Monday, March 25, 2013

Unexpected Anger and Jealousy Following My Baby's Death

When people ask you
“Am I right to be angry?”
Have you thought of asking them,
“Am I right to be thirsty?”
Theodore Isaac Rubin

            The following morning, Chris and Parker left for work and preschool after preparing me with reading material, beverages, a bedside phone and my pain medication. My cat, Pumpkin, curled between my knees, while my faithful Shetland sheepdog, Beauregard, took his familiar bedside station on the floor. Apart from my treasured animals, I was alone, to rest in quiet and wait for the hours to limp by.
            Because I continued to experience rapid exhaustion and mild dizziness under minimal physical exertion, Dr. Gordon gave me strict orders to navigate the stairs only once a day for at least three to four days. Until my mother arrived to help, I’d remain sequestered in my upstairs bedroom for the majority of the day, unless I ventured downstairs for my one-time-allowed-a-day trip in search of lunch or a snack. Dr. Gordon also suggested that I record an answering machine greeting to inform people of my need to rest and recover, and to thank them for their concern. A few friends did call, saying that I could call them if I wanted or needed conversation.
            I vacillated between wanting to carry on in detail about the events leading up to Victoria’s death and recoiling against the thought of reminiscing one more time. So, I opted for not answering the phone and simply being encouraged by the messages left. Dr. Gordon warned us there’d be moments when I just didn’t want to acknowledge the world, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to communicate with everyone who called. I shouldn’t feel guilty about needing peace, quiet and time to attend to my physical and emotional debility.
            However, when my mother arrived, she was incensed to think I didn’t feel a sense of responsibility to answer a call or promptly return messages. She chastised me about this glaring character flaw on one occasion when we were taking Parker to school, hotly stating, “I can’t understand why you even have a phone if you’re not going to answer it!”
            I screamed a reply from my backseat vantage point, “I’ve just lost a daughter! I don’t think I should feel obligated to answer the phone when I don’t feel like talking to anyone, when I’m unable to talk to anyone! Why can’t you tell them I’m resting, that I appreciate the call? I think my friends are capable of respecting my feelings. If they aren’t there is nothing I can do about it. If you think the call might be for you, and you want to answer it, go ahead!”
            The loss of a daughter registered with my mother. Twelve years before I was born, she and my father lost a baby girl during the eighth month of pregnancy due to umbilical cord strangulation. “You’re right,” she spoke softly. “I’m sorry,” Enough had been said. We weathered the remainder of the drive in silence as I sat shaken, fighting burning tears, and anger at her insensitivity.
            Because of my mother’s own prenatal loss—and apparent lack of having healed from it—her visit didn’t go well. She and my father never discussed their loss with one another; they never outwardly grieved together or acknowledged their pain. My father had made the decision—on the doctor’s poor advice, and without consultation with my mother—that she not be allowed to see her deceased baby. Sadly, my sister, Cheryl, was buried in a simple Kansas City, Missouri grave marked only by an infant identification marker. My mother never saw her child’s resting place.
            No memorial, no closure, no outside support. No goodbye. Now, forty-seven years later, my mother confronted the pain and re-injury of old, poorly healed, scabbed-over wounds and was forced to contend with a fresh injury to lay aside the old one: the death of her baby granddaughter. Having merely coped with her previous loss, her volatile emotions balanced on shaky ground. Consequently, she had difficulty comforting me, and I lacked the capacity to assist her in her bereavement. Our pain often manifested itself in angry shouting matches, or in awkward, wordless moments as she sat and cried while looking at the pictures of Victoria and her tiny footprints. “Don’t show these to your dad,” she implored me. “He wouldn’t be able to take it.”
            At other times she acted as though nothing had happened. That was the case when we sat down to eat lunch at a department store snack bar just two weeks after my surgery. She repeatedly pointed out a toddler sitting behind me, insistent that I turn to gaze upon the adorable little girl. “Isn’t she cute?” she kept repeating, nodding firmly, persistently in the girl’s direction. “Look at her, Andrea,” she commanded. “Isn’t she cute?”
            “Yes, I saw her,” I mumbled through clenched teeth as I fastened my eyes on the table and battled an impulse to run—screaming, wailing—from the building, far away from the unsympathetic, detached world. Run from the fear, anger and brutal emotional pain, the memories that replayed like a hideous revolving carousel in my mind. I yearned to curl into the fetal position and hide. Disappear. My mother could sit and admire. Unexpected envy and jealousy threatened to crush me; an insidious, invisible vice encircled my chest and throat. Breathe, Andrea. Breathe. Quickly refocusing my eyes on Parker, I attended to his needs and fiercely ignored my surroundings. Then I abruptly stood up, indicating an end to our lunch. I couldn’t return to the sanctuary of my home fast enough.
            When I wanted to sit in silence, my mother wanted to talk. When I was open for communication, she retreated to the guest bedroom. I attacked Chris with complaints about her when he arrived home from work; she complained to Chris and to my father back home in Hawaii about my insolent attitude. Neither of us was willing to take that painful, vulnerable step across a self-imposed barrier and reach out to touch, hold, and really love one another. Resurfacing, controlling anger bound us; each of us remained barricaded in our individual cocoons of pain and sorrow, angry because we’d fallen woefully short of expectations for one another and for ourselves. I wasn’t strong enough, or willing enough, to let go of such tangible emotion. I claimed it and nurtured it. I wanted to be angry at the injustice dealt me. It would be months before I’d be willing to give it up and let God lead me out of the abyss in which an unforgiving spirit and fury had plunged me.
             For the next two weeks, our master bedroom became my refuge from the outside world, and I quickly retreated to its sanctuary when the burden on my senses became too much of a strain. I buried myself in the bed covers and distracted my mind in the pages of books, and began to rely heavily on the prescription pain killers as an elixir for both my physical and emotional suffering. When I phoned Dr. Gordon’s office to request my one additional refill, I was motivated more by an urgent need to dull my tormented, grief-stricken mind than alleviate somatic discomfort. 
            When Dr. Gordon pronounced me well enough to drive myself around, my mother decided I no longer needed her help. After two weeks she gratefully packed her bags and returned home.
            I was about to take a step forward into the longest year of my life.

NEXT WEEK: I’ll take a one-week break from my story and discuss the pain of grandparents when their child loses a baby, and they have lost a grandchild.

NOTE: I will be adding an extra post this Thursday for Easter. I’ll look at Christ’s Last Supper with his closest friends.  Is He the fulfillment of the Passover? And if He is, what does that mean for you?

Until next week.

Thanks for joining me!