My baby died, seven or so weeks after his conception, I can’t quite remember how many weeks exactly. I know I could dig up the exact number if I looked through my old emails, but it doesn’t seem important. It was early, early spring; there was slush everywhere. I may have seen his body, but I can’t be sure. Hard to tell, among all the gore and blood clots and unidentifiable material, what was him and what was me. And I didn’t look too closely.
Friends told me to have my miscarriage over a strainer, so I could catch his body, see it, and bury it. I didn’t. I remember thinking incredulously, “What would I do with the strainer after that? Keep using it to drain pasta?” The idea of using an ordinary strainer was unimaginable. Use the strainer, and then clean it carefully (in the kitchen sink?) and throw it out? Bury it?
The logistics of the suggestion completely paralyzed me. Life was clearly never going to be ordinary again. It was too bizarre to imagine this everyday tool playing a part in a storyline that felt like my own death.
I guess death always makes us balk at the way life just…keeps happening, the same as ever. Maybe you bury your son, or maybe you don’t, and go to bed to cry out all your guilt and exhaustion and grief and fear. Whatever you do, you’re still going to have to eat, and feed your other kid, and sleep, and before you know it, you’re talking about the weather again.
How does something so cataclysmic become, imperceptibly, so totally mundane?
I don’t know when it happened, but I realized that I’m not sad anymore. My miscarriage was a few years ago now. I thought I’d be sad forever–I want to be sad, and I feel like I should be, but I don’t know how to be. Grief was the only way I had to honor that baby’s short life, but I can’t reach that sadness anymore. I had a baby after that baby, and she could knock you over with her smile.
I wasn’t expecting the emotion to fade. I didn’t think something as big as that grief could ever get totally subsumed by the accumulation of enough ordinary hours. I thought it might diminish; I didn’t think it would ever be gone. I don’t know when that happened.
That’s the thing about the present moment. It’s so unremarkable, so unimportant, when you compare it with the moments that stand out and leave a mark on your soul. But the ordinary has a power that we often overlook. The present moment, so easy to ignore when you’re excited about the future or grieving the past, is patient. It’s always pulling us back. It’s always grounding us in our immediate lives, the working, sleeping, playing, eating—the living.
I wonder about that strainer. If I had used it, and kept it, would I be able to look at it without flinching? Can anything at all become ordinary, if enough time goes by? Not in the case of trauma, of course. Trauma stays eternally present in our minds; it’s never filed into the brain’s long term memory storage. Trauma always feels like it just happened, yesterday, or a minute ago.
But ordinary grief? Grief of any kind is too big for a human to know what to do with. We don’t have a clue how to begin to make that pain go away. We don’t even, always, want to feel better. Eventually, though, those memories are just memories. The present moment has claimed our full attention, as it always does. I guess that’s by design. How could we keep living, if the past kept getting in the way?
Grief is a mystery, but so is the mundane. It has a power that we rarely acknowledge, but we owe it our lives. Luckily for us, it’s the parts of life which seem the least important, the least powerful, which act like the steady dripping of water: give them enough time, and they’ll erode even rock. If I’d had a choice, I would have chosen to keep that sadness forever, so I suppose it’s a good thing that we aren’t given that choice.