(I wrote this on Sunday night, but wasn’t ready to post it until now.)
I didn’t see it coming.
The weekend was full of celebrating. Little Jack had been born. He was healthy and strong. The tumour that had worried all of us since it was discovered on a 20 week ultrasound was disappearing almost before our eyes. The mark that was left seemed little more than a birthmark – a little anti-climactic after the months of tears and angst and unanswered questions that baffled even the doctors.
I was rejoicing to hold my new nephew. Rejoicing to see my sister welcome her son. Rejoicing to see my little niece so in love with her little brother. Rejoicing to see the family all return home to their own house.
I didn’t see the sadness coming.
It snuck up on me. The first twinges came as I watched my sister nursing her son on her couch in her home. I thought it was tiredness from watching a two-year-old for a few days, staying up too late to welcome the out-of-town family who’d come to rejoice with us, and living through the emotional roller-coaster as fear turned to hope which turned to joy.
The twinges grew when I climbed into the bathtub hours later. “I think I’ll have a hot bath,” I’d said. “I’m feeling a little tired and achy.” I thought it would be refreshing. I didn’t know that my body was trying to tell me to escape to a quiet place where I could entertain the feelings that were creeping up in me.
The first tears surprised me. “What’s this?” I wondered. “I’m supposed to be happy. My sister has a new son and he’s HEALTHY. It’s better news than we even dared hope for.” But then melancholy waved its hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Remember me?” it whispered. “Your old companion? It may be seven and a half years, and I may not visit very often anymore, but I’m still with you.”
Then deep and abiding sadness, my old friend, wrapped its familiar arms around me and I nestled in, letting the tears flow. Trying to resist the sting of guilt over what seemed like utter selfishness, I whispered my truth to the bathroom tiles. “My sister got to bring her son home, and I didn’t. The answer to her prayer was ‘yes’. Why did I have to live with a ‘no’?”
I climbed out of the tub and did the only thing I know how to do when sadness creeps in and consumes me – I went to visit my son. At his grave I sat and wept. I wept for the lost years, for the empty arms, for the milk-filled breasts that didn’t get to nurture my son. I wept for the lost potential, for the “what ifs”, for the “what age would he be now?”
As I wept, I recognized – and almost welcomed – the comfortable warmth of tears on my cheeks. These were not bitter tears – nor were they tears of jealousy. These tears were the healing reminders of what had grown to become a comfortable sadness. Adding to the mix this time were tears of joy for the little boy I’ll get the privilege of watching as he grows up – a little boy who bears the family genetics of both my husband and myself.
“Matthew, I miss you. I wish you could be here to meet your cousin.”
As I whispered my son’s name, I knew that I was rich beyond measure for the complicated sadness that had filled the hole his death left behind.