By mid-August I was worn out, not just from the physical toll of the pregnancy and recovery but even more so from the effort of putting up a front, of going to work and taking care of my son, going grocery shopping and making small talk, cooking and laundry. All of it was such an effort. For some reason cooking dinner and going to the grocery store were the worst. Sometimes I felt like I could not breathe. I would have to pause and lean on the counter or the cart and find a way to keep going. People would ask me how I was, but I knew that most of the time they didn't really want to know so I'd smile a fake smile and say I was fine. They would say, in chipper voices, how is your summer? And I would lie and say, "Great!" I would sit in meetings or pick up my son at summer camp and look around with bewilderment, wondering how everything could just go on as normal when I was totally shattered inside.
Thankfully, just when I thought I was going to lose my mind, I got to take a two-week vacation. The first week, G was away with his dad and James and I stayed home and took it easy. I drew and painted every day. We went to the beach. We rested.
The second week, we returned for the fourth summer in a row to the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, for what we call family camp. We had coordinated with friends to be there together, and G joyfully rejoined his great friend of the past two summers for a easy-going week of activities. James signed up for a week-long program, and I elected to do nothing. In past years, my time there had been filled with workshops and training, but this year, I just wanted quiet. That was my plan when I thought I would be pregnant. I figured it would be a great chance to get some rest, relaxation, and time to myself before settling in to meet the needs of a baby. Instead, it was my time to make some serious space for my grief and to sink into silence.
I was surprised to find that I did NOTHING. I woke up, ate breakfast, went back to bed, slept, rested with eyes closed and hardly a thought, had lunch, went back to our room to read to G during his rest time, saw him off for the afternoon and returned to the room to rest some more or perhaps to find a bench where I could sit and stare at the lake. That's all. No reading, no focused meditation, no art-making, no journal writing, no singing, no hiking, no crying, no emotions bubbling to the surface. Just quiet. Total quiet. For three days.
Finally on the fourth day, I took a hike up to an overlook and sang some laments. The tears started to flow. I cried and cried from deep down inside. Then I sang to Halia. I sang Haida and I sang Hava Nashira, her songs. And I cried some more. They were gentle tears. They flowed out of me.
And that afternoon, I made two collages. I felt like I was moving through molasses, like I could barely find a way to be motivated to move and create, yet I needed to. The first was simple: I just tore up a picture and put it back on the paper with the newly made cracks. This was how I was feeling: like I was cracking open, gently, making space for new growth. Shedding my skin.
And then I got a little braver and made even more of a self-portrait. I drew the pregnant body I thought I should have and I cut out that shape. The hole where a baby should be, the hole in my heart, and my head gone blank.
This second collage remains deeply satisfying to me. It answers the question of how I was truthfully, in a way that words never could.
With that, the main part of the week came to a close, and we entered the holy space of Shabbat, the Sabbath. We prepared by dipping in the lake, a natural mikvah, and then the whole community gathered for a joyful, raucous celebration. I wasn't ready to be joyful or loud, so I remained subdued, but I felt the warmth of the moment, felt embraced by it.
The next morning, exactly two months since Halia's stillbirth, James and I made our own Shabbat service by the lake where we did the morning blessings with movement, taking in the beautiful sky above us and the ground beneath or feet. For the first time in a long time, I could actually move my body and open my heart.
We then joined the rest of the congregation for their Shabbat morning services, already underway, also outside. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to stand the energy of so many people together in prayer. I decided I needed to sit outside the main circle on the ground. From there, I listened to Rabbi Diane Elliot's d'var torah, which I wish I could remember better. All I know is that she seemed to be speaking directly to me, about the journey that I was on and about how I could release myself from self-blame and allow myself to feel. Next thing I knew, I was sobbing, a heap on the ground, covered by my tallit (prayer shawl), releasing completely. A dear friend, who truly knows grief herself, came and put a hand on me. I felt safe and whole, even as I broke down.
And when our week came to its close, I felt fragile and raw but so much better, able to breathe again, able to return a little bit to my body, able to go on. Grateful for this time of rest, return, and renewal. Grateful to feel. Grateful to make space for my pain and grief and despair. Grateful to find a way to move forward. So very, very grateful.
I am writing this post on October 29th, the third anniversary of Halia's estimated due date. October 29th, a day that will forever be associated with our unfilled hopes and dreams. Today, I am sad. I wish I were celebrating a 3rd bithday. And, I am filled with gratitude. Grateful for Halia and her beautiful essence. Grateful for this month of having the space to be with my journey of grief, hope, and healing. Grateful for the many ways I have found company and solace along the way. Grateful for the chance to live and love with an open heart.
Day 29 of 31, 26 Cheshvan 5774