Pretending Normalcy

When I write, I mostly want others to bear witness to my experience. I almost never want advice at this point. In fact, I have gotten to where I loathe advice unless I ask for it. I think it goes without saying that I don’t want pity.
But the advice keeps on coming, even when you don’t ask for it. In fact, the advice still comes even when you have specifically said, “I don’t want advice.”
And now the word “advice” is starting to sound really weird.
At best, it’s irritating; at worst, it’s hurtful. But before you get upset or embarrassed and think, “What ARE we allowed to say to people anymore??” hear me out.
I think this tendency to comfort and advise speaks to what is best about humanity. We see hurt and want to help. We desperately want to make it better. Some of us actually feel the hurt of others who have been hurt.
However, it also speaks to one of humanity’s worst tendencies, one which creates so much stress for ourselves as well as others. We can’t sit with hurt and pain, whether it’s our own pain or the pain of others. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and who doesn’t want that to stop? If we can’t make it stop, then we just want the source of discomfort to go away, especially if it has gone on for awhile.
I know it seems counterintuitive, but there is peace in accepting the pain and hurt. I have learned this over the almost 18 months since Lucy’s death, but I don’t always put it into practice very well, either.
I discovered today that I still do the same thing I secretly rail at others for doing. (Guess it’s not a secret anymore.) I try to fix this hole in our family. I try to fill it. I try to pretty up what happened and pretend that it’s ok.
But it’s not. It will never be ok. That doesn’t mean my family isn’t ok, but Lucy’s death at 15 months will never, ever be ok. (Now “ok” sounds weird.)
See? I’m doing it there. I feel like I need to inject some levity or you won’t stay with me.
But I know some of you will. Here’s how I try to pretty the pain.
Recently, Lucy’s and Scarlett’s wardrobes have begun to overlap. We haven’t been able to use all of Lucy’s clothes for Scarlett, because Lucy was a winter baby and Scarlett a summer baby. But now, at almost three months, the weather and the sizes overlap.
I have been so excited to dress Scarlett in some of my favorites of Lucy’s clothes. But now we are getting into some of my most precious memories. At three months, Lucy was chubby and healthy, just like her sister. Cardiomyopathy hadn’t stolen that from her yet. Everything was normal and lovely.
Dressing Scarlett in these clothes doesn’t feel the way I expected. I don’t just miss having a baby girl. I miss MY first baby girl. My Lucy. It sometimes feels empty when I dress Scarlett in those favorite onesies. She looks adorable. I love her so much and am so grateful to have her. But she isn’t Lucy and these onesies won’t magically bring her back even for a moment. The memories associated with these garments might be outweighing the joy of dressing Scarlett in them. The emptiness might be me blocking the pain.
I want to be clear that I in no way want Scarlett to be Lucy. I don’t want Lucy instead of Scarlett. I want them both and, since that is not possible, I look for and try to establish connections between the two. It makes me happy to see similarities between the two of them. But I love Scarlett for herself and am learning her unique traits. I treasure them.
We will take our Christmas pictures this weekend. We will pose the kids in front of the at least partially decorated tree in matching pajamas, partly because Max was being very three on Lucy’s one and only Christmas Eve and I got so angry that I just told Chris to take him to bed. We forgot the matching pajamas and never took any pictures in front of the tree. We didn’t even fake it a few days later. I don’t know why.
Of course, we had no idea that would be our only Christmas with Lucy. If she had lived, it would have just been a funny anecdote about the craziness brought out in our kids and us by the stress of Christmas. It still is, but it’s also the impetus for these pictures.
It will be meaningful and joyful to pose our two living children in front of the mantel with all three kids’ stockings. It will make me so happy to see them in front of the tree together in their matching pajamas with a photo of Lucy in her Christmas pajamas next to them.
But it isn’t the same. Not the same as it was with Lucy or the same as it was when we had two children before. We have lost our innocence and our joy is sharpened by deep gratitude and pain.
I was trying to fix things, plug the hole, sidestep my pain. I called it honoring Lucy’s memory, including her because she is still part of our family. It is those things.
Putting a new baby in Lucy’s empty onesies doesn’t fill her place. Pretending normalcy produces emptiness at times. It seems astonishing to think you can pretend normalcy with one of your children represented by a photo within a photo, but I sure tried.
So, I will keep trying to honor and include Lucy, but I will work on not pretending it’s ok. I don’t want emptiness. I want the joy and pain that come from love and loss and the ability to appreciate the new moments of normalcy and peace with our precious kids.

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