Saturday marked the second anniversary of our daughter, Catherine's birth and death.
It's hard to believe two years have passed. Prior to my pregnancy with Catherine, I never wanted kids, never saw myself with children, and after preparing for, and laboring and birthing a beautiful child who did not breathe, I could not see how I could go on. Right after Catherine died, I connected with women who were a few years past their losses, to get an idea of what was in store for me. Were these women shells? Or were they okay? It was a mixed bag in the support group: there were some bitter, angry people, and there were others transformed by their grief. I kept the latter in mind as I went through the motions of life in those early weeks; just allowing myself to feel what I felt, without self-censorship, hoping to regain my footing. The earth revolved, and the sun came up every morning, and for a long time, I was stuck in one horrible moment in time.
Up and down eventually started to return to their places, even though I needed to reorient myself, as after a tumble in the ocean's surf. What was helpful was that I was able to think about those women who went on to live well after their losses; I saw the love they had for their children in that course of action. The fleeting, precious nature of life became so obvious, that taking better care of my own just made sense. After all, I was a mother, even though my daughter didn't live. I wanted to act like one, and I realized, after some months, that hoping for death to take me in the night, and staring at the walls, paralyzed during the day, did not honor Catherine. It was not how a mother should act. At least not for so much of the time.
I did a lot of art in that first year, and one result was the memorial created for Catherine; it was incredibly healing to work on it, to have something tangible to look at, to hold, for all we went through.
The circumstances of the second year without Catherine did not allow me the same kind of time for creative, therapeutic work, so I didn't know what to expect when January 31 came around this year. I had wanted to plant bulbs and work on a garden for Catherine on that date. Our autumns and winters have been so warm lately that fall-planted bulbs often get confused and come up too early, only to get knocked down by the next cold snap, which is why I've been trying to plant — at least bulbs — in January. But the ground is frozen now, so we didn't plant anything. We had Catherine cremated, and she's with us, so there was no place to go visit her. After all that I did last year, I felt like I was letting her down this year.
So, we worked on our den, to make it more Matthew-friendly; I figure making Matthew's world better is a good way to honor his big sister.
Also, I baked cookies. And, when the sun went down, I lit a couple of candles and had a glass of wine.
Matthew is too young to eat cookies, but won't be for much longer. Cookies are one of my favorite treats, and I don't often have them in, and I bake them even less frequently. A birthday cake seemed a little much emotionally, to make, or even buy from the store. And cake just seems too celebratory. But Catherine deserves something sweet on her day. It's only the second anniversary of her birth and death; it feels, in many ways, like decades have passed, and yet it's not nearly enough time to have an established tradition in place. But we're working on it. I'm hoping, as time goes on, and weather permitting, to plant bulbs on Catherine's Day. I am hoping her day gives us the proper opportunity to pause and reflect on how we can be so empty, and so full, simultaneously, because of Catherine. I have a horrible wound because of her death; it will not heal, like flesh heals. But we learn to carry that wound with us, and live, in spite of it. So, Catherine's Day, and our lives without her, cannot be morbid, because that wound has also opened me to a new world. I am capable of loving more than I knew possible, and I am way stronger than I ever thought.
Because of her, I found the strength to try again, after an unthinkable and tragic end to my completely uneventful pregnancy with her. While I was pregnant with Matthew, in the moments I could allow myself to see a positive outcome, I wondered if I could possibly love a new baby as much as I loved Catherine. I'm sure this is common for all parents, even when their first children live.
I've found my love for Matthew does not diminish the love I have for Catherine. There is love after death. There is love after love.