especially the late night/early morning hours by blogging.  One of my favorite entries was written then, an entry about a blueberry plant that came to symbolize my son's strength.  As I watered Gabriel's blueberry plant today I thought about the qualities I see of myself in the plant.  A year ago it was brown and struggling to survive.  Today it is green and growing, but still not full and as a productive as it could be.

In the last year, I've learned a lot about myself.  I guess I always knew I was strong, even when I didn't feel that way.  Now I see that I have survived what seemed impossible.  Survival sometimes means putting on a brave face, because sometimes that's what life requires me to do.  At other times it means allowing myself to really feel, even when it's inconvenient or debilitating.  Sometimes surviving has meant holding on to a troubled marriage.  Today, surviving means letting go.

Letting go has been a process.  I ask myself often if I gave up too soon, but the answer is always that I have given all I have to give, and that some things will never change, and that I'm unwilling to lose myself even more to this process.

But even as I've felt lost, sometimes even robbed, I've discovered things about myself that have been happy surprises, things I wouldn't have learned if it hadn't been for the separation with Ben.  When I met Ben I was preoccupied with getting married and starting a family.  I was terrified of being alone.  Today I see that even if I'm not married or in a romantic relationship, I'm going to be just fine.

I've learned a lot about guarding my heart and respecting myself.  I've learned that guarding my heart doesn't mean shutting people out -- indeed, I think I've become even more open through this experience.  It doesn't mean never having feelings, or keeping people at a distance.  It just means carefully selecting who I let in, and how much I will share.

A great fear of mine in getting divorced was that I am now old, used, and washed up, with little to offer anyone, and that no one would want me.  I've been stunned by the male reaction to my separation.  Turns out I still have something to offer.  Even more shocking to me has been my own response to learning that men are still interested in me.  My response is that it is flattering, and promising, but that I am not so very eager to put myself out there.  I'm not looking for a temporary fix.  I haven't become so jaded that I think I have to settle.  I've learned that I don't have to be on a mission to find someone, that someone who excites me and challenges me and stirs me will come around if and when they are supposed to.

People are full of well-meaning advice these days, including definite opinions on dating post-separation.  It turns out though there is no rule book on the death of a child, there are tons of rules regarding how a woman is supposed to handle herself once she's on her own again.  The problem is the rules all seem to conflict.  Don't date.  Date around.  Have hope that you'll find love again.  Don't expect or go looking for love.  Play the game.  But don't play games.  And of course, there's the tasteless suggestion that I find a "fuck buddy," often complete with an offer to be that buddy for me. I'm amazed by how many people think they know what is good for me, and how few people have confidence that I might know what is good for myself.

I'd developed a reputation as a staunch Catholic, but I suppose when I caved to the divorce, people thought the devout Catholic had been set free.  That's my fault.  I've been so angry at God, and I haven't been a shining example.  I go to Mass out of routine, I refuse to go to Confession because I'm not convinced I'm sorry for anything these days, and I skip Communion every week as a result.  I think often that I am putting my soul at risk and I consider my biggest fear, that if I don't behave I won't get to see my son again someday, but it hasn't motivated me like it used to.  I still cling to my crumbling faith and hope to find my way back someday.

Lately it seems people are pointing out my age more and more.  "You're young," they say, usually to assauge my fears of never having another baby.  In particular, though, Brad's words stand out to me.  "Sweetie, you're young.  You think you've got it all figured out, but you don't.  You're still learning.  One day you'll get it."  Some time ago I figured out that I will never have it all figured out.  It is a liberating understanding, but I think it is sometime misunderstood by others.  The fact that I am able to take my life experiences and learn from them doesn't mean I think I know it all, or that I think I won't continue to have life-changing experiences.  Brad is still wrestling with life as widower.  His wife committed suicide last year and while I sympathize with him, I think I of all people have earned the right to say back to him, "Sweetie, you're grieving.  You think you've got it all figured out because your wife offed herself, but you don't.  You're still learning." I'll match Brad dead partner for dead partner, except I don't want to get into a competition over whose circumstances suck the most.  It's not a competition I would want to win anyway and besides, circumstances suck but I have a wonderful life.  Maybe that's intimidating to Brad, that I could weather the storm that I've been through for the last few years and still be okay.

I certainly have my cynical moments.  I make horribly dark statements and I'm sure it freaks people out.  The cynicism is my defense, my way of tempering my endless, idealistic hope.  Despite the hard times, I still have dreams that I'm not ready to give up on.  I still hope I'll fall in love again; I hope Gideon and Noelle catch a bird this summer; I hope a girl wins American Idol next season; I hope the Mariners win a world series soon; I hope Ben gets the recognition as a chef that he deserves (he's THAT good, and I'm still one of his biggest fans); I hope Jenny has another baby; I hope I do too -- I hope I have twins, one for each that I lost; I hope to realize my dream of owning a bar from which I also run my legal practice; I hope to start a nonprofit organization in Gabriel's memory; I hope Lucy and Lee get back together; I hope Jerry finds a nice girl; I hope Jessica and Elise will learn to get along (:-P); I still hope my brother joins the priesthood; I hope the blueberry bush produces berries one day; I hope to reestablish my relationship with God because I'm not ready to divorce Him just yet.  I hope for a lot of things that probably seem absurd right now, many things that are outside of my control.  Maybe that's why my youth is so obvious, because I have a childlike, romantic view of what has proven to be a cold world. It's an approach to life that leads to inevitable disappointment sometimes.  Daring to hope for something I want is a risky endeavor and I often fall short.  I've learned in the last year, though, that it's not such a bad way to be.

For months I have thought about what my entry in honor of Gabriel's birthday would be like.  I am surprised as I write that I'm not more focused on him.  I think of Gabriel all day, every day.  He's my son, of course I do.  But his life and his passing have become folded into me, a part of who I am, a part of my normal that I'm learning to live with.  I still love talking about him and sharing his pictures and reliving the memories from a year ago.  I'm enjoying finally being able to set aside a space in my home to honor his memory.  It's just a few things - I never wanted to go overboard - that I think I won't mind moving someday.  Just enough to feel like he is being properly memorialized.  I've finally accepted what always seemed like just a platitude, that Gabriel is always in my heart and that's not going to change.  For his birthday, I got my greatest wish, which was to feel that he hadn't been forgotten just because he's no longer here with us.  A year ago, I experienced this phenomenal feeling that the world had literally stopped turning to follow the life of my little boy, and a year later I can see that I wasn't the only one who felt it.

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