The losses within loss
So living your worst nightmare has its costs. What is the actual cost of grief? It isn't just the loss of self, your sense of joy or place in the world, and while there are most certainly financial impacts, I'm not talking about money. The cost of child loss is beyond anything you can imagine.
Let's start with the least obvious. The loss of yourself. Suffering the loss of Vail, as much as it is about grieving her, it is also about figuring out who we are within that grief. And who the F@#* knows who they are when they have had to bury their child? Certainly not me. At first, all I knew is that I was not the same. Not the same person I was just 24 hours before. And that I would never be that person again. How could I be? I consider myself the sum of my most special people. My make up is 1/4 me, 1/4 my husband, 1/4 Aspen and 1/4 Vail. Removing a quarter of my heart, soul and life means that 25% of who I was before died with my baby. The other 75% is inexplicably changed as well.
I look in the mirror and I have no idea who the person looking back at me is. I don't recognize her, physically or emotionally. I know that I am a mother to Aspen AND Vail and a wife to my best friend Steve. Those roles haven't changed, they are still the most important things in my world. I didn't stop being Vail's mother when she took her last breath. Mourning her and trying to figure out who I am is painful and miserable. In the absence of psychic abilities, I have no idea who I will be in the future. All I know, is that I will never be who I was before. There is Candice before 9/17/2019 and the version TBD after.
Then there are the relationship costs of loss. In the initial moments after Vail's death my gut reaction was to shut everyone out. Mostly because I couldn't bear to speak the words out loud. Even months later, there are some days when I can't say it without breaking down. The most important relationship in my life...the one with my husband, has been my life line. He is the only person in the entire world who knows how I feel, how profound my pain is, and how much strength it takes just to brush my teeth every day (and FYI-some days I don't brush them) . He sees me in a way that no one else ever will, because he lives inside that dark place with me. He is the only other person who loved Vail like I loved her. He knew how special and amazing she was, I mean really knew. He made her with me, she was "of" us. So, despite how sad and hideous the pain has made me, he still sees beauty in me. He sees the person who loved his baby every day of her life. He knows the before and after. And even though I know that Steve and I will be together no matter what, we have been robbed of the life we could have had together. One without this kind of pain, one where we didn't have to piece ourselves and our family together with a shoestring. He was cheated out of the beautiful, happy, life that he so very much deserved....the one with a wife who wasn't so damaged.
There are other relationships that are collateral damage to child loss too. One of the most amazing things I have learned from my SUDC support group is just how many people have unsupportive relationships in their lives. It has become painfully clear who we can count on and who will not show up. This is as bad as it gets. Our child died. There is no pain deeper. Anyone who says otherwise has never lost a child. So I am surprised....both by those who continue to show up and be supportive AND by those who continue to be absent. While nothing compares to the loss of Vail and the hole created in our hearts by it, but the loss of friends and family as collateral damage is difficult as well.
Sleep. Steve and I have lost the ability to rest. When your child dies in her sleep....you don't ever sleep again. Not really anyway. The night is not your friend. When you lose sleep, you lose your health, your energy, your looks. I don't mean your beauty, I mean your ability to look like a normal person. Giant bags under your eyes, dull skin, listless eyes. We look like sad people. Because we are.
The Social Pariahs. Social status loss is something I didn't really expect. I knew everything would change. I didn't know that people would avoid us. At church, at school drop off/pick up, at gymnastics, at dance class, etc. We hadn't lived in Denver long, so we don't have that many friends here. We have some neighbors that have been particularly kind, but most people look at us like we have the plague. My favorite is when people say "we just don't know what to say." And so then they say nothing. Heads up people...nothing is the loudest something you can ever say. And News Flash: there isn't anything to say. You can't make it better, and you can't make it worse. Believe me... I don't know what to say either. I'm sure whatever I do say is always the wrong thing. I don't care. I have lost the ability to care what anyone thinks of me, ever. My hope is that some day in the future, people can see us as Steve and Candice, Aspen and Vail's parents and not be so afraid of it they avoid us.
The cost of child loss is different for everyone. These are some of the things we lost along with our sweet angel. We are working on digging ourselves out of dark hell the death of your child drowns you in. It will take time. And we won't ever be the same. The loss is too great.