I don't know if this just applies to me, but I find that when I'm in the middle of something intense, I don't see the big picture. Ok, now that I write that, it sounds totally normal. But I'm trying to forgive myself for it.
Caroline had her 9 month checkup on Friday, and, apart from being happy, healthy and smiley, she actually lost weight from her 6 month appointment. She dropped from the 75th to the 25th percentile in 3 months. Our doc didn't seem too concerned because she is otherwise thriving and just wants her back for a weigh-in next month, but I can't stop beating myself up about it.
Yes, I had noticed that she was fussy, and refusing solid food on many occasions. While frantically running up and down the I-5 corridor and back and forth between various hotel rooms and my parents' house, I would frantically nurse her before running off, then forget to even bring solid food to offer on our many restaurant meals. Our store of frozen baby food ran low, and I relied on store-bought fruits, with very little variety or calories. I figured she would nurse more, and usually she did. She also still sleeps right next to me, with an open buffet all night long if she chooses to partake.
She was teething, I thought, or her cold was affecting her, or she was just "off" because of all the travel. What scares me is that it never even crossed my mind to think about this even further. And really, I'm trying to not beat myself up about this. But, this is exactly what I'd feared would happen in my dark moments...that my grief would eclipse the needs of my children. There it was, writ large on the baby scale. And I didn't even notice it was happening.
Right after the appointment, I went to the Ballard Market and bought ingredients to make up a plethora of healthy, filling, yummy food for her. The moment I walked in the store, no fewer than three people cooed at her, how cute she was, how good. I walked over to the bulk food section and started discreetly bawling. She is good, she is so cute, and I hadn't been taking care of her. Not only that, but I realized I was desperately missing calling my mom, something I did after every doctor appointment. This was the first time I couldn't. I also realized that while I so badly wanted her reassurance about all of this, the very fact that she was gone was the reason the situation existed. Somewhere in a parallel universe existed a baby who had been well fed and nursed, who wasn't under a tremendous amount of stress over the physical and emotional absence of her mother, and who had a grandmother who would be answering the phone to hear about how much she'd gained and grown, and how enchanted the doctor had been with her in every way.
I was so angry.
And then, I gathered myself and my purchases up, went home, and cooked like a fiend. I made rice and lentils cooked in broth and blended, sweet potatoes, avocado, yogurt and bananas...I cooked and blended until almost all the produce was gone, and the freezer was full. I still don't feel completely better. But Caroline is smiling, and eating, and shoving apple and pear pieces in her mouth, devouring a half-cup of plain yogurt in a go, and smacking her lips for more lentils. All I have to do is take out the Cheerio box and she grunts and waves her arms in her seat. She gets all the food I can possibly offer her, and nurses whenever she wants. This is all much, much better. But the warning shot grazed a little too close.
This space has been empty for a long time. What does one write after one's mother has died? There's everything to say, and nothing to say. I told Mark last night that I feel like somewhere in my soul there's a deep, dark pit with my mom's name somewhere in the bottom, and I keep walking to the edge and peering in, then skittering away. Someday, I may fall in. But by then, it's possible that the hole will have filled a bit with dirt and time, and the fall won't be as great. Maybe it will fill completely, and I'll never fall. But the scar of the hole will always be there.
I've felt it already in the last couple of weeks since she left. Taking a picture of Sam, and suddenly realizing that I'll never show it to her, or Caroline cruising along the couch, and thinking about how she'll never see her walk. It's so easy to get caught up in the unfairness of it all. But is this what I'm supposed to do? Is this how grief is? All the books make you think that it's one long linear process, but now that I'm in it, I don't know at any given moment where I am in it, and what's next. I've already had so many surprises, good and bad, to believe any more in what to expect. I thought, for instance, that I would be sad, but mostly relieved when she finally died - mostly happy that she's finally free from pain. And there are those thoughts. But the overwhelming sadness that I've felt...I was totally unprepared for it. I was also unprepared for how grateful I was during the time leading up to the funeral to be busy and rock-solid, providing strength for others, even enjoying all of the old friends who came to her service. But now that life has returned somewhat to normal, I'm a little adrift. I think I just need to accept this feeling for now.
Funny how my kids have provided the most guidance on this strange path. Leading up to mom's death, both seemed edgy, unsettled. I prepared myself for the onslaught of emotion after it finally happened, and I told Sam about it, holding him in bed in the morning of October 20th. The amazing thing, though, is that it's almost as if a weight has been lifted from Sam. It's easy to forget sometimes that he's three, and three-year-olds like tangible, understandable, definite things, even if those things are negative and undesirable. Grammy has died. He went to the funeral and sat quietly and peacefully all the way through it, perhaps grateful that, finally, this was something permanent that he can understand, not the iffy, mommy-might-go-to-Portland-this-weekend, something-might-happen-to-Grammy-soon land he's been living in for the past year. He's talked about her a lot, easily slipping into the past tense that I have so much trouble with. And, blessedly, he's been liberal with the I-love-yous, the hugs, and the snuggles. My little man knows how much I need them right now, I think. Caroline, too, has become more settled, happy to be back in her routine, settling back into easy, milky smiles and grateful to be in my arms. And I think this is how my mom would want this to be happening with them.
I know it gets easier. The hole beckons, and I let myself look a little bit at a time, knowing that I have to manage this so I can still mother my kids and be a decent wife. The sucker punches to my gut when I think about how she no longer exists in this world will lessen, the ache when I look at pictures of her eventually will soften, too. This will all pass. But God, I miss her.