Grief: Day 731

On the second anniversary of my father’s death I am ten weeks pregnant. Last night I dreamt that the baby was born, not in the hospital we have planned but rather a bougie one two hours north by the sea, with a window looking out at the water and a chic gray and midnight-blue color scheme. I labored quickly and easily, feeling soreness but barely any pain. I didn’t need any stitches, and our baby latched right away. She was beautiful with clear bright eyes and she met my gaze without hesitation.

Three months ago, on the other hand, I sat at the edge of the water outside the hospital on a cold sunny day thinking of my father together with a new baby in the wings of the stage of life. I cried a lot of tears then, thinking that this comfort – this idea that my father would meet our child after all – was grasped for desperately; but also asking that he not to wait too long in sending us our child. I cried harder knowing that we’d have to wait, feeling strongly that the universe could do all sorts of things to you, and that making us wait for this child was exactly the kind of thing it would. It felt inevitable.

Since two years ago, it’s felt so sure to me that the universe – having been so unbalanced – would only have tragedy in store for us now. Because my father, a man of great magnitude and importance, was gone, the cosmos was essentially and irreparably misshaped, its axis tilted suddenly.

Three months ago, I wept for a long time on a bench at the water and imagined my father’s amorphous soul-person leaning down to whisper wisdom into the ear of our child’s inchoate soul-person. I thought of the time that had passed since I’d seen my father, and the time that would pass still until I’d meet our child, and the former was growing ever longer into the past and while the latter felt like it must be an eternity into the future – years, probably. Maybe never. I was feeling pretty pessimistic, and convinced.

When I texted my mother about my thoughts she agreed this meeting of soul-people must be happening in some part of the cosmos – “Of course he’d be there. He loves babies.” I asked her what she thought Dad must be saying to our baby, and we agreed: “That it’s all about love. And donuts.”

It is all about love. It’s something that I think was important to my dad as his life went on, that he learned in a multitude of ways and tried to teach us.

And it all being about love is the whole essence of grief. Love of my father belies the swollen bitterness that took me over for so long, that darkened my gaze and convinced me I’d be barren and shielded my eyes from joy and optimism for all this time. It’s also behind the feelings that are coming after.

Because today, I am pregnant with a child that I imagine will enter this world with my father’s words in its ears, conceived only weeks after that sunny day crying on the bench. I woke up today with the image of a beautiful baby gazing up at me, and feeling strongly that this was a message sent from my father, that he wanted to say we’d be alright, that she was a gift from him and so he’ll see that things go smoothly.

These things, of course, require quite a bit of cosmic imagination, and imagination is maybe the label we should apply. Ultimately what they reflect, though, is a shift in perspective in myself. A burgeoning belief that maybe things aren’t determined to be so bad – that, perhaps, the universe is righting itself.

me and my father, c.1992

me and my father, c.1992

Grief: The Universe Takes

My last name has started to feel swollen in my mouth. It’s one of the most important gifts given to me by my father and now it makes my tongue feel like cotton. I’m choking myself on it. I’m worried it, too, will be taken away from me. Is that what this is, this swelling of the second syllable behind my teeth? Is that this malicious universe’s doing, turning something precious rotten inside me?

Grief: Triggers

Cervical trauma is triggering and the Cubs are triggering.

Cervical trauma, of course, comes up often on this radiology rotation. More than one lecture, lots of films that look like my dad’s did, classmates saying things like “cervical trauma is so fun!” – etc. When it happens my brainstem reacts first. Somewhere behind my xiphoid process a knotting, gnawing discomfort starts. Then the chills: every 20-30 seconds, my hair stands on end, all up and down my arms and legs the sensations prickle. Of course I know I will be triggered whenever the subject comes up, but it’s not until a minute or two later that the cerebral sensations kick in: something recognizable as sad, as vulnerable. I look around hoping nobody can tell I’m upset, and also looking for someone to fight.

Ultimately, I feel breached. Grief is an egg cracked over my head and running down my spine.

The Cubs are predicted to have a shot at winning this year. My family is a Cubs family, and my dad was especially a fan. Last year they did really well and we thought maybe the curse was broken, but I really can’t muster any interest in sports, and I kept up my jokes about how I couldn’t care less. This year for the first time I’d like to have a Cubs hat or shirt to wear. They’re predicted to have a shot at winning, and that’s the saddest thing in the world to me, but I also hope they do. If they do, though, I’ll fall apart. My mom sees it as evidence of the afterlife – “There’s no way your father would miss this.”

Ultimately, I feel betrayed. Grief is a water balloon popping in my chest and widening my mediastinum.