H and I are driving toward the exit in the hospital parking garage, and that’s where I see them. A gaggle of upholstered armchairs huddle together, stacked two by two, bound together with industrial shrink wrap. They are on Level C, on the curve of the long, looping spiral that hugs the elevator shaft. I see the armchairs, and just like that I am sitting in the NICU waiting room, eating left overs from a meal provided by one of our family or friends, still in a hospital gown and socks, hair tied back a mess, hardly tasting the food, only there because I have to eat and food is not allowed in the NICU. I blink, and I am back in the car, staring at the structural pillar full of black bumper marks ahead of us. My stomach flutters, and I feel the reservoirs that lie behind my lower eyelids fill to the point of almost overflowing. In that one instant, triggered in a way and place I least expect it, I touch down into the pain and the grieving that still exists in me from the time H was born.
This is how it goes. The grieving never really ends. It softens, it recedes, it rises to the surface less and less, its intensity and quality change, but it is still there. I used to feel there was something wrong with me when grief arose from years-old wounds, ones I thought had healed reasonably well, but now I feel something different. Now I understand that grieving is a process with no timeline, and there is a part of me that is glad for it. The grieving is not something I like per se, but the alternative, disconnection and hardening toward myself, has become even more painful than the grief. The deaths, separations, losses, and heartbreak that have accumulated over the years are not what I would have chosen, but they have been great teachers. As I have opened, slowly and often with resistance, to their lessons, I have started to soften, to surrender, to loosen my hold, to let go, to yield, to hold myself as dear and gently as I do H. I have started to be able to hold in mind and accept the wholeness of my experience and being, to embrace everything, including both the things I want and the things I do not want.
So I am glad for the armchairs, glad for the reminder of an experience that is part of who I am and part of H, too, glad for the connection to the self that was having a profoundly hard time, glad for the opportunity to be in process and to practice being open and receptive to myself. I am glad to have the space and energy to turn this grief over to see what more it has to say, glad that being a safe distance from H’s birth allows this. We were at the hospital as visitors this time, not residents, and we are leaving together. H is in the backseat, healthy and strong. We are both growing.
Thank you, armchairs.