Thursday, October 15, 2009

a theory of heartbreak

Ever since I healed in the deeper parts of myself, the guts and heart marrow, I have had a theory about myself. I feel I could work my way through anything but the loss of my child. I love Mr. Curry with all my comparmentalized parts, the ones labeled Work Mom Daughter Citizen Blogger Abuse Survivor Friend Lover and all. I also love him with my girlie parts. For instance-


Many days I pick Lola up from school and she comes to work with me, hanging out in the infant room or wandering to her old classroom in the Pre-K, where her old teacher Ms. Donna welcomes her with a smile. Mr. Curry picks Lola up on his way home from work, whenever that is. He walks in, I hear the door beep, and then our infant room door opens ( all our doors have large glass panes on them ) and there he is- looking particularly tall and extremely manly in his work shorts and dirty hands and broad shoulders and sweat creased brow, standing next to baby cribs and eating, crying, laughing babies in a room full of women. Unless we are in a fight, I get the quickening. This is when my heart speeds up a tendril and I can feel my eyes dilating like the wild animal we humans once were, when the room feels brighter and life more joyful because he is there.

Yet if I lost him I could survive. My mind could survive.

All my life I have seen, felt and heard loss and heartbreak. The saying says Pain is Inevitable, Suffering Optional, and I like the inspiration it gives me, the shot of strength, but I don't believe it. I don't believe we are evolved to a point where this is true. I don't believe suffering is always optional, that there is a healthy place we can crawl to in our minds or souls when life is cruel beyond our ability to process.

It is what I cannot accept that kills. If Mr. Curry and I divorced, I would have a period of non-acceptance, and I could choose to let that go on and on and on and suffocate me. But I am thirty-four, finally a woman. I know that I would not choose to do that, and I do believe I would have a choice. When I was a little girl, I could not understand nor accept the circumstances of my childhood, and my suffering went beyond emotional pain and turned into a stillbirth of intelligence. My brain shorted, my mind huddled and hid, and the world turned as foggy and smoky and terrifyingly non-comphrensible as if I had been airlifted and dropped into Murderer's Row on a winter's midnight in an Irish slum. Familiar objects were cloaked in shadow. My own hands were menacing. Everyone was capable of everything, I understood. Anything could happen. My mind melted like snow in my mouth, and I was in a great and terrible sleep for many long years after. This was my escape. It cost me much. It is what my poem below is about.

This crumbling of a mind is called many things and appears in many forms in our culture, our literature, films, and stories we see and read about on the news. I remember when Karen Knott was attacked and killed here in town late at night by a higway patrolman. She was young and beautiful and smart and died horribly. Her father spoke to the media, said the expected things. And then he spoke to the media again. And again. He visited the bridge where she died monthly, weekly, daily, obsessively. And he never stopped. Eventually he died of a heart attack. This is not just a spirit or a heart breaking, this is the mind behind the spirit unable to process the world for that heart, that spirit. The mind is the filter. Without it, we cannot survive in the real world.

I experienced this mind crumble during childhood, and the years after, and put it back together again painstakingly with the help of an angel therapist, prayer, friends, and the behind the scenes faith that one day, it would be different. And it was.

But if I lost a child? I would not be able to tell myself one day it would feel differently. Because it would, it would feel differently, it would get a little better, but the better would never, ever be close. It is like comparing starlight to the star. Touch to voice. Without the light of my children in this world I don't know that my mind would stay put. I know I would do my best. I would, I always, always have. But.

I can understand those characters of novels who lose a child and move far, far away and start new lives with great silences and mysteries that keep anyone from really knowing or loving them. This seems fitting. A great silence. A great space. A perpetual acknowledgment of the void left behind.

I've been around the loss of children. I stand agape, heart and mouth wide open in stupid sympathy. I am thinking this: You have experienced the absolute worst thing that any person could experience. You are feeling a tear in the literal fabric of the Universe as if it were ripped down the very seams of your body. Your soul is on fire. You are in hell. How are you going to take the knowledge that this has happened into your mind without your mind flying apart?

This is really what I want to know.

I probably have an inherent mental weakness. My family is rife with mental illness on both sides. We are an intelligent, accomplished, passionate and crazy bunch. My Nana was a lawyer in the deep South when women were not mothers AND anything. She did that. And, she raised a pack of deeply unhappy and mentally unstable children. This is a repeated situation in my family history. Her husband, my Grandfather, was The Supreme Justice of Mississippi, in a wheelchair from polio complications. And, he left behind a family who fell apart completely from the stress of his premature death, in surgery for polio related issues. My Grandma Elizabath, my mother's mom, lost her son David at age 14 when he drowned in the lake near their home. After that, my Grandpa got sicker than ever and the police showed up at his home on weekends when he needed to be restrained. The rest of their children went their separate ways and paid dearly for what they had to burden in their childhood.

I can go day to day and month to month accepting that life includes grief and suffering and that both, in the weight they can accumulate, are capable of immense destruction, the kind of which wears down on the meaning of life and leaves it meaningless. I can and do find great joy, every day, every hour. But if I lost a child? How would my mind survive?

That's really what I want to know.
Robin said...

i always find it morbidly romantic when i hear of couples who pass away so close in proximity to one another. as if the loss is so unbearable the other just cannot physically go on without them and their body shuts down. the truest love stories of all.

krista said...

i think the same thing. that i could not possibly survive it. yet, i have a very close friend who lost her 11 year old son a few years back. and she is a survivor. it wasn't easy, it isn't easy. but she does it. she's amazing.
at the time, i was childless. now, i can't even watch law and order svu anymore.

Maggie May said...

i know other people do it. i just don't know how their minds hold up. i honestly don't know if mine would.

Maggie May said...

and by the way my husband says you are his fav. blogger now Krista, because you said 'we' were hot and not just me- in the photo i put up :)

Harlow said...

Interesting post...I don't really think I could survive if I lost my Mr Darcy...but we both believe in reincarnation and that we will find each other in our next life...though it's little consolation. And, we also believe in the supernatural, so we've promised that whoever dies first will appear to the other as often as possible, or leave little signs...

Mwa said...

I'm not sure. I've seen it up close and I've learned that life must go on, especially if you have other children. It also seems to add insult to injury that not only the child's life is destroyed, but also the ones around it, as if to prove that the love was great enough to destroy everything. I just don't know.

Beth said...

The most dreaded fear of mine, as well. I have friends who have lost a child and I am amazed at their ability to carry on. But who really knows how it is for them? And I never ask, "How do you do it?" But I do know they still want to talk about that child - and so we do.

Badass Geek said...

Until we are in it, truly deep in it, I don't think we'll truly ever know.

Ms. Moon said...

I wonder the same thing. Over and over again. Once my daughter was hit by a car and when I got that call- your daughter has been in an accident, no, I don't know what happened, no, I don't know if she's alive or dead- on my way to the hospital I cried and screamed and I thought and I wished I had never had children at all because I could not stand to lose one.
Thankfully, she lived and is okay and I still can hardly bear to think about that moment, that day.

Annje said...

I have thought about this a lot, especially when I hear stories about it, and what the aftermath of me losing a child would look like. My life-story has some darkness like yours--generational craziness, inherited dysfunction, abuse, a childhood of pain, residue in adulthood...numbness. But this is something I don't know if I could take, how I would do it, I don't think I could function. People do, as you say, but I imagine they survive it day by day, never thinking they could have before it happened.

I have a story about this, maybe I'll write about it and link to you--I'll let you know.

That one girl said...

I couldn't handle if I lost a child or my husband. I would go nuts, would never be the same. :(

just making my way said...

I can't even begin to think of it. Because my mind starts to spin away in imagined grief. I lost my Mom suddenly when I was 11, so I also carry the alternate fear. What if something happens to me and I am not there for my kids?

Maggie May said...

I love the thoughtful replies.

Mwa I agree with what you are saying. And, I am not sure if my mind would literally hold up. I'm not talking about what should happen, what is right for the other kids, but what I fear would happen, which is that my mind literally could not hold up under the pressure, and would crumble, like the man in the example I gave who lost his daughter.

EdenSky said...

I wanted to thank you for visiting my blog, and I got pulled in to your writing. You are a glorious writer. The insomnia poem is just...gah...yes! and this, well, I know my mind to be full of fault lines, it would certainly shatter.

Simply Mel said...

it is something I never want to know the answer to...never want to experience because I know I would not survive.

Ocean Girl said...

Life will have trials, but they will not be more that your soul can bear. And after every trial, there shall be relief.

Life is full of gracious and mercy, be grateful of them.

What has happened yesterday, has happened. No bloody tears can change that, what will happen tomorrow, will happen, no one will have control over that. What we can do, is only to enjoy today.

Accept the past, pray for the future, be grateful of today.

Lacey said...

I can't fathom a loss that great, and it's just too difficult- impossible, in fact- for me to try to figure out how my mind would survive something it can't now even imagine. I just don't know how I'd cope.

"My mind melted like snow in my mouth." I love your words so much.

Bee said...

I hope you never have to know this kind of pain.

Your grandparents sound so intriguing. I hope you will write more about them. Did they play any role in your childhood?

Laura Lee said...

I remember your posting about your loss not long ago... does that have a similar impact on you Maggie May? There were a lot of poignant thoughts around that and I believe we all felt it. You held up in the end...

jaykbee said...

I love the way you express things. I can relate to much of what you say. Losses of different types are different but in some ways still the same. I have had moments grieving the loss of my marriage that are SO similar to what I experienced grieving my father. The reassuring thing about that was I recognized it and because I survived one, I know I will survive the other. As for the loss of a child, I don't even want to imagine it.

Jennifer said...

Maybe it's best to never find out. If only we had control over it. But I think sometimes the only way to find out is to see what happens when (if) the worst thing happens (may it never happen). Part of the fear may be the horrible idea of living past a child's death, the child frozen in history, never to grow, and yet -- life goes on. Nothing fair or right about it, but it continues relentlessly.

Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) said...

I just adore your writing. You always put into words what Im thinking and cannot say.

Lora said...

If my child were to die I would die with him. Slowly, bit by bit.

I would spend my days preparing the world for my absence and when I was done I would lie down and die.

It might take hours. Weeks. Months. I would not allow years to go by. Could not.

I strive to contribute to the earth/world/people every day of my life because I feel that we have an obligation to do so. I strive to be useful beyond my mothering, beyond my son. And I would continue to do so for as long as I could after he has left, but I wouldn't be able to do so for very long.

Jenn said...

My jaw just hit the ground. For the past year I have been in the process of writing a novel with this very question as a large factor in the storyline. Your words have pulled a whole surge of inspiration out of me today, and I know it is not why you wrote this but as a fellow writer I can not begin to express my thanks. I had been at a blocked impasse for quite a while with my character and this just opened the flood gates.

You never fail to elicit emotion Maggie. Thanks so much for never being afraid to just put it out there.

Chris Tea said...

This is so real. I can find no words to justify how wonderfully, painfully real and honest this writing is.

Nice to meet you too, loving your blog too. -Christy

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you for your kind comment on my blog. It is a pleasure to come here and read these reflections. You have written an empathetic, intuitive sense of what this feels like. I AM living with something amiss in the universe, and the work (today) is trying to integrate that loss into the rest of my life...and to live of life of meaning and goodness. This is full of unknowns, but so is all of life; we just don't realize it so fully until life as we know it, and love it, is broken open.

I appreciate your love for your own beautiful family. If our story can help others to appreciate their own lives and loved ones, let it be so. Blessings you and yours.

Angie Muresan said...

I truly wish you never have to find out.

Gaby said...

First of all i love your Blog & found this one particuarly moving!
Losing a child is i think everyones worse nightmare. . . now i live that nightmare i lost My Precious girl 4yrs & 9mths ago.
Nothing can prepare you & its a journey thats dark, painful, sad, filled with emptiness!
It gets "different" after time BUT the feelings of lost never leave me!
I still wake myself up calling her name. My heart breaks knowing i'll never see her be a mama, an Aunt & the list goes on!
Im not the same person i was a piece of me is gone1
love Gab

svasti said...

I don't have children, but I do have nieces. And given what I know of the big bad world, and that my eldest niece will be 3 in March, I shudder sometimes when I hug her.

Because there are stories of people I know who, by that age, were already experienced with molestation. And that I find hard to cope with. Such innocence and trust and someone feels its okay to mess with that.

And the, yes, I've thought about those people who do lose their children to illness, accident or some horrible crime.

And I think of my eldest niece again, the miracle child who helped save me from myself, just by coming into this world. And I think of tiny coffins and again, it sends shivers up my spine.

Although she is my sister's child and not my own, I know it would be horrible beyond imagining if her childish beauty, sweet and funny personality and her gentle hugs and kisses were no more.

So I pray, for her and for every other child I could imagine, that it never happens like that.

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