This is part II of II posts on separation and love after loss. Read part I here.
When autumn came, I started working and we started fighting. Like, all the time. We blamed each other for petty and terrible things alike. He couldn’t stand me. I despised him. He felt empty and oppressed ; I felt lonely and neglected. There were horrible words exchanged and threats to leave. Sometimes, the threats were carried out. When he couldn’t find a job in the capital, he moved back to our old town, the place where we lived with our daughter before she was sick. We only saw each other on weekends and school breaks. I felt about the move the way I felt about our couple and life in general : I knew it was bad, but there was nothing i could do. I had heard many times that child loss either brings a couple together forever or tear them apart, and I could see we were not in the first category. I didn’t want to break up. We were not happy together, but are you supposed to be happy when your only child is dead?
He finally left me for a girl he had just met in a bar, and I cried more on that night than on the night Soley passed. The separation was not my decision, but it still felt like my defeat. I was ashamed. I was desperate. I begged him to talk, to stop and think, to come back home. If not for me, at least for our daughter and what was left of our family. We can make it work, I swore. I’m going to try harder. Be better. Please. I need you. I can’t do this without you. He walked away saying we would still be together if our daughter was alive and everyone but me was horrified. I was secretly comforted by his excuse. It was easier to blame cancer than admit our failure. Maybe we were not right for each other. Maybe he was a selfish coward and I was an insufferable bitch. Maybe we were not meant to be. Maybe it was a mistake. But then does that mean our daughter was a mistake too ? I knew I couldn’t accept that.
The pain I felt that Christmas was physical. Half of my family was dead, and the other one had finally given up on me. I felt like I had absolutely nothing left. Friends and family gave me the usual comments, none of them very helpful – You deserve better, you’re better off without him anyway, you will meet someone else. I was in too dark a place to believe them. I didn’t want better, whoever that may be. I wanted my husband, the father of my child, the only person in the world who loved her as I did, who knew her as I did. He was there when she was born and he was there when she died. She was half mine, but half his, and that was what i was grieving. I didn’t want anyone else. I just wanted my family.
I could not imagine that I would be happy again, that I would love again. And who would love me ? More importantly, who would love my daughter? I remember the reaction of friends when they learned I still had Soley’s crib in my room. They told me I couldn’t keep it. “What will you do when you start dating again and you’ll bring a guy home ?” I felt discouraged. If a piece of furniture was too much for a normal person to handle, who could deal with my grief? Who would get me? Love me? Support me?
I was a bereaved mother. I was broken. I was still in love with my estranged husband. But I was also a human being who needed affection, intimacy and a sense of connection. Three months after my husband left, I told myself okay – let’s not make it three years. On the fourth month I kissed a man, because he was cute and because I was drunk. The first night he came home I told him about the crib and offered for us to sleep in another room if it was too much for him. He said he didn’t mind, but I don’t know how I would have reacted if he had.
Ever since my daughter had died I had always slept with her pig soft toy, but at first when he would come over I would put the pig in her crib. One time I forget and he asked me, who’s that little guy on your bed ? I just answered “it’s Soley”. I worried he would think i was crazy, like I believed my daughter reincarnated in the toy or something. But he nodded and stroked the toy gently, so I asked if he could put her to sleep in her crib and left it at that. Afterwards, on particularly rough nights, I would take the pig in bed with me. It might be a bit weird, I explained, but I need it tonight. I know, he simply said.
I didn’t know we would fall in love. At the beginning I was mostly trying to numb the pain, but in his arms I felt anchored. With him I felt safe, I felt cared for, I felt lighter. And at some point, I started to feel happy. Paradoxically, this lead to new pit of anxiety. I had something – someone – to lose again. I knew first-hand what a fragile thing happiness, and at first I denied it, too afraid it would disappear the moment I would acknowledge it. What if he died too? What if he left me? What if he decided I was so broken, not even he could help me heal? And what about Soley? I was scared to lose something of my daughter if I were to open my heart to someone else, if I were to truly live again. There is a closeness in sadness, a connection that I couldn’t let go. But then letting go had always been the hardest part for me.
With time I realized I wasn’t losing my connection with my daughter because I had open my heart to another man. I was still talking about her everyday. He wasn’t saying much, but he was listening, looking at pictures and getting to know her through me. He took after me and started addressing the pig soft toy as Soley, asking weather I wanted her for the night or if we should put her to sleep on her crib. He often reassures me she will always be a part of our family. He helped me organize her third birthday party (her dad didn’t show up, but he was there). For childhood cancer awareness month, he wore a gold ribbon. It’s the little things, really, but I never thought I could get that kind of support from a man that never met my daughter.
I hope my story doesn’t come across as a mushy happy ending, there’s no such thing as a happy ending after you lose your baby. Falling in love didn’t fix everything. Love doesn’t cure cancer, and it doesn’t bring back dead babies. My pain is still there and heavy, but he helps me carry it ; happiness now is not the same as happiness then, but it’s still happiness. I never know it would have his face. I guess I should have – he has my daughter’s eyes.