When I was 21 and a week away from my college graduation, my 11-year-old cousin died. An accident on the family farm. Sudden. Tragic. Horrific.
I was student teaching his six grade at the time, spending every day with other 11-year-olds. His death hit me hard.
After his funeral, I returned to my old college house, with my five roommates who were increasingly upset about our upcoming graduation, about moving on and away from our college community and each other. Together, we attended our college mass. Almost all seniors were intermittently crying; after all, it was our last mass.
I didn't shed one tear.
I remember a friend asked me why, and I responded, "I'm all cried out. I just attended an 11-year-old's funeral."
My cousin's death really put things in perspective for me. How fortunate were we to be able to take the next step in our lives?
As someone who is a natural worrier, I've tried to keep that perspective with me since then.
People tend to get upset about milestones that are a natural part of life. Or they stress about problems that money can fix. Or problems that will be resolved over time.
There's really only one thing that's not fixable.
Soon after Lydia died, a colleague of mine broke his leg. It was a bad break. With my "medical leave" (not the "maternity leave" I had planned for) after her death and then his medical leave after his accident, I didn't see him for a few months. When I first saw him again, he commented about his leg as if that was the biggest event since our last meeting. He did not mention Lydie. I was dumbfounded. Your leg will heal. My daughter will not.
When I hit a curb a few weeks ago and immediately got a flat tire, I laughed about it. Just what I need at this point in time. Guess I know what we're doing over the weekend: tire shopping! And it was annoying, sure. It was money we shouldn't have had to spend. But as my mom constantly reminds me, shit happens. And this problem was fixable. And so I threw my money at it and the problem went away.
When I kid, I refereed under-8 soccer. Ten bucks an hour in my pocket felt like BIG money. At one point, I made a bad call and a coach yelled at me.
After the game, I dredged up all my thirteen-year-old's courage and I approached that coach and apologized to him for my bad call.
"You won't remember this in ten years," he told me.
Ironically, I do, but only because his comment has stuck with me for the last twenty-something years. It's a good way to measure the things I stress about. Will I remember this problem in ten years?
A lot of us in the baby loss community have trouble being out in public after our loss, whether it's running to the grocery store or attending a child's birthday party. We belong on Planet My Baby Died and nowhere else. How people can stand around and talk about the mundane boggles my mind.
Right now, it feels like I belong on Planet My Baby Died and I'm not sure this one's going to live either.
A coworker complains that she keeps waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about work. Oh really? That sounds delightful. I wake up in the middle of the night, terrified that this child has suddenly died on me too.
The things I would like to say sometimes.
A friend complains about her birthday, about being another year older. How lucky you are to have another year, and I envision the certificate given to us by the funeral home that reads "Lydia Joanne Welliver, age 0."
I have found that I have hated the question, "How are you?" since Lydie died. When people use it in passing, as a greeting, I don't bother to respond. When they seem earnest, like they are waiting for a response, I say "hanging in there." Which I am. Sometimes not as well as other times, if you'd like to delve into that mess. I am shocked when people who know our story respond by saying things like "Oh me too! Things are just so busy lately!" Right. Busy-ness. Right. More like, I meant: So far, this baby hasn't died. But I am constantly worrying about it. I nod and smile and walk the hell away.
I already had this perspective. I already tried to remember that the only thing that matters is that we are alive and healthy. I tried to remember that things that feel like big problems often aren't big at all, in the grand scheme of life. Then my daughter died. And I was taught that perspective again. And while I still catch myself stressing about being caught in traffic or the washing machine breaking, I am much better at remembering that nothing else matters.
Nothing else matters.