It has been 19 years since that awful night in the emergency room when everything changed. Nineteen years since the woman I was shifted into the woman who became “one of those people”. One of those people who bad things happen to and who are involved in the stories that break hearts. Nineteen years of unbought gifts and birthdays that bring more tears than joys. Nineteen years of honoring the soul of a baby boy who never took a breath or felt the sun on his face. Nineteen years of allowing grief to both help me grow and stretch me past the point of emotionally breaking, more times than I can count. Nineteen years of grieving as a single Mom.
You see, my son was a surprise for me. I did not try hard or plan when the timing was right. I found out I was pregnant and that news came as a shock. His Dad and I were no longer together and we were not going to reconcile. It was best for us to be separate and a big part of that was I wanted children; he had two already, and I did not want to have children in the situation we were in. This is not to belittle or insult Kendall’s Father, it simply is true. I thought long and hard about what I was able to handle as a single Mom. I went through every possible scenario in my head, except the one I had to face. I never imagined my baby would not live through the pregnancy.
I was okay being a single Mom, I was not okay grieving alone.
And I was alone. You see my son’s father actually changed his phone number 4 days after Kendall died. He left me a message saying he knew I was sad, even though he wasn’t sure if he was going to be involved he never wanted this to happen and he hoped I was okay, and then he disappeared.
As you all know, grief can (and often does) swallow us whole. It becomes the sky we live under, some days shiny and bright and other days clouds and storms ruin any and all plans we have. But for me, there was no other person to lean on or take cover with. The only person who lived through the same loss I did, was gone; he thought so little of me and our son that he could not even tolerate contact. Grief itself is isolating, but being ignored and deserted left a wound, that for a long time, could not even grow into a scar.
Research shows that couples often do not make it through losing a child together. We each grieve differently and with that separation can grow resentment. I know that is true, but what I would have given to have a shoulder to cry on or an arm to wrap around me. When what would have been Kendall’s birthday came along and I wanted to plan a memorial service, there was no one to ask for input. No one to say how hard and unfair it felt to plan to honor a baby boy and not get to celebrate him. At the time, I was so focused on how much I resented him not loving Kendall enough to stick around, I was unaware how deeply I was being impacted as a woman. Nineteen years later I am still peeling away the layers of that impact.
Abandonment is life changing; it hurt me in ways I did not register and still am unclear about. Abandonment felt almost as bad as the loss. It was horrible and scary but it was also a gift. Kendall’s Father walking away when I was most wounded and alone broke a piece in me that I still work to heal. I resented him so greatly that I saw almost no other emotion around it. What I could not see, and did not see, for a very long time was the gift I was given though his abandonment.
Yes, it was a gift. For all of the times I wished with all of my heart there was a partner to share my grief with, I was actually blessed to be able to grieve exactly how I wanted and needed to without hurting anyone else. I was able to pull the covers up and hide under them for days and not worry I was disregarding my partner’s needs. I could cry without fear that it would chase him away. I could focus on Kendall’s loss and my grief with 100% of my attention because there was no one who needed me to help him through his grief too. In hindsight, I am crystal clear that I would not have been a loving and supportive partner to him, or anyone, as I navigated the harshest times of my grief journey. I could barely focus on what I needed, and I took everything so personally, that I would have been an endless pit of need with nothing to give or share.
This gift is one of many that came horribly wrapped and was misunderstood for a long time, 19 years really. For this year, I have a person I want to share the grief of Kendall’s loss and birthday with, yet I have no idea how. And I am seeing clearly that I am not yet able to share this grief, for it is still too deep and personal. I still need to be able to do what is best for me and what will get me through each October 20th. So, the very thing that I was most resentful for, turns out to be an amazing gift that I needed. Still need, apparently.
Kendall’s loss still hurts but it also still gives me gifts. The challenge is to differentiate between what needs to be honored and what is ready to be shed. Nineteen years seems like more than enough time to have sorted that out, but here I am, still sorting. Grief has stolen a lot from me, but Kendall’s too brief life has given me inspiration for more than I imagined. And for that I am grateful, even through the tears and pain that are at the forefront of this time of year.