I wanted to spend a post talking about being a parent, but I realized I don’t know how to do that. We delivered our first six months ago to the day. People say things to us like “Well, you’ll understand when you’re a parent,” or “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you have kids.” Some days I only want to scream “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you’ve buried your children!” I had a lot of ideas of how I wanted to raise the kids, and what life would be like. Now I mostly just hope that I get the chance to raise them, or at least hear them cry once before they’re gone forever. So, like I said, I don’t know how to be a parent yet. But I know what happens when that parent-child relationship ends early, and I’m starting to get a handle on how to get on with life. There are still bad days–a lot of them–but the last half-year has shown improvements.
The first thing I had to learn was to stop asking “why,” both in the mechanical and metaphysical senses. The gross physical examination didn’t show anything specifically wrong, any biological cause for the death, and I’m probably not getting any answers from the Big Man about where Jamie Shannon’s death fits into The Plan. It was hard to stop asking, because that meant accepting the death and moving on. Some days I still catch myself mulling and puzzling, but the simple fact is that nothing went wrong.
I’m also learning how to deal with criticism again, especially from people who default to being critical. Criticism was hard for two reasons, which were really two sides of the same coin. The first is that when our child’s life could go so wrong for no reason, how much worse are things when people can point out that things are wrong? Second, we’d already been through one of the worst experiences possible, so minor issues paled in comparison. Slightly-less-formal-but-still-correct-comma-usage, words-that-only-encapsulate-90%-of-the-idea, lifestyles-that-are-slightly-harmful? Dead baby, don’t care, shut up. Of course neither of those interpretations are correct, they’re excuses at best, but it’s hard to cut people slack when you can’t find any footing in life.
The crutches will come back out in full force. The excuses in the last paragraph were the kind of crutch I mean, but I’m really talking about the big stuff here. I’ve struggled with sarcasm, procrastination, extreme introversion, skipping church, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol at some point in my life, and booze and smoking are the only ones that I really ever licked. Guess what came out to play? All of them. I shut myself in, doing nothing, lashing out, bringing out the pipe, drinking half the time, and dosing on coffee the other half. My circadian rhythm was interrupted, progress on my thesis stopped, I fell behind on grading, lesson plans were executed half-assed, coughs and headaches filled the day, and I snapped at everyone. The worst part is that you just have to break those habits again before anything can get better. I tried waiting it out, to see improvement. I would have been fired first, and fallen even deeper. I’m still overusing coffee, and I’ve made my peace with that for now, but the rest are mostly gone. Get back into your healthy routine as quickly as possible.
Everyone wants to help, pretty much nobody knows how, which means you need to figure out some stock responses. I defaulted to “nothing.” People were great about offering food, friendship, comfort, and other things that we genuinely needed, but I’ve never gotten the hang of asking for or accepting help. I felt bad about it, like I was denying people the ability to be useful. Some people just helped anyway (Kristen, Angela, Keith, Heidi, Family), while others waited for a signal from us (Joseph, Hillary, Crystal, Eric). I appreciate all of it, even when I didn’t accept. I was stuck on the big picture issues that there was no help for, things like work. So find the small things people can do, and ask for help. It’ll save a lot of time.
Don’t rush it. I’m still trying to heal, six months later and with another one on the way. Do what you can, but don’t worry about what you can’t do. As long as you’re trying, and happy for any progress, chances are that things will be okay. But that means not giving up. There were days that I imagined driving down the road and just…failing to turn. I would have sailed over the edge of a few hundred foot cliff, and I don’t think our Hyundai is rated for that kind of driving. I could have kept up the heavy alcohol or nicotine. I could have given all my students an A- for the semester. There were a hundred ways that I could have given up. I didn’t. Emily didn’t give up on hers, either, and she’d just lost grandma a couple of weeks before. I think that’s really how things improve in general: a lot of small improvements or stagnant days and a big change every once in a while.
That’s it for relationships. There’s a lot more that I could write about: mom, teachers, thesis committee, friends, extended family. They all have an effect, but I don’t know how I would write about them. Thanks to all of you I didn’t mention in great detail, too. Everyone I’ve ever met has made me a better person, even if it’s by showing me who I don’t want to be.
I hope this series has done some good for readers, either in helpful advice or at least comfort. Good luck out there.