I was saddened to see Vice President Biden's son has passed away from cancer but surprised and appreciative of comments that our Vice President recently made about grieving were highlighted as a result. Biden has long lived under the shadow of grief though you would often never guess from all of the public appearances where he is flashing that huge smile. Same goes here. I've thought and said it a million times I think. Sometimes I just wish I could have something that signifies - "Lost two infant sons at birth" so people around me might just understand or give me a break when I don't have that big smile plastered across my face. I do find joy and I do have peace in my life. Time has eased the most painful memories farther back into my consciousness which allows me to recognize happiness and feel happiness in a way that I couldn't for some time after each of my sons' passing.
But there are still those moments. Our youngest daughter recently turned three, just a little over a month after we celebrated Eli's fourth birthday. After Eli died I made our older three daughters each a little photo album with photos of Eli and our family and Eli (some that the girls took with their own cameras that day). Well, the little one had been sneaking her roommate's album and began asking for her own. It was something that until then I hadn't really given a thought. Of course she should have her own. She talks about when Eli was in her belly and what a cute and tiny baby he is.
Then something else I hadn't given much thought to was brought to my attention. Wyatt. She should also have pictures of Wyatt. Why I didn't just do that when I put the other one together I don't know. I guess because Eli was more real to the girls because they touched and held him and Wyatt was born before all of them were even a speck in our eyes. I don't quite know for sure what he is to them other than a treasured name and birthday. So I gave the little one pictures of Wyatt too and now she talks about when he was in her belly and she held him.
I know these are fleeting moments, but I wish they could last forever. It is a bittersweet experience to hear their names and really look at their photos so often, but it is such a blessing that she says them aloud and cherishes their images as much as I do.
Yet all of this is hidden just under the surface. It's not something I can freely share with many people. Grief just isn't a topic of conversation much beyond the funeral. I've mentioned before that our parents don't always even say something on the boys' birthdays, but our siblings never do. But it's still there. We still think of them and miss them and catch glimpses of what could have been. The loss of a child is a profound sadness that you can never outrun. It's something that will drag you down into the depths of a seemingly endless dark pit and it will hold onto you. It is easy to understand feelings of desperation and no way out when you're towards the bottom in complete blackness. It is easy to feel like the sun will never shine again when it has been so long since you've felt it on your face. It is hard to feel like there is anything else out there but the blackness that surrounds you.
When I was putting the pictures of Wyatt and Eli together I noticed something I had not before. I wasn't looking for it but it just jumped out of the photos. In the photos where it was my husband and I with Wyatt we looked so very sad. It was painful to look at those photos. It was painful to remember those moments. I thought "of course we did". Wyatt was our first child. We had no idea how he would die or how quick it would happen. We were in the blackness not knowing what would happen next or how we would weather the next storm. We were fully submerged in our grief. In almost all of the photos I'm crying, even the ones where I'm smiling. My face is puffy and just sad. But in the photos of us with Eli we look truly happy. My smile doesn't feel so sad. I wonder if the difference is because I knew with Eli that we would be okay. I knew the pit wasn't bottomless and I knew that even though I couldn't see it, the sun was still shining and eventually I would again bathe in its light and warmth. Both of us just looked -- happier. Even though we were given less time with Eli and he was the second son we had lost on the day of his birth to the same frustrating medical condition.
Grief is ever present, ever changing and more often than not, ever hidden.