Guest Post: Forgetting to Grieve

I am happy to feature the words of Kathy Mathews, a fellow grieving mom, as a guest poster.  Kathy is a blogger at ChicagoNow, and is approximately 5,327 times craftier than me.  You can find her words at Quilting! Sewing! Creating! here, or hang with her on Facebook here. I am grateful she is sharing her son with us today.  

My infant son Matthew was born with congenital heart disease and died four days after he was born.  He died on the operating table and for a very long time I felt I had died right along with him. What made it even harder is that not too many people had known him, shared any memories of him or even understood how a tiny baby could leave such a vast hole in my life.

His death set off a ripple effect in my life and the lives of others. Just like having a child who lives changes your life, so does having a child who dies. The first year each holiday was mixed with pain, I had imagined having two children, celebrating a baby’s first Christmas. I was constantly grieving. One day that year I forgot about tiny Matthew for a couple of minutes and I felt panicked. If I didn’t remember him, he would be so forever gone. Grieving him became a way of keeping him live, as if I would ever forget him.

I can look at pictures of my daughter from those first years and remember vividly the pain I was feeling while trying to live and enjoy life for her. My living child came first but my dead child was always there. Whenever we went to a restaurant it seemed each empty chair should have been filled with him. Those first three years grief was my constant companion. From that grief I learned lessons of compassion for others and to value the good things I did have in my life, but at such a terrible price.

I felt I got my life back when my daughter came from Korea to us, her forever family. I felt lucky again, I felt blessed. I never forgot my Matthew but grief was not my shadow, my ever present friend. It was tucked away and came out on Mother’s Day and his birthday. I managed my grief by avoiding sad movies or books. I couldn’t watch medical TV shows for fear there would be a baby die story line. I fought hard to maintain a positive balance.

I never wanted to go back to those dark days of such searing pain and grief. Each year I would remember him on his birthday. It was a private remembrance of what could and should have been. I would cry and the early years, anticipating his birthday was almost more painful than living it. Over the years the pain changed and the last really sad, hard birthday of his was when he would have been 25, maybe because that is such a milestone birthday.

In spite of my best efforts, I have revisited that fresh, hot searing grief. When my daughter delivered a stillborn baby girl Darcy, I found it almost impossible to separate my remembered grief and my fresh grief at her pain. I fought to save her from despair and battled my own grief. Once again life went on and I am the insanely in love Grandmother of a precious 7 month old baby girl, Zara.

This year on the 4th of July I was talking to someone about bad times of the year and realized I had missed Matthew’s birthday. His “would have been” 29 I had not cried or wondered. I was initially bewildered then surprised and have been pondering ever since how exactly I feel about this.

What I know is this. I have not forgotten my only son. I still wish he had lived. I have not forgotten the lessons of kindness, compassion and hope that I have chosen to take away from my experiences. Instead, Matthew has given me one last gift, he has led me to where I can still remember, but also to where I can forget to grieve.

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