May 1, 2016
The M Word: Ever Since The End, by Christa Couture
This is the fifth in a series of posts catching up writers from The M Word, and finding out what they’re up to now. (Find out more about The M Word and read its rave reviews right here.) From previous weeks: “Kerry Ryan on Wishing and Washing“; “Heather Birrell on Talking to her (M)Other Self”; “Dear Me, by Nicole Dixon“; “Kerry Clare on Motherhood and Abortion.”
In her essay, “These Are My Children”, Christa Couture introduces readers to her sons, Emmett and Ford, and recounts how she has mothered and related to motherhood since their deaths. Here, she considers what’s changed and what hasn’t in the two years since her essay was published.
Between the time I first wrote “These Are My Children” and the time for final edits before The M Word went to print, the one update I made was to the ages my children would have been, if they were still alive (from six and three to seven and four).
I’m thinking of what’s changed in the time from print to now, and the same update is my first thought: Emmett would be nine, and Ford would be, in a few weeks from now, seven.
When asked to consider what else has changed in this time, I worried that nothing has. Motherhood remains a kind of fixed story for me, one I can still replay from its beginning to end. “The End” was the title of the final blog post where my husband and I kept family and friends updated on Ford’s 14 months of life while he was living. And when I think of my story with my children, “the end” feels almost like the title, not just the last page. I picture it a finished book; I picture that book in a bag that I carry forward into each year of my life.
That hasn’t changed.
I have moved from the city (Vancouver) where my sons’ ashes are interred to Toronto. Thus, I visit that site now, so far, only yearly. When I do, I still place my hand on the shared gravestone, still trace the letters, and still feel comfort in close proximity to their remains, and to the part of my body there.
That hasn’t changed.
When I return to their grave, new gifts have been left on its ledge, from their grandmothers, aunts, father… slow changes to the scenery take place.
In my essay, I had written of the physical record of my children on my own body. The stretch-marked belly remains the same, but the caesarean scar I’ve found comfort in tracing is almost entirely, to the eye, gone, and increasingly fading to the touch. As it fades, the whisper of the ridge of that scar gets quieter: “I am the window he climbed through, into your arms.”
I don’t mind that this fades. And that is a change.
I no longer, as I had written those few years ago, cry daily for them. When I do cry, it is with less distress.
With as much longing, but less panic. This change I am grateful for.
My therapist and I disagreed: he drew a chart, an arc, of grief and pointed to the end, “When is this?”
I argued I will always grieve for my children. He argued it’s an emotion that, like other emotions and like scars, will run its course and fade.
I don’t consider grief negatively. It has slowly become integrated in my body and life, blooming sometimes unexpectedly and otherwise reliably on certain holidays and anniversaries of death and birthdays. Sometimes grief still hurts enough that I gasp for air. Less often, grief still curls me into a ball and I feel blind to anything outside of it. Otherwise, it moves into my chest as a wave and with my hand to my heart and a deep breath, I sway with it until the intensity passes.
I understand better that the intensity passes.
That is a change.
A friend’s baby recently died and I realized that while I knew many bereaved parents, I had met them all after one or both of my sons’ deaths. I had not known it to happen to someone I already knew. I was struck in considering the beginning of what will be a very long journey and in remembering how impossible the first night feels. The first night is the worst one. And then the first week, the first month… how slow and dark time is until the first year when counting starts to become harder to do. How I ached, in early days, for time to pass yet hated that it did—that each day passing only took me further away from my children, putting that event and title “the end” further in the past.
“It’s not that it gets easier, but it does change,” I told this friend, knowing too well that there was nothing I could say that would help.
With her son’s death, I was reminded of having “entered a place in which I could be seen only by those who were themselves recently bereaved,” as described by Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. I felt, when I first saw my friend, seen in a way I seldom do. I found it comforting, a relief almost, for that part of me that remains hidden (against its need), and then immediately I felt regret: I would rather be lonely in grief considering that understanding can only come through such utter heartbreak.
And, in looking at a beginning after an end, I felt relieved for time passing.
“What place do you go to for strength?” I was recently asked. If time passing is a place, then that is where I have been since I first wrote my essay. I have been writing and singing and crying and moving across the country, and waiting.
And life has changed.
My boys would be nine and seven. I will always count those years and, occasionally, imagine who my boys would be, and would have become.
I will miss them. I will love them.
And that will never change.