“Oh hi, Finn. Say hi to Finn, Ada,” the mom gently instructed her one-year-old as our children climbed around each other on the gym mats.
“This is Lochlan …” I said with a small smile.
Her cheeks blushed, “I’m so sorry,” as she scrambled to catch her wobbling toddler, “He looks just like a Finn …”
I looked down at L as he ducked through a tunnel and smiled at me on the other side. He does look like a Finn too. A little spunky with a slight tint of auburn to his brunette locks that are just starting to push through and curl. Rounded cheeks, long lashes, and a full toothed smile at only 15 months.
She tried to continue to apologize and say something about still getting to know the kids, etc. But I stopped her with a smile.
“Actually, I had a Finn – Finnian,” the name felt at home in my mouth, “we lost twins before him. So Finnian was his brother.”
“Oh I am so …” she started but I stopped her, “no … thank you … I imagine they would look a like so it’s nice to hear.”
The gym teacher, who knows our story because we chat often, smiled and asked, “What was your daughter’s name again?”
“Maisie,” I said feeling full.
“Gosh you have such great names!” The teacher rubbed her pregnant belly and I felt proud.
You could tell the other mom was beginning to relax that she hadn’t actually made an awkward moment and that all was well. And we laughed about the kiddos trying to figure out the social graces of passing each other on the tumbling equipment.
I thought - I’m really doing okay at this mom and loss mom thing. The whole incident felt like a God-nudge, see they are still connected to L, they are all siblings.
I pushed the stroller up the sidewalk before slowing pace behind a mom and her son. Our little dog pulled forward a little like, hey let’s keep going.
The boy was holding his mom’s hand and swinging it around. With his backpack slung over her shoulder, she was listening to him chatter about his day. She peeked over her shoulder, “Oh there’s a little one behind us!”
“Excuse us we will just scoot around,” I said as she pulled to the side and we smiled. Her son poked his head into the stroller and exclaimed, “he’s so so cute, oh he’s so cute, I just love him.”
“Okay,” she said kind of pulling him back and giving me somewhat of a sorry and pleading look. I could tell he was somewhat precocious and probably prone to over-crowding others. So I smiled at him and said, “thank you he is so cute. You’re sweet.”
We pushed ahead and the boy shouted at us, “what’s his name?”
So I looked over my shoulder, “Lochlan and this is his friend Oreo.” He then asked my name so I told him while I continued to walk just a few steps ahead. The boy continued to chatter telling me his name, his mom's name, his dad’s name and his sister’s name.
“What a nice set of family names,“ I said. His mom looked at me grateful kind of shaking her head. L peeked around the stroller fascinated by the older boy. The air was perfect and nearly fall like. Other kids were zooming past on bicycles, backpack clad and heading home from school. Our little dog was trotting along with a happy pant.
“I assume your married, so what’s your husband's name?” The mom’s eyes widened and I kinda laughed. “Yes I am, his name is Daniel, pretty simple.”
“So Lochlan is a boy right,” they were side by side with us now on the sidewalk, “so does that mean he has a brother or a sister?”
“Oh,” my voice stuck as the boy looked right into my eyes, “he doesn’t have a brother or a sister ..” and it caught, here, I couldn’t get it out before his mom started to explain …
“That’s their first baby, see some families only have one and some just have one to start…”
I started moving faster ahead. I’m sure she thought I was running from them.
I was. But not because of him. Because of me. I pushed across the crosswalk and turned the corner as fast as I could. The air felt stuck in my lungs. I won’t hyperventilate.
I won’t say I made it home without tears streaming down my face. Or I didn’t pretend I was laughing when L turned around in the stroller. I won’t say that I didn’t talk to my husband and that my voice didn’t disappear into a fit of tears. I’m failing them. "Of course you aren’t," he reasoned, "you are doing what is right for the situation." He’s right - you can’t tell random kids on the street about dead babies. And L doesn’t know they were his siblings. He can’t comprehend that. May never. He IS growing up as the oldest child, essentially a first.
But the thought just sat in the pit of my stomach all day, I’m letting them disappear.
I can remember the first wave of grief after bringing L home from the hospital. I laid him down briefly in his crib and looked down on him. It hit me with such great force that I did not have siblings for him. I wept for his lost brotherhood. Raging postpartum hormones didn’t help me to put into perspective that we would try again. At this time, I had considered him our last, our youngest, our planned third.
But as he would grow and change and monopolize more and more of my time, the waves of grief would spread. I’d often take a deep breath and push across the surface of them, surfing into a place of joyfulness in order to parent my living son. Then, somewhere in the last few months, as his independence has increased little by little, I’ve had moments to feel the spray of water. I’ve had secret cry sessions in the bathroom. I’ve felt the absence of his siblinghood.
If things had been different, if they’d made it to term, Finnian and Maisie would be turning two this month. If things had been different I would’ve said, “Oh no, this is Loch, Finn is his older brother.” Or “He has a brother AND a sister, how fun.” If I close my eyes and imagine the three of them together the chaos seems delightful to me.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing these stories now other than to illustrate the ongoing nature of infant loss. After we lost our twins I sat across the office from a well-respected counselor that specializes in perinatal issues. And she reminded me that pregnancy and infancy loss falls under the category of ‘marginalized grief.’ Meaning the hidden or unexpected nature of it often pushes it to the outskirts – the experience is not uncommon but it is not mainstream either.
This particular type of grief is often quieted under guilt. My guilt stems from a nagging thought that somehow acknowledging it discounts the profound happiness that having our son here offers. I don’t talk about it as openly in my daily life anymore. Not in the way that I imagined I always would. I’m often afraid my grief will somehow make me seem ungrateful. Or that it will somehow shadow him.
I also don’t feel it in every moment like I used to. That acknowledgement carries with it a different kind of weight to process. But that’s just the reality of how time moves us forward. When the grief does come though, when it rushes in, it’s like torrential downpour again. Only to be lifted once more by the breeze of daily life. And so it goes and goes and goes.
Fifteen. That’s how many years have passed since my sister was stolen from us. Fifteen years. Some that have creeped by with ache and anger. Others, like this last year, that galloped by full of goodness. Not related to her being gone of course, just a by-product of living. Even in fifteen years I still spend chunks of time wondering what it would’ve been like with her here. Curiously imagining how she would’ve changed and grown. We were 18 and 19 when she died. I had just spent my first year away at college and she was close behind. We were about to take a leap into our twenties – that decade of figuring out what you think and feel and believe and like and don’t on your own. And she was gone. Taken. I was altered. Sometimes I wonder who both of us would have been if she was still here.
My family started a tradition on this day, somewhat unplanned but consistent. Every year we – my dad, mom, sister, and I – get together and have lunch. We have lunch as a core unit. We laugh and share stories and memories. Sometimes we tear up and sometimes we sit silently. We never wanted to celebrate her dying but instead this lunch is like our protest. It’s our protest against death: you cannot remove her from us as much as you cannot remove the love that connects us all. It’s comforting. My parents are remarried to new partners, my youngest sister is a grown up now (oh my!), and I’m carrying along my own treasure. My little chunky toddler made lunch extra interesting today. Between devouring food and pretending to drive my dad's car (while honking the horn with his belly), he certainly spread sunshine around.
When I started this blog it was to share about living with grief. Living and longing still. We were approaching the ten-year mark of Rachael’s death. That number hit me hard. It was a third of my life, a decade - a ringing, dangling, round number. I imagined writing here about the experiences of growing through and around grief. Then, of course those who read here know, we lost our twins. And as my world crumbled again with less violence but similar force, I wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I did the same thing after we lost Rachael. I process through words on the page. And in doing so I’ve had others reach out to say they needed to read them, which feels like a small redemption.
I bring that up because I have been blocked. This is the first post I’ve written in 7 months. Not because there haven’t been things to say or new understandings or even beautiful stories to share. But every time I’ve gone to put word to page I’ve stumbled. It hit me today why.
Today, as I tried to find the words to post a picture on Facebook in honor of my sister I couldn’t gather them. I couldn’t find a picture that was new, because there aren't any. I couldn’t express how sometimes I feel like I can cheat death and still experience her in my life ... and sometimes I feel like I can’t remember what she sounded like at all. I couldn’t let the tears fall all the way down my face today. They stopped at my lashes and crawled back into my eye sockets. I’m afraid to grieve right now.
As open and raw as I usually am about sharing my life story, as much as I try to give room and permission for feelings to exist, as much as I try to live the very things I advise therapy clients to do – I’ve been blocked by a fear that grieving will somehow threaten this current happiness. Because what if I get too sad and seem ungrateful for my son. What if something terrible happens. What if I don’t get another blessing. And I really hope we get another blessing.
This is my new grief insight to share. It changes again. Grief hasn’t gone away; it shape-shifted on me. It looks a little bit like guilt and a lot like fear right now. The brain-based side of me understands that I do not need to feel guilty for longing for my twins back or for longing for my sister Rachael to be here. I recognize that feeling those things does not make me any less in love for the ones I have here. Saying it out loud (or at least on this page) is an effort to tell my heart it’s okay to let out its breath now. I posted a beautiful video a on the L&L Facebook page from a woman that said it perfectly:
"But you're allowed to miss what you had and still love what you have... One does not negate the other. One does not replace the other."
Heart, can you hear that? It’s okay to want both, to miss one and embrace the other, it’s okay to love all of it. It's okay to wish for the past and not want the present to change. Guilt and fear aren't needed here. You can laugh and grieve and love and long all at once.
I hope to start writing more again. I have stories I’d like to share beyond grieving. Things about parenting and marriage and everyday lived experiences. Things I’d love to curl up on the couch and talk to Rachael about in the way that we used to sneak into each other’s rooms after bedtime and talk til morning. Perhaps I could share those here too? Perhaps this blog can shape-shift too.
My beautiful sister Rachael. I remember snapping this photo on a disposable camera in the middle of a giggle fest. We were up really late, we were really hyper, and we were laughing a lot. I don't remember what about but sometimes when I look at this I can feel that same laughter fill my bones. Some things time can never erase.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.