I think I am branded.
Not that I am Cartier or Ralph Lauren or Valentino or Tiffany.
But something along the lines of: Bad Luck!! or Stay Away!!
I already have a sneaky feeling some people may feel that way about me after Ferdinand died, but I have kept my head high and pretended to be haughty but now something tells me that I must be branded. And not only that, I am chopped liver.
It is time for a story.
When I had a young child and a baby strapped to me in a carrier I met a Chinese women at the library’s story time. She is A and she approached me asking me if I speak Chinese and what I thought of the age gap between my two children. She told me she had been thinking of having a second baby but unsure of the timing. I gave her my BS about no perfect timing and children’s temperaments and similar parenting cliches. We found we did like each other and exchanged telephone numbers. A couple of months’ later at story time she excitedly told me she was pregnant.
At that time I had a good friend B, also Chinese. I introduced A to B and we became a trio.
Our favorite thing was to get together for a dumpling rendezvous. We usually meet at B’s house and we would shred bowls molded high with cabbage. And we will mix in even larger bowls cabbage with ground pork, minced ginger and condiments. Each of us had our theory of what would be the best combination and had our own little tricks and traditions. Between us three we came up with a compromise and the perfect formula. And we would wrap dumplings, many of them. Hands busy, helping the little fingers that want to help, positioning the right amount of filling onto the dumpling skin, crimping the edges, arranging the dumplings. All the time our mouths yakking away and laughing.
Soon, every surface in the kitchen would be covered with trays and plates of dumplings and the cooking then began in earnest. Two large pots of boiling water, and we instinctively worked out a dance between us — alternately looking after the dumplings bopping in the water, stirring, adding more water (the dumplings need to come to boil three times), removing the dumplings with a slotted spoon and then adding more, all the while keeping an eagle’s eye out for curious fingers trying to make away with raw or hot dumplings.
And then, we sat down to eat to our fill. Devouring the hot and satisfying goodness and patting each other on the back for yet another dumpling mission accomplished.
Stomachs filled, we would flop onto the couch, the kids playing near by, babies latched on, and we would talk. We were all Chinese, but grew up in three different countries, under different political systems and varying cultures. We exchanged stories and views. We talked about dreams and shared frustrations.
Good times run out. They always do. A moved to the next town and there she found many neighbors from her own country and was spending much more time with them. Still, we kept in touch and when B had to move to another state, the three of us got together for a warm and fuzzy farewell dinner.
A emailed me twice after Ferdinand died. After Lyra was born, she delivered a meal. She was busy, but still from time to time she talked on the phone with B.
Recently I spoke to someone and she asked, “Haven’t you heard? A is pregnant.” I replied that I did not know and she stumbled and said, Well, it is still early. And I thought, Yes, it is still early, but you know, and I don’t.
And truthfully I did not give much thought about it until I spoke to B a week later and she told me that A called and told her the news. A called B, in another state, to tell her the news. Hello? I live in the next town.
But then, I guess I am the branded chopped liver. Better not to tell me, in case I taint her news. I can understand, I really do. People really want to remain happy with their news and not have to think about the possibility of themselves experiencing the same random bad luck. I represent that awfulness and so I was shunned. I can imagine she would rather associate with people who had happy endings to their pregnancies.
She is probably as far along as I would have been.
I hate to have to admit this but I have lost some friends after Ferdinand died. Some slunk away silently without saying a thing, because they did not know what to say, and then they basically fell off the planet. There are some who gave me space and then vanished into space themselves. There are a few who stuck around, long enough till Lyra was born, but when after that it was evident that my grief had not expired with Lyra’s birth, they gave up on me and disappeared too.
You have to believe me when I say I do not talk about Ferdinand all the time, or sob all day long, or use stillbirth as a punctuation mark.
I am not a perfect friend, but I do not believe I am lousy either.
I think I know why people left. I had thought of something I would like to tell them but they will never hear it, because I have no intention of contacting them again. Not as a tit for tat, but more because I do not wish to make people feel bad. I don’t want them to think, Oh crap, she wants me to say sorry or what? Or that they had not done the right thing or said the right things. Moreover, how do you re-introduce your entry into the “normal” world again? Do you say, “Hi, it’s me again. You’ve ignored me the past x months but I would like to be your friend again. Are we cool?”
I just do not see myself writing an email like that. And I firmly hold the belief that in life, our paths cross for a reason, and part for a reason. And there is always the possibility of meeting again somewhere further down the road. I gave myself a little time to mourn the people who had left my life, and then I have moved on.
Except these words had been running in my head every time I had trouble falling back to sleep:
Please do not be afraid to look upon my grief. It is not contagious. My grief is a part of my life, it will never go away, unless my heart is dead, and I no longer can love. Grief and love are intimately connected. So yes, even though it is not contagious, it may still touch you one day. Actually, it will. You may already have grieved, and mourned, without knowing it. If it had not been in your past, it will be in your future, because you are a living being, who actively participates in life, and therefore you have people, and things that you love, and one day you will lose them, and you will grieve.
Haven’t you had to give up a crummy little toy, that the adults could not understand the significance of? Have an adult ever pry a flimsy little craft from you, and told you to put it in the garbage can? It was nothing glorious, but you put your heart and soul into it. It was clumsy because your little hands could not handle the glue and the scissors to fit everything together perfectly, but it was a manifestation of a precious seed of your idea and you saw it came into being, and even though it was fragile and seemingly imperfect, it was a part of you, yet the grown-ups could not understand and told you to dump it. Had you cried then, or felt no one understood? It was kind of like that for me. My son did not look very pretty. He was small and fragile and he flopped about when I tried to dress him, but he was born out of love and I loved him very much, even if I held him for precious few hours. Some people wished I would just forget about this imperfect thing that happened, but how could I? He was our little son. You may sometimes have laid in bed and thought of your precious little craft or doll, and I do too. It is really the same.
So, my grief is just a part of my life journey, and you probably think it looks so jarring, and I guess it is. It was a shocking thing to experience, but life is full of surprises, including nasty ones. But slowly it had become a part of me, and I learn to live with it. I did not pick some of my experiences, so I can only choose my attitude. And you may not agree with the way I had dealt with my grief, but that does not mean that I am wrong. I am not sure there is a right way to live with grief, but everyone certainly needs to figure out their own way, and your patience will be so appreciated.
Please do not fear my grief. It is not death. On the contrary, it is throbbing with life. Only the living can grieve, even if they may feel like dying or feel they are dead. Grief is the dance between the dead and the living.
I feel grief, because I have feelings. Grief is a feeling, albeit a big one. Feelings are how we respond and interact with this world and our experiences. They come and go, but they always exist. I am not afraid to feel what I have to feel, because they are all about who I am and what my life is. In meditation we watch feelings come and go. We acknowledge these feelings and honor their place in our lives. Enlightenment is not about having no feelings. It is about embracing these feelings with grace and wisdom. It is appreciating these feelings and feeling compassion for all beings knowing that we will all have these feelings. Sometimes my grief is a small puff of passing cloud. Sometimes it is a light breeze, or a fleeting lightning in the distant horizon. Other times it is a raging storm that will not let up. It had also been a burst of rainbow.
I feel grief, I experience it, but it is not my name. You need not fear me. I am not an inconvenience, although I’ll admit sometimes I do not make for pleasant company. But I’m afraid there will always be times when I would not make for jolly or charming company, even if my son had not died. And the truth is, no one is always perfect company. This is just life, and we are all trying our best.
Postscript: I wrote this post last week, but scheduled it to go live this week, not wanting something negative so close to my anniversary post. I got a call from A this past Saturday. She wanted to know if we will be using our cabin for Labor Day weekend, for she would like to use it,. Being at 20 weeks, she was feeling very uncomfortable in this heat. I guess you can call this killing two birds with one stone, telling and asking in one call. Although I suspect the main topic was the cabin. We had already planned to go up to our cabin to do some clean-up and maintenance; she told me I need not apologize. I felt even more like chopped liver. She waited that long to tell me, and only because she would like to use our cabin. At least I know she is not as far along as I would have been, but 8 weeks ahead.
Why do I have to write this, I asked myself. Why can’t I just let it go? In this process I have made my friend look bad, and I do not profit in the process. As they say, you can’t slung mud at someone else without soiling yourself. I think in a way I am grieving another lost friendship, and trying to process it. Nothing is permanent, things change. I do not harbor ill feelings for my friend. I am just sad it has to fizzle off like this. Maybe it still would, even if Ferdinand had not died. People just grow apart. Simple. This is just life, isn’t it?
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