I used to have this notion of the life that would follow my heavy grief and recovery years.
Having never gotten to meet the children with whom I connected deeply and laid my life plans for, I knew grief would have its way with me. I knew that I’d be forever changed, and that the dark night of the soul would occupy many of my days for a time frame not of my choosing.
There was also though, a simmering, underlying part of me that thought I at least was in for an adventure. I was, slowly and oddly, doing new things and meeting new people. Things and people that were the result of my catastrophic journey through trying and then not being able to conceive.
Very early on I had started facing the harsh elephant in the room – that there was not a thing in the universe that could make up for or replace what I had lost. But at least, I reasoned, I was going to somehow get a new life out of the deal. And curiosity whore that I am, I of course found this captivating. To the degree anyone in deep grief and trauma recovery can find anything captivating – on a scale of 1 – 10 I was at about a negative 50.
At the time I couldn’t, in actuality, see into the future but yet there was this supposed new life dangling in the corners of my blacked out soul. It would be filled with creative projects (which randomly ranged from writing books to restoring old Victorian homes), making a living by companioning and normalizing all types of people in their not asked for despair and changing the world in terms of the way not being able to have children is perceived and handled. Or maybe I’d just become a farmer and keep the activism. Either way I would be 24/7 defiant on this front, and associating with other childless women would be the pure solution to my social woes. It was sort of a rainbows and Om version of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” by Twisted Sister, if you will. It also included freedom, travel, disposable income, and all of the other things I’ve been continuously told as to how childless lives ARE. And I assumed this life would, naturally, be on a linear trajectory.
I always thought I wasn’t that active in the bargaining compartment of grief. For those sleeping under their grief theory rocks, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And kind of like my subconscious presumptions about my future childless life, people habitually assume that these stages are “supposed” to be linear. Instead, they in fact can happen in any order, simultaneously or not at all, and even circle and cycle back around and around.
In reading about them at some point, I couldn’t note a whole lot of denial or bargaining in my process. I reasoned I must not need denial or bargaining all that much due to my natural excellence in the anger and depression departments. I mean, when you’re so well endowed with anger and depression, who needs denial and bargaining? Leave it for the peasants!
However, this “complete with a new bedroom set” life I assumed now seems like a major attempt at bargaining to me.
While the elements in my conjured from grief bargaining life aren’t so far off from that which I still hold near and dear, it has been next to impossible for me to find any footing amid the perpetual obstacles and challenges that have been thrown my way over the last four years. And thus I find myself in the odd place of shifting out of my healing and recovery life before having gained any traction forward in my outer life. Hello again, liminal space!
I’ve found November’s poignancy extra gripping this year. Especially twilight – nature’s culminating snapshot before slipping into another realm. The last time I can recall being so lured in by November was in the early portion of my trying to conceive days. A few IUI’s in, I’d gape at the twilight and then snuggle into the ample darkness. I was transfixed with the mystery of what was yet to come, sensing there was some kind of deep change on the horizon. Little did I know….
Lately I’m being glanced with all kinds of memories, from instances in my life where I’ve regretted my behavior to flashes of my more innocent baby making days to old friendships to characteristics of my younger self. Characteristics of my younger self that whadayaknow, I still carry and that, now more than ever I’m realizing I quite like and respect. I even woke up one morning with the song Memory from Cats (with which I have no connection to in my life whatsoever) clanging in my head.
With my gardens also ready to morph into their next realms, I found myself busy doing the work that needs to be done in liminal space – clipping dead ends, digging up stuff, cleaning up and moving some things around.
A wise friend I was conversing with on this topic recently offered me the metaphor of a eucalyptus tree. The eucalyptus tree adds to itself a layer of bark each year. Half of eucalyptus species completely shed their dead bark, either in the form of large slabs, ribbons, or small flakes. The other half retain their dead bark which dries out and accumulates, and in some trees the bark fibers are intertwined. A far cry from the often prescriptive trajectory of rearing children and from the conceptually stunted “if not this, then this” life without children scenario.
The things we latch onto that carry us through loss and grief and healing are triumphs. Watching these things fall away or even just shift can disturb one’s already hard fought for identity and sense of meaning.
In a conversation between my outer, more critical self and my inner self, my outer critic commented that after all I’ve been through, how is it I can still feel as though I’ve done nothing and I’m nowhere?
And my inner self’s answer? “You haven’t done nothing. First of all, you survived. You’re now engaged in the self actualization process. You’ve problem solved and adapted enough for ten lifetimes. You’ve distilled in the most naked of ways what matters to you. You took what action you could to make the mess life greeted you with a little less worse for those who follow. And above all, you’ve stayed true to yourself, swimming up raging rivers to do so when you had to. That doesn’t exactly sound like nowhere to me. As a matter of fact, that might sound like everywhere.”
MEMORY (Lloyd Webber/Nunn)
Midnight, not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight the withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember a time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
Every street lamp seems to beat
A fatalistic warning
Someone mutters and the streetlamp sputters
And soon it will be morning
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I musn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
Burnt out ends of smokey days
The still cold smell of morning
A streetlamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning
It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is
A new day
13 thoughts on “Twilight”
I love this. You’ve expressed my thoughts exactly. It is so common for us to think that there is a “next big thing” as I call it (and have blogged about it) to replace the hole in our lives left by the children we didn’t have. But actually, survival and coping and just living is really the next big thing. If there is another “big thing” in our life – whether it is one of the stereotypes of No Kidding lives or something new and inspiring – then that’s a bonus. But it’s not essential. And I even wonder if there is a danger that the “next big thing” (if we find it early in our recovery phase) could replace some of the space we actually need to process and survive and learn to live and embrace our lives without children.
On your incisive note Mali, perhaps all of the time that has passed between treatments and me setting out on my next chapter has some good in it. In the meantime I’ve somehow learned to thoughtfully meet and carefully navigate this life I didn’t ask for, and to integrate even my harshest experiences. As far as an element of danger in a rushed next big thing, I think you’re on to something. And that the nexy big thing is not essential – such a grounding truth! I have been desiring though to find new meaningful work (and play) that builds on and utilizes the ways in which I have been transformed. Not a “big thing”, but “A thing”, and even that has been quite difficult and obstacle laden.
Agreed. The lure of the “next big thing” is strong, something that makes up for this unexpected life. But actually just “a thing” would be good. Something meaningful, that gives purpose to living, as everything I do now seems to lack meaning in my childless life. And maybe that’s because I “haven’t moved in” enough (whatever that means), but it feels like finding “a thing” would help with that….chicken and egg situation maybe 🤷♀️
A “chicken and egg” situation is a good description. It hit me today while driving that the holidays are still underwhelming, yes, and come with tough moments of reality hitting me, but are overall less slicing due in part to having some (and I stress the word ‘some’) life moving forward things on my mind. I found myself thinking about how I couldn’t have forced that point or been in that place until it was time and just how generally hard and unfair that truth is.
Yes, I completely understand the desire to find “new meaningful work (and play)” to build on who you are now, and how you got there. Don’t underestimate the value of this blog, and the work you do here to help others.
Yes there is another life to be led and we can create an alternative of engaging with life without our children. What I struggle with sometimes is that there doesn’t seem to be a substitute for that intimate for want of a better word relationship we would of had with our child. The closest I come to it is the relationship I have with my partner and my pets.
I agree, Stephanie. It has been constant work too for me to hold both – the void left by that which is irreplaceable and the in the dark construction of an existence different than anticipated.
Thanks Sarah for giving this vivid description of our reality.
You’re welcome! It’s comforting to know at least we’re not alone.
I love your posts. You are one of my favorite writers. This quote made me smile: “It was sort of a rainbows and Om version of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” by Twisted Sister, if you will.”
And this quote made me and all of my grief work feel seen: “You’ve distilled in the most naked of ways what matters to you.”
I agree that surviving and adapting while “swimming up raging rivers” is enough. In fact, maybe all the perspective and resilience we gain from surviving *is* the “complete with a new bedroom set” life.
What a good thought – our not asked for perspectives and reseilience sure set quite a foundation anyway.
And thanks so much, Phoenix! It seems we “get” one another – how lovely. And, unfortunately, novel!
I love this post Sarah – I’ve read it several times (when I’m lost or thrown by my perceived accepted life) and find I’m still unbelievably angry – which is really “devastatingly gutted” (that surely deserves a category of its own!). Maybe its the overarching grief category, which explains why I sort of feel it a bit on a daily basis. I do think the feeling of going nowhere is where we frequently find ourselves when the angry reactions rear their head unexpectedly. Like you I’ve had huge helpings of anger and didn’t see any other stages of grief in my journey. However – at age 53, 7 years from the last IVF cycle and deep into menopause – I still fantasize of miracles! This is truly a whole decade or two of denial! If I look at this on a linear basis then I can actually feel that anger is progress. Thank you for this post – it reminds me it isn’t linear, there is no easy way to acceptance – and perhaps its a question of realistic interpretation of acceptance – maybe I will never be OK with gushing grandparents/parents/colleagues/friends who truly believe their announcement is good news for everyone. I just faked my first wifi issue to escape a gushy virtual work meeting. As always Sarah – your words and thoughts have helped me find solace and peace. Love the lyrics to memory – look forward to your next post, you have most definitely helped me for many years and you inspire me every time I visit your site. Thank you
Oh, Jane, thank you!! Your comments always give me such a lift. This last one intersected with my most recent post – a bit of serendipity.
Cheering you on in the processing of anger, it’s not easy. For me anger came in droves and showed up as rage in the earlier years – for me it was the toughest emotion to feel and process for so many reasons. But we don’t deserve the ramifications we’d likely have to deal with in not processing anger, so to work we go!
And, big YES to finding our own realistic interpretation of “acceptance”, such a healthy point. I’m still working on that one……but it does seem it’s a place much more ambiguous and much less black and white that we’d have originally thought.