(Artwork by CarlyMarie)
This week marks the six year anniversary of our twins’ births and deaths. Six years…I’ll be honest, it seems like forever. A lifetime ago. Yet, I can still recall every detail of those days with an hour by hour accuracy. I will forever know what I did in the days before and the days after – they are etched into my soul, for better or worse.
It is true that I am different than I was six years ago. Not better, not worse. I know people say that they wouldn’t change the gifts that grief has brought them – and some days I agree with that. Some days, I want to go back to the innocence of who I was before. It was simpler, even though grief has its own simplicity, too. In grief, the only end is acceptance – and once you get there, things are pretty simple.
I can’t speak about what grief is like for anyone else – and that’s the thing. I only know how it feels to be me, in my own story. That’s the isolation of grief. It’s not something I can make anyone understand, no matter how hard I try. I have tried over the years to reach out to others and explain what it feels like – and yet, there is still that chasm because no one can understand the specific pain of another person. That is true of all of life, I suppose.
These feelings have left me feeling isolated at times, and at other times peaceful – restful in the knowledge that I feel alone because I am alone. There is a sort of quiet validation in that knowledge.
But this post isn’t about how grief isolates a person, or a bitter essay about how no one can understand my unique pain (because we all have unique pain, and therefore it isn’t so unique, is it?)
Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about:
I still get triggered by grief, and it’s frustrating to me. As much as I’ve moved on in my life – and really, embraced the present – I can still be brought to my knees by random people, images, articles online, Facebook posts, and all sorts of insignificant stuff. I will be fine one minute, and the next I’ll see an image that will trigger something that can leave me feeling funky for days.
Because of this, I am gentle with myself. I have learned to steer clear of social media on certain days, and to find my lifeline quickly when the triggers inevitably happen. Some days, I am able to recognize the trigger for what it is – a mirage – and blow it away like smoke. Other days, I lack perspective and need friends to pull me out. Six years later, I know that the bad days always do pass – and that new days are a gift of beginning.
I am gentle with my brokenness, and know enough now to not get mad or frustrated at myself when I do get triggered. I surround myself with supportive people as much as possible, and try to stay away from the negative (and shaming) influences in my life. It’s not selfish, it’s survival.
2) Less Sympathy:
Just five minutes ago, someone posted on my Facebook feed about a mom with twin girls who had to go on food stamps when she lost her job after her girls were born. Our twin girls would be the same age now…and I can’t help but say that I didn’t feel too sorry for her. Her twins are alive, and you can get off food stamps (she did).
There is a finality to death, and it makes every other loss seem not so bad. Now, I know there are terrible losses, and tragedies, and things happen that are horrible to good people every single day. I have just learned that you cannot compare grief – because when you compare grief, you will always be the loser.
3) More Empathy:
On the flip side, I have more empathy than I ever did before. I know that sounds completely opposite of what I just said. That’s the duality of grief. I recognize pain, and loss – and my heart is cut open in a million ways for people who are going through hard times.
There are no easy answers, and I am less likely to give the person a pat on the back and say: “Well, at least you still have xyz.” I know better now that listening is better than giving advice. I know that being present is 90% of anything. I know that there is no timeline to grief. I know that what may seem like a small issue to one person can be the whole world of another.
When your heart knows grief, it is much easier to sit with another in their own grieving. So, I am grateful for the pain in that I can understand better the pain of another. I also know what I don’t know, and I am much less likely to judge anyone for any reason. Now when I hear that someone did something outrageous, I always pause and wonder what that person must have been going through to do what they did. Grief is messy and sometimes it can drive a person do insane things. The more I see of life, the less I judge and the more I want to know how to help.
4) You Can’t Make Someone Understand
No one truly knows the grief of another. Not to say that people aren’t comforting and do the best they can, because mostly they do. But as many people who kinda get it – there are some people who just don’t get it at all. And the truth is, they won’t ever get it. They might get it if/when they go through their own personal dark valley…and even then, they still might not understand.
Rest in this: there is nothing you can do to make another person understand. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.
And it’s sad. Because along the way, I’ve lost some friends. And many times it wasn’t them who pulled away from me. It was me.
You always hear about how people pull away from the grieving person, and how hard that is when friends abandon someone in their time of need.
In my experience, I’ve had a bit of that – but more often, I’ve been the one to pull away. I am the one who, when feeling like I am not understood, has chosen to break off the friendship. I’ve lost some damn good friends over the past six years. And a lot of it is on me, because I changed after the twins died, and I just couldn’t stand to have to try to be the old me when I clearly was no longer that person. Being with those people (through no fault of their own) reminded me of who I used to be, and that was painful. It exhausted me (it still does) – and so the easier solution was to let some friendships fade away, for better or worse.
If I could go back and change things, I might – but then again, I cut myself slack in knowing I did the best I could do at the time. I extend myself a lot of grace, and I hope that others do the same for themselves and for me.
5) People Forget
Six years later, a lot of people have forgotten about our twins. Life moves on, as it must. The first few years, I felt a need for everyone to remember them. I was desperate for their lives to have meaning, and it hurt me to think that they might be forgotten. Now, it is enough that I remember them. I knew them. I still know them…
I am more secure than ever that their lives had a great purpose, if even it was only a purpose in my life. I don’t need anyone else to validate their lives or make them have meaning. I don’t need a balloon ceremony (anymore) – and I don’t need people to send me cards and flowers.
Their lives are carved so deeply into my soul that they will always be part of me. Some days, I feel like a tree with the mark of their lives right in the center of me – with my rings spreading out with each passing year. In the beginning, that ring of the tree was on the outside, where everyone could see it. Now it’s deep within me and yet – it’s even more at my heart. It’s in everything I do, even if you never could tell from the outside now. That is eternal, so I don’t worry about the people who forget anymore.
6) People Remember
I know I said that people forget, but there are others who remember. Six years later, I have friends who still walk alongside me in my grief. People who aren’t afraid to mention my twins, or who don’t flinch when I bring them up in conversation. There are people who really do “get” me – and are patient with me, and are there for me when I don’t even realize that I need someone to be there.
These friends humble me, make me want to be a better friend. They restore my faith in humanity. They don’t need to remember, but they do. They listen. They don’t offer easy answers. They are patient with me during my valleys and they don’t give up on me. It’s a gift I can’t ever thank them for enough. They are the embodiment of grace, for I surely don’t deserve them.
Since the beginning, I have thought of our girls as my butterflies. It used to be because butterflies are so beautiful, and their lives, so brief and transitory. One minute they are alive, soaring , free – and just as quickly, they are gone. I still think of butterflies when I think of Vivian and Annemarie – just not only because of their brief, beautiful lives.
I think of the transformation that’ s happened in myself since they died. Before they died, I was a caterpillar. Yes, a caterpillar who had seen some things…but still, a caterpillar. After they died, I had to wrap myself in a chrysalis. I protected myself and went through a messy, hard, soul-transforming change. And now, six years later, I feel like I am starting to peek out of that chrysalis and spread my wings.
That, to me, is hope.
Happy (and Sad) Sixth Birthday, Vivian and Annemarie. I love you to the ends of the universe, and you know it. 🙂