Mother’s Day is tomorrow and I feel somewhat disengaged from it. Many friends and family members have (lovingly) been very mindful of the upcoming holiday and any emotions it may stir up in light of the recent passing of Teddy Oliver. They arranged a night away for my husband and me and have also been sending me sweet messages of encouragement to let me know they’re thinking of me this Mother’s Day. It may hit me like a ton of bricks out of the blue, but at the moment, I’m not feeling much at all. That’s one of the things about grief – you can only feel so much before you need a break. That’s when you feel “numb” and it’s like a brief period of respite from the tears and agony. The numbness turns into anger, and then you become emotional all over again. It’s this never ending cycle. Intense sadness, numbness, anger. Over and over again. I think it’s slowly lessening in intensity, but that could just be because of the phase I’m currently in.
One of the hardest parts after Teddy’s death is adjusting to this new normal. I hate it. I despise the free time I have. I should have been taking care of Teddy – feeding him, burping him, rocking him, changing his diaper, holding him close. The empty space is often suffocating. It makes it hard to enjoy Charley. I have tried to fill it with many things, but nothing satisfies. I did lots of online shopping. I ran lots of errands and filled my days with appointments. I felt like I was running from his absence because I didn’t want to be still or rest. Then I’d remember I was still postpartum and that Teddy would want me to take care of myself. So I slow down again and drink tea and have soup my mom has made me and try. I try to nourish myself. I try to heal.
After we came home from the ER that Monday morning and I had cried myself to sleep, the worst part was not doing anything. I went from caring for a high needs newborn baby to not having anything to do. I just sat there. I felt like I had no purpose at all anymore. Ben was overcome with an intense motivation to do something, and he put together our IKEA couch that had arrived that very day. I just sat there and watched. I’d break out into tears randomly and he’d come comfort me. We were both grieving in our own way.
As he was putting the couch together, I saw the balloons he had gotten me for my virtual baby shower just days before and I lost it. I told him to get rid of them and he quickly did. He came with me to pump every time my breasts felt like they couldn’t go any longer without leaking. He held me as I wept and pumped and he wept with me. I held the double hat that he’d worn all his life, the swaddle blanket he was last wrapped in and the extra blanket I always kept around for milk spills as I pumped. They smelled just like him and I wanted to bottle it up. That smell is the best smell I’ve ever smelled. Nothing beats that smell. It wasn’t just that yummy “newborn smell,” it was Teddy’s newborn smell. It was the first thing I noticed about him after his birth. I’m pretty sure I told Ben that Teddy smelled heavenly right after I had him. We’d hold his hat and swaddle blanket, smell them and cry, saying through the tears “Oh Teddy” and “we miss you so much.” Everything about the situation felt backwards. It just wasn’t right. It all felt so wrong.
Ben stayed with me while I took my first shower after having Teddy. I was nervous to be alone doing something I had done just hours before having Teddy. The only times I was alone was when I had to go to the bathroom. I numbly moved through the postpartum ritual of using the peri bottle to rinse and placed new pads on my underwear, my postpartum bleeding just another reminder that I had had a baby and that he was no longer here. I didn’t want to be alone. If Ben was in the other room, I had to be there. I just needed him next to me. Obviously I’ve had to move on from that since he had to go back to work, but I still feel stronger when I’m next to him. He reminds me that I was the best mom for Teddy, that I did my best, and that there weren’t any signs he was going to die.
I miss holding him close and nestling his head into my cheek and kissing the side of his forehead. I miss everything about him and I wish I could bring him back.
I would never wish this on anyone, but it has made me hold Charley tighter and cherish every moment I have with him. I check on him after he’s fallen asleep every night. I even cherish the toddler tantrums. I usually just give him a hug and they dissipate pretty quickly. I think it just goes to show that we all just need more hugs.
One of the most comforting things Ben and I have heard after Teddy’s death have come from two young brothers, aged eleven and thirteen. They don’t even know us but heard about Teddy’s short life and his death and were discussing it with their dad. The youngest told his dad, “it’s like Teddy’s life is trying to teach us something.” His dad asked him what he thought it was trying to teach him and he responded, “that we need to make the most of every moment we have.” The older brother chimed in, “yeah, and that we do the best we can with what we have.” These two young boys were contemplating the meaning of Teddy’s life and the fact that they were so profoundly impacted by it was shocking and a huge honor.