Do you remember that old Saturday Night Live skit Stuart Smally? “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me?” I needed a little bit of that; a reality check. It’s absurd, I know…but stay with me.
Grief does unspeakable things to a person. When the grief is centered around the loss of a child, the unspeakable is taken to an entirely new level. In today’s society, we are getting better about how we understand grief; both our own and others’ processes. We know now that it’s not the five-steps that generations before us believed. We know it’s not twenty. It’s about eleventy-billion, and no one handles it the same (not even 2 parents grieving the same child.)
I like to think I’m a pretty real person. I tell the truth about what I’m feeling. I know it’s dark…damn sure I know it’s sad. What you read here daily is about a 5-10 minute snapshot of my 24 hour day, so you can imagine, if it’s dark and sad to read, it’s WICKED dark and sad as hell to live. But I’m true to myself and I like to be honest. I hope that in some way, that honesty makes even just one person feel less alone.
So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a Facebook live link the other night. “The lies we tell ourselves” when dealing with grief. Ho.Le.Crap. I found the Mother Ship and these are my people. In the wake of the death of someone you love with your entire being, a common theme often emerges. Blame. Guilt. What did I do? What could I have done? I have been struggling with this A LOT lately. (More than I care to admit, but because I’m admitting it, I’m telling you…a lot.) I’ve said it before, but I have a lot of guilt about how the last few days of Kate’s life were handled. How they were spent. I struggle to remember our interactions. Was I frustrated that I couldn’t help her? Did she KNOW how hard I tried to help her? How I scoured for answers? How I kept a journal of every single symptom dating back to December 25th!? What did we talk about? Did I tell her I love her enough? WHEN did I tell her I love her last? Did she know? Oh GOD, please tell me she knew!
My mind is playing absolute tricks on me. It guts my husband to watch me struggle through my guilt, but what’s more, it is now starting to plague my mind and have me question how I was to Kate as a mother. Yah. I know. Grief + guilt + this absurdity is going to render me useless unless I actively seek to destroy those thoughts in my mind. I have to let it go. I have GOT to let it go. I was with Kate for every single appointment but one (because I was hospitalized myself.) This does not make me anything other than just what I am. A mom who had a need to be there. Not everyone does; not everyone can. It’s just where I needed to be and how I needed to handle it. I gave her every medication unless my mom did while I was working. I suffered severe anxiety in the beginning; witnessing how scared she was of the syringe; the needles, everything. When it came time, I could barely breathe. I hated making her unhappy; doing things to her I knew she disliked. I held her down through port accesses, held her gently through steroid rage. I held her when she awoke confused and scared…sick and dizzy from anesthesia. I cried in the car, in the shower, at work or when she was asleep. Never, ever when she was with me. I cleaned up after every incident and comforted her every time she came to me. When she felt good, she was my sidekick. She was everywhere with me. Even if it was just on the couch reading. She was my PERSON. I love her. She knew that. She KNOWS that.
You see where I’m going with this? This mess of a mind that I have right now actually had me starting to believe that my own daughter didn’t actually KNOW my devotion to her. I worried that I hadn’t talked to her about God & Heaven, so therefore, I must be to blame if she was scared when her time came. I never talked to her about death and dying, so therefore, I must be to blame if she stood there, looking down on her Earthly body wondering what the hell just happened to her. When the PICU doctor told us, after reviving her once, that if they needed to try again…she likely wouldn’t make it, I didn’t pray. I didn’t pray because I was so stunned. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the situation we found ourselves in. I didn’t pray. I didn’t know she was going to die…oh my God so far from it…so therefore it must be my fault that I didn’t warn her. Prepare her. Hold her hand longer. Go visit her in the PICU more times that night instead of trying to steal 20 minutes worth of sleep. I didn’t know she had gotten a septic infection. I did not know about such things as sepsis. I didn’t know how high her white count REALLY could have gotten (our experiences when she was originally diagnosed were so, so different.) I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know. So therefore, it must be my fault, right? And therefore, it must be worth questioning my love, my commitment, my devotion to her as a mother. Right?
No. This madness stops now. I cannot let myself think these things when minds and hearts a billion times smarter than my own didn’t know. Things happened so fast and I’m certain that if anyone had any idea, they would have told me to bring her in right away…that we would need to say goodbye. I am certain that in Kate’s life, she knew. Kate IS love because she IS LOVED.
My post yesterday about “tell me what about Kate makes you smile.” Oh did that do something for my heart. Because in so (so) many of your comments, what kept coming up was how loved she looked. How happy she was. How she glowed. How you could see the love between us. In one note from a friend, she says “…I wish you could see how we all see you: a singularly devoted and excellent mother. Cancer is the ultimate foe. You were not negligent; it is a puzzle that even the smartest people in the universe cannot solve right now. We have all been fooled by it. What you did is to control absolutely everything you could for your girl. …The only thing you could not give her was one more day, because God controls that. I believe she is at peace. More than that…she is in a place so much better than where we are. You are the one that suffers now, Lindsay, not her. Just imagine your beautiful smiling baby looking down on you now!” I don’t share this to pat myself on the back; far from it. I share this to tell you that friend snapped me back into place. Back into order.
I told another bereaved mom, just the other day how I loved seeing photos of her with her daughter because they reminded me of the relationship I had with Kate. They were so close. So tight. So bonded. So then why can’t I look at MY OWN photos of us together and see the very same?
And as my husband says, “Lindsay, this happened to us. To Kate. Scientists have the ability to predict hurricanes and tornadoes now…does that mean it prevents the destructive outcome? Houses, belongings and lives are lost even when we are warned. Sometimes, things happen. We do not deserve it, Kate did not deserve it. But it happened just the same. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.”
All I can do is my best. All I can do is work to forgive myself for something that no one really actually blames me for. I’m not sure how to do that except to keep trying. To keep believing. In the absence of information and answers, sometimes our minds make up the darkest of lies. I know mine has. And it stops now. I am so, so sorry that I could not save her. But being deeply sorry does not mean that I need to assume the blame.
Kate IS love because she IS LOVED. And dammit, I am a really good mommy. I was the best one for her and I love her fiercely. I always, always will.