I told Beth I wasn’t going to cry.
Ten years ago my first baby was born. She was born still, as they say. Except there was nothing still about it. Kicking and squirming inside my stomach, she made her presence known. And labor and delivery is never a still process, the body knows nothing of whether the baby is too tiny, too soon, or too still. Two pounds or ten, the process is the same. For a moment, the pain is even the same. Grief and childbirth both feel like being ripped apart from the inside out. With both you start filled with something and finish with an indescribable emptiness. Only when the two come together do you realize how very different they are. Childbearing turns to child-rearing and the hole inside you is filled from the outside in. But when instead of being born unto you, the child is borne away from you – “Would you like me to make footprints? Shall I dress her or will you? Is it time for me to take the body away now?” – then the tears carve out the hole and your grief guards it and the hole that was never supposed to stay, it becomes a part of you.
On some anniversaries my husband and I have planted flowers or lit candles or baked a birthday cake. Some years I open her memory box, untie the green ribbon that held my heart together, and let myself cry over the few physical mementos I have left. Some years it passes almost without remark except for an ache. But this year, the tenth year, the tears came all on their own.
I told my son I wasn’t going to cry.
September 11, 2001, I watched the Twin Towers come down on TV with my students. Oddly the thing I remember most about those moments was that CNN.com crashed because too many people were looking for information about something that will never make sense no matter how much we learn about it. But it was CNN.com going down that made me realize how severe the situation truly was – we’d never before had a disaster so large the Internet was brought to its knees. I suppose this makes sense; I was teaching a computer science course.
Before we even knew about the other planes, I sent my students home to huddle around their TV sets and hug their loved ones. Looking back it’s the not knowing that feels scariest. We didn’t know how many planes there were, or why, or how. We didn’t know if there were more targets. We didn’t know how many people were dead. And we didn’t know if my baby was dead. I went to the doctor’s office. I had already begun labor. Like most people I spent that day crying but I’ll admit that I saw everything through the loss of my daughter. For me, one tiny baby trumped thousands of lives lost that day. And being able to stumble around the following weeks with teary eyes in crowds of others in active mourning felt like a kind of gift.
I’ve never re-watched the video footage of the planes crashing or the towers falling – until my oldest son asked me today if he could watch it. They had learned about the attack in school and he wanted to see it. He had so many questions. So we sat down together and watched a 9/11 tribute video on YouTube. It was the first time for me watching it without the haze of stillness that had permeated the actual day. I cried and cried and cried. I cried for the people in the buildings, the people jumping out of the buildings, the people in the planes, the rescue workers, and all the people who survived them. I’d always known but for the first time I felt what a monumental tragedy this was. This year, the tenth year, the appropriate tears finally came.
I told Laura I wasn’t going to cry.
My grandmother died on Friday. When I first heard of her death from my mother (I was at the gym, naturally) admittedly I didn’t feel much. It wasn’t a surprise. Nor was it necessarily a bad thing – she was very sick and in a lot of pain. And while she and I had had a strained relationship, it ended on good terms. Yet she was the last of my grandparents. It feels strange to be unmoored in this way. It feels a little scary to be two generations away from the one making their final exit. I can’t imagine what this must feel like for my mom because I can’t imagine the horror of losing her. In fact, I don’t even want to think about that inevitability. Not yet. The thing about grief is you can’t anticipate it. It’s bad enough all on it’s own.
So when my sister asked me if I had cried for Nana, I said no. But today I cried. Good-bye Nana. I love you. And I’m glad I got the chance to tell you that before you died.
I didn’t want to cry today.
How was your September 11th? Did you cry today?