To build oneself with pieces that cannot fall away. Sounds easier than it is. Three weeks ago in my Griefshare session, the topic was that of labeling and moving past what you were to what you have become since the death of your loved one. The video discussed how we define ourselves is often impermanent: “mother,” “wife,” “home-maker,” “caregiver.” Those were my roles, in the past when I was asked to describe myself those words tumbled from my lips so often and now they have left a sickening film on my tongue. Strangers could supposedly glean all of my worth from those four nouns, well at least this is what I told myself each time. Yet in this counseling session, I was told that I need to trash this construction of myself to move on in mourning. The woman I had come to “know” so well these last seven years: Allison Gauvin, wife to Ben and mother to Julia, Beckett, Clementine and Wilbur, stay-at-home mom to be a full time caregiver to her children. These titles mean nothing now, everything has shifted because Beckett and Clementine are dead. Not only am I struggling with the passing of my two year old and three year old within 8 weeks of each other less than a year ago, but I need to recreate myself too?
I sat back gnawing on this bullshit for a minute, and the next wave of agony crashed over me. Through all of this I have lost myself, I don’t know who I am. A year ago, I could recognize every bit of this life in the mirror; but now it’s as though a third of my soul has left, just enough of me is empty to question my existence. This vessel I walk around in, is not the same this trip around the sun. The skin on my hands doesn’t crack and peel from washing 250 syringes a week for medication administration, my eyes don’t shift to the floor next to me as I reach for Wilbur because he doesn’t have a feeding backpack that I need to pick up with him, my ears don’t pick up the sounds of beeping monitors or gagging, my nose doesn’t burn and wrinkle from the scent of sterilization. I have vanished, the internal and the external. Or maybe I was adrift, finally just realizing I have lost my bearings in a current I am not in control of.
Giving life to someone, everything becomes mixed and combined, there is no yours and mine, it is ours. You cannot divide assets when they leave because you have come to know yourself through them. A child is an extension of the parent, bits of you walking around that you can grasp. It’s an amazing gift, to be able to look at this miniature parallel; to really see yourself from the outside. When Beckett and Clementine were born, it became so clear to Ben and I that we needed to overflow with love and strength, to surrender ourselves completely to them because our little ones would emanate those qualities and that openness. For three years, I threw myself into what needed to happen in our home for our family to survive. Our life was a galaxy unto itself, dusty and swirling. Constantly moving, it was chaos and bliss all spun into one blazing constellation. Then the circulation ceased.
On October 14, 2014 and December 13, 2014, all of the particles froze and fell to the earth. We’ve swept them up, pouring them into plastic bags that now sit atop our bookcase. The ashes of who we were, our family of six now a family of four. Life withers, whether we want it to or not. I’ve watched my child’s life flicker before my eyes. I have felt the earth tilt and crumble around me, with nothing left but burnt up memories. I’ve knit together four people over the course of 40 months, watched my body surrender to 100 hours of labor. Yet, I can only hold two children in my arms. Five to ten years from now, the time frame it could potentially take for me to move through my grief to a point of normalcy according to therapists/counselors, can I claim four children if we can only see two? I find myself choking on phrases like “Wilbur’s the youngest of four, he can hold his own.” Now the stranger I am chatting with is sifting through the details I have spit out into their lap, the physical math doesn’t add up. It comes to the eventual conclusion, “Wilbur’s older brother and sister passed away last year”- I try to casually toss it into conversation and move on because I don’t want the awkward silence and confused “I’m so sorry”s; but child loss is not something you can prattle on about nonchalantly while you push your kid on the swings. Everyday I make a conscious choice of who to share with, who do I bring in completely? Is the check-out person at the grocery worth the effort of spilling some of our story onto them on a Tuesday morning when I’m trying to get home for nap time; or do I lie and say it’s just the two of them?
Six and a half years ago, my heart started to beat outside of my own body. All of my senses were heightened and magnified, swelling to the point of bursting. Now the drumming is softer. The mornings bring the worst of the stillness, months of waking before the sun streams into our windows as twilight still envelopes our home. Forcing myself to look inward for a glimmer of light, turning memories over and over in my hands until they become white hot. Each day, I reach into my mind and gather these collections of what I thought we were, who I thought I was. It is now just seeping into my periphery that my life has not been hushed, I am no longer straining to hear my own pulse over noisy medical equipment and looming diagnoses. I am digging in, stretching as I meet who I truly am. I’m slowly accepting my own evolvement, but my mouth is stumbling over this unfamiliar translation.
I will always be a mother to Jules, Beckett, Minnie and Wilbur; even if not all on this ground or all at once. The muscle memory my body has retained is glorious, my hips still form the bowl that carried four little people and my breasts are hung where my babies left them to dry once they were weaned. Not everyone will know, but I do and that will just have to be enough.