Ten Years Later – Class of 2003

I’ve been slacking on writing here lately. It was never my intention to let this slip. it hasn’t been for a lack of thoughts or feelings. My mind races every second of the day and night. But a lot of those thoughts have become redundant. reliving every day as if I’m in the movie groundhog day. Reliving the same painful day over and over. Doing whatever I can to change it, only to wake up and face the same reality once again. Nothing I can ever do will bring Everlee back. Ever. 

For the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past, and the passage of time in general. Tomorrow night is my 10 year high school reunion. I’ve been converting our prom video to DVD to be played during the evening, and in watching the video I have gained a new appreciation for a lot of things. Looking at the 17 year old version of myself with the whole world and whole future in front of me is kind of spooky when viewed through the lens that is my life right now. 

It’s hard not to be hopelessly optimistic around prom time. The most significant chapter of your life thus far is coming to a close. What has been a routine for 13 years is no more, and there is a degree of uncertainty and excitement about the future. With a head full of dreams and a heart full of bravery you’re set to march out into the big wide world and become what everyone has always described merely as your potential. 

When I left St. Kevin’s ten years ago I had so many dreams. Like most girls, I thought I was going to marry my high school boyfriend. We has been together 2 years at that point – a lifetime in teenaged years. I was going to go to University. I was going to be a geologist (HA!). I was going to make a mark on the university the way I had made a mark on high school – by being involved and by being a big fish in the sea of students. And most important to me, as it always was, I was going to have a family. I wanted 7 kids. 

But, as no one prepares you for in valedictory speeches, life throws you curveballs. Plans change. Friends change. Love changes. And ten years later you’re only a shadow of what you thought you would be. 

Shortly after my first year of University I left my high school boyfriend. I realized that you had to be good at Math to be a geologist. And I realized that being a big fish in a big sea took A LOT of time. (It would eventually become the only thing I even came close to accomplishing on my list of goals for my undergraduate life.)

After first year I took a semester off, almost moved to BC and stayed because I fell in love (for what I now realize was the first time). He broke my heart. I went back to school.  I met my husband-to-be. I got a BA. I got a job. I got married. I got a masters degree. I got pregnant. And then came Everlee. The best and worst thing to ever happen to be rolled up into a sweet 5lbs 1oz package of sleeping perfection.

 My life in summary in the last 10 years. 

It’s true what John Lennon wrote. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. The days drag on, but the months and the years fly by. And before you know it you’re sitting here looking at yourself, full of hope, piss and vinegar wondering where that passion for life went. I don’t have less dreams but life has seemingly stood still and zoomed past all at the same time. And I’m sitting here, missing my baby girl more with every passing second waiting for life to show me what I’m supposed to do next. 

Everyone endures tragedy. I may be the only one of our 90-odd classmates that has lost her child (and subsequently her heart and soul). But others have endured their own battles. Won and lost their own wars. Life has thrown them curveballs. Their Plans have changed. But, at the core, are we all still fundamentally the same? Do we still look toward the future with dreams in our heads and bravery in our hearts. 

 I do. I have to. What other choice do I have?

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Inch By Inch

To those of you who have been following my story, whether it be from right beside me, or only via my blog, you would know that around the same time that Everlee was born (within 6 weeks) both of my very best friends had babies as well. Claire was Born in January, and Danny was born in the wee hours of the first day or February. As a psychiatrist I spoke to once put it, it made a dreadfully tragic circumstance that much more painful for me to deal with. We were supposed to enter a new chapter of our lives together, like we did for high school, post-secondary and marriage. We’ve done everything together. And this was supposed to be the start of another generation of friends.

Don’t get me wrong for a second, I am over the moon happy for A and K. I love their children as if they were my own blood. They are wonderful babies. But knowing that my two best friends who I have turned to for everything in my entire life were now moving onto a stage of life that we were supposed to journey on together, without me, has been beyond heartbreaking. In spoken and unspoken ways we have been all in a delicate dance for the last number of months.

How much do I share of my sorrow without becoming too much?

And how much do they share of their joy without feeling like they’re hurting me?

Most times we don’t have to talk about this agonizing tango. It’s been hard. On all of us. Not just me.  But both of them live at a distance and going through this without them nearby has been worse than I could imagine.

So when the stars aligned a few weeks ago that we could all be together again for the first time in over 2 years, I swallowed my pain and booked a ticket to Halifax so that I could spend a week with my three best girlfriends – two of them with their same-aged children.

A lot of people were worried about me. Including myself. Mostly myself. How would I deal with being in a house with two babies the same age as Everlee should be? Would their crying cut me like thousand tiny knives? And would I be able to look at them without feeling the pain of every one of Everlee’s missed smiles?

Surprisingly, spending time with the kids was not the hardest part of the week for me. What was harder to swallow was the fact that my two best friends has grown into the most wonderful mothers. Watching them cooing over their beautiful babies, and kissing away every tear, and falling in love all over again over every giggle was what was most painful. Their shells were the same, but they had found a new love in the eyes of their kids that has awakened a beauty that I had never seen in them before. Their smiles were brighter, and they glowed with pride. And the jealousy I felt was almost more than I could bear sometimes. And I fought with myself, So overwhelmingly happy for them, to see them oozing with pure joy. And so sad for myself, who should be feeling all of that love for my Everlee, but instead feeling them exact opposite. Hot, burning painful sorrow of her absence.

I enjoyed my week. We shopped. We laughed, we drank beer and talked about the past and the future. I love my girl friends more than almost anything in the whole world, and my pain did not and will not ever overshadow our lifetime of friendship. Long before children were on the immediate radar, the three of us dreamed of a scenario where our kids grew up together, close in age and close in proximity. We imagined our babies crawling around together, our toddlers fighting over toys, our pre-schoolers trading sentences. It’s only natural, of course, for us to wish the sort of closeness between our kids as we share ourselves.  I grieve for that loss. But I am so thankful for their amazing supportive friendship. I am so incredibly lucky to have had these beautiful women in my life for the last 24 years. And nothing – NOTHING – will ever change that.

A, K, MD: I love you endlessly and thank you for being exactly the kind of friends I have needed every day of my life. And thank you for being there for me for that last week in Hali. You’re support and patience with me helped me more than you could ever understand, even if I never speak it aloud.

As I’ve changed -or maybe as my friends have changed- so have our relationships.  Sometimes we’ve stayed buoyed to each other and sometimes we’ve floated away, each pushed along by the tide of our own lives.  The friendships that have stuck and have followed me through my life despite all the changes, both theirs and mine, are the ones in which we’ve continued to find new places in our lives for each other.

I am not the same as I was seven months ago and neither are all of my friendships.  There is no more animosity for the ones who could not stay but there is so much gratitude for the ones that did.

A Little Help From My Friends

Darcy and I often joke about my twice weekly visits to the psychologist. We’ve dealt with just about every situation in our lives using humour. It’s how we cope, and this isn’t very different in that respect. Often, after our appointments together we’ll look at each other and say “still crazy? yep.” and chuckle and move on to face whatever that day has to hold. On the outside, we put on our bravest faces. On the inside, usually we’re both barely held together by the seams. 

“How the hell do you think I am?”

How many times have I wanted to scream that at anyone who cares to ask how I’m doing?  People wouldn’t ever expect me to react that way. They’d know I was crazy. Alternatively, how many times have I wanted to meet their eyes, all calm, cool, and collected, and say that? Just say it– no forced smile, no nothing. How many times? I’ve lost count. And how many times have I actually said it? None. But none of us are any good at this. Sometimes people don’t know HOW to ask how I’m doing. And sometimes, I really don’t know how to answer. 

Why is that, you think? 

I think part of my need to appear sane isn’t about me at all. It’s not about my pride being hurt if I’m pitied; looked at like a sad puppy in the pound at the SPCA. It’s not about being patronized with idiotic advice on how to make things all better. I think some part of this is about the need to have Everlee seen as profoundly cherished, and not just some event that has driven me to the brink of insanity. I hold it together so that when I choose to talk about her, I am not dismissed. I think one of the things I want most is for others to understand my grief, just a little bit. It’s not an overreaction. It’s a deep love for my child who has died, and that warrants the most hurtful and deep sort of grief there is. It’s messy. and hard. But it’s far from an overreaction. And that’s hard for others to see sometimes when they haven’t been here. I know that I am slowly finding my footing in this new world I’ve found myself in but it is, by far, that hardest thing I have ever done (and will ever have to do, one would hope) in my life. 

I have so many wonderful people in my life who regularly check in on me. I still don’t spend much time with people. I find it so difficult. It gives me anxiety to the point where I break into sweats and have to actively think about how to breathe. It’s getting easier than before, no doubt, but it’s still a challenge. That’s why I am so thankful for things like Facebook that allow me to still maintain those relationships that are so important to me (and, it seems, meet people who have families like mine).

“Hi Rhonda, I just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you, Darcy and Everlee today. Love you xo”

So simple. So easy. That very tiny bit of love, sent regularly by keyboard, lets me know that my friends care,even if they don’t completely understand. It soothes my beastly bitterness at how the world slights this type of loss. Facebook, of all things, has saved some real friendships, by helping me let people off the hook for not being better at this.

No part of this has been easy, and more than occasionally I have been teetering on the brink of losing it. However, there is not a doubt in my mind that it is that love from the amazing people in my life that has hauled me back from the depths of grief stricken hell. Am I insane? No. Do I often feel like I might be? Absolutely. But one thing is for certain, and that is that without my friends, and my family and my Darcy I wouldn’t be able to put on that brave face and keep my seams from bursting apart with all of the pain inside.