Sunday, May 14, 2017

the measure of a (wo)man

recently, someone said to me they had realised a basic truth about life: that the measure of joy in your life is in no way connected to the measure of the amount of sorrow.  in other words, if you are very happy, it doesn't necessarily mean you should have very little sadness. and if you are struggling with some overwhelming challenge that leaves you  breathless with grief, this shouldn't preclude the presence of joy in your life.
there is no other day in the calendar of my adult life that so starkly racks this usually hazy duality into sharp focus than Mothers' Day. i am at the life stage now where more and more of my friends are losing their parents to the inevitabilities of age -- cancer, heart disease, accidents not recovered from.  they miss their mothers (and fathers) with a raw emptiness than i can only guess at.  i have my own inkling about it though, because i still miss my four lost children in a way that startles me.  how is that chasm of grief still so deep, and dark, with edges i cannot see? 

i am five years into being the mother of a living child, and every day of those five years has changed and shaped and challenged me in the best and most exhausting ways possible.  i have never before felt so much love, and joy, and also terror, and frustration, and above all, how strong i am.  my son is a miracle in every way -- and i know that the tenderness i feel when he puts his small arms around me is all the more fierce because i truly never thought i would have this experience. 
some of you have followed this journey from the beginning; some of you are new to it, and so i will admit to you all that yes, i gave up.  the clutching hands of my exhausted soul were cramping up after years of infertility and three lost babies, and i felt i had to simply let go of hope.  it actually felt good, like releasing a spiked iron ball into an ocean wave.  in time, i realised that it was being replaced with another, different kind of hope: hope for me, hope for my amazing husband, hope for the family of two that we were.  and since that was what i already had to work with, i didn't have to hold it so tightly.  so when i lost the much-wanted, and not-realistically-hoped-for-pregnancy after having my miracle-gift son, that spiky ball had been growing soft algae at the bottom of the sea for several years already.  getting through the day by focusing on my everyday, present hopes alongside recognising my crushing anger and hollow sadness felt actually normal.   i suppose i can call this Growth, or maybe it's just Growing Up. because generally, growing up isn't fun, but it is certainly healthy and good.
please don't hear what i'm not saying: i am not saying to anyone dealing with the grief of a denied future to just "give up hope." what i am saying is that the more i do the hard work of internalizing the dual nature of joy and grief; of having and having-not, the more i grow and the stronger i become.  letting go of hope for a dream that is not going to become a reality is a true loss, AND that loss is not connected to all the dreams that have come true; they should not lessen one another in any way.  there are many other things in my life that require this awful, messy work, and i cannot shrink from them with an unfounded fear that to do so would somehow decrease the overflowing joy in my life.

sigh. this all feels rather inarticulate, and i suppose it should be, since this is a lesson-in-progress.  i "know" all this, and yet i find myself more and more falling into the trap of guilt and denial over any present sorrow i still feel for my missing children: i have so much -- SO MUCH in my life that is rich and beautiful and marvelous, including a robustly alive son whose face, i am told, looks like mine. (strangers who tell me that on random playgrounds have no idea how deeply meaningful that is, how it feels like they are actually saying, "my dear lady, may i congratulate you on winning the Grandest of the Grand Prizes?")   shouldn't i just be able to leave those years of loss, and grief, and disappointment behind me? isn't it selfish to still sometimes cry so hard that i must sit down because something, anything reminds me of my other Tummymuffins? can't i just be happy with what i have?
the truth is, Mothers' Day is still emotionally conflicted for me. i cannot fully access the joy of my little son reciting a poem to me about our love and giving me a tiny flowerpot, without also fully accessing the years of pain this day has meant for so long -- both to me and to so many i love who are "secret mothers." both are real, both are completely heart-exploding, both are inextricably part of me, and neither negate the other.  perhaps the measure of joy and grief in a life is actually a measure of love.

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