Please don’t shield your joy
“Have you noticed that people aren’t sending us holiday cards?” I quizzed my husband, just two days before Christmas.
“We’ve gotten several.” He held up a pile of the carnage, barely looked through but evidence of their existence was found in shades of crimson and green.
We had gotten some. I knew this. I glanced over them when they arrived and took a mental note of their existence, but it didn’t feel the same as years in the past.
“But there are less,” I explained. “I think people don’t want to send happy cards to people who are sad.”
My husband didn’t believe it, but I knew it was the case. I knew it because of the way people speak, or don’t speak, in my presence. I knew it because I feel the apprehension ease into a room the second I step through the doorway. I knew it because I would have done the same thing, at least before, and I wouldn’t have sent a card to us either.
You don’t send holiday cards to people with dead babies.
I get it. I really do. I used to dance around grief so proficiently that I am now exhibiting what my counselor would say is too much empathy for people who suck at grief. I can’t help it. They are my people. And as much as the people who are good at it, and thank goodness there are plenty, have saved me over and over again, the people who are awkward and uncomfortable in grief but make even the slightest effort anyway, they are the ones who sustain me.
I couldn’t figure out why it mattered to me so much. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have cared much about the cards. I would have looked through them in the same way I glance through Facebook posts right now. ‘Oh look at who is pregnant. Oh geez, another adorable baby.’ I could be flipping through coupons with more excitement than I feel about the accomplishments of those around me.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about stillbirth. In fact, it is all I am reading these days. In the book Vessels, by Daniel Raeburn he recounts a quote he attributes to Pablo Casals: “The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human” which was included in his grief literature after the passing of his own baby girl. Something about the quote clutched at me, wanting me to digest it long after it had been consumed.
I don’t feel fully human. That is what scares me, really. How un everything I can feel. Uncertain. Unsettled. Unreasonable. Unlike myself.
Recently, my daughters competed in the same gymnastics meet. I watched from the bleachers, unmoved by everything, but with fake cheer plastered on my face while both of them sashayed and shimmied their way to some bright, colorful ribbons. The older one got more blue ribbons than the younger one, which makes sense given their age and ability. There were moments where it felt like the very existence of those ribbons was unfair to my younger daughter because she didn’t have the same ones. I watched my youngest struggle with the jealousy, and I myself struggled with what to tell my older daughter who was so proud of her own accomplishments. “Be careful and kind with your words,” I told her, “but don’t shield your own joy.”
I wanted the cards for the same reason that I keep looking at all the pictures and good cheer on Facebook. Because I want to feel something even though I don’t. I can’t wait until the day I see an adorable newborn picture pop up and I think ‘that is amazing that life can be so good for them.’ I long for it, actually. Not just because it will mean my own sorrow has subsided far enough that I can see over the horizon, but also because it will mean I’m no longer afraid to be human. To feel the things we are meant to feel. To love. To trust. To share in joy.
So don’t shield your joy from me. I know it is tempting, and I know I won’t give it the respect and reverence it deserves. Not right now, at least. But I will keep trying. And I will keep wanting to appreciate it. And I’ll keep working, bit by bit, piece by piece, to become human again.