Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Should she stay, or should she go?

I have mentioned that my profession requires me to study the past. I have come across historic cemeteries with many children buried within. I have written about former Presidents that have lost children. And I have written about the sad history of Mother's Day.
I love to study the past; to learn from it. It is important for us to remember past events when working in the present because it helps provide context. Hopefully it allows both sides to take history into consideration, especially during conflict, so they can move into the future together. But does that past have to stay in the past?

Without getting into a huge political debate, when groups around the world have been historically subjugated and then receive "equality" or "freedom," is it beneficial to continually bring up past wrongs for generations? Should we all just accept that some atrocity happened and then move on? Part of me feels that would be practical. After all, we can't change the past...although I have spent many sleepless nights wishing I could. But part of me thinks it is important to remind people, because we all know how short public memory is. People need to know something bad has happened or that the wrong team was backed.

When it comes to my own tormented past, I can't seem to move on. How can I learn a lesson from what has happened? I always considered myself a decent person and have made compassion, service, giving, and stewardship the foundation of my life. So what was it that the universe wanted?

Everything does happen for a reason (for better or worse), but I can't accept a mythical or magical explanation. Before January 2010, I wasn't naive about death. The scientist in me knows that we are at the mercy of natural selection and randomness. The historian in me knows more mothers and babies survive childbirth now more than ever before. Ellie's heart defect was an anomaly and we were lucky to have six days with her due to medical science.

I've been thinking about "moving on" a lot lately after two conversations.

1. I spent a week in Oklahoma camping with a Tribal Nation. One evening while reflecting on our time there, I spoke with an elder. I asked him about their beliefs on death, and specifically infant death. He told me that historically the family washed and then painted the body in red and then burnt it. This was followed by four days of grieving...the entire village grieved. And then, they "moved on." He said, "Why would they want to keep that child here?" By continuing to grieve publicly, by just saying the child's name, it was being prevented from beginning the next journey.

2. I spoke with a coworker who experienced two back-to-back stillbirths. I'm guessing it was about five years ago. She has an older daughter and a young son, born after his siblings died. While I was on the verge on crying listening to her story and talking about my own, she seemed at peace. I was talking about some of the charity events and outreach efforts I have participated in, and she stated that she used to be into all of that, but recently stopped.  

Am I holding on too tightly to the past? Am I keeping Eleanor here instead of somehow letting her go? Is it possible to "move on"? Some days I am barely treading water, while other days are happy and productive. I can't imagine NOT mentioning Ellie or including her in special events and holidays. But am I focusing too much on the past and ignoring my future (i.e. my two beautiful surviving children)?

January 8 marks Ellie's third birthday and my thoughts have been consumed with every moment of her short life for weeks now. Not a night goes by where I am not thinking about her before drifting off. I break down during my morning shower several times a week. I have been snapping at my husband and son more than I care to lately. I find myself secretly begging people to mention her or provide the opportunity for me to talk about her.

This tug-of-war between grieving the past and living for the future is exhausting. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think you can't grieve AND live your life. But the pain literally consumes me and I obsessively think about the what-ifs and I-should-haves. The guilt, either real or perceived, comes back. I get angry at the doctors and flight team. I can't turn it off.

Embarrassingly, I will end this post by quoting the most recent Batman...in a non-raspy voice..."There can be no despair without hope."  And I do hope. I hope I make sure my children don't live in the shadow of Ellie. I hope I can have Ellie in my heart always and accept that she is gone. I hope I can cope with the pain and grief and learn to not fight it. I really do hope.

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