The dark places.
The places where we land in a heap when life’s events toss us about like a small boat on a raging sea.
Yeah, these places.
I refer to mine as The Pit and I don’t do so as a cutesy, warm and fuzzy feeling name. No. I loathe the place. The Pit is terrifying and abysmally lonely. It is a place where I almost feel unreachable. Almost.
Your Pit may have a different name or it may have no name at all. Nonetheless, I would assume you’ve been there, in the dark places.
When we belong to the human race, the dark places kind of come with the territory. Indeed, you’ll be parked there at least one time in your life — sadly, I would assume many more times.
A trip to the dark places can be blessedly short or mercilessly much longer.
The Dark Places
I still remember too vividly two descents into the depth of the dark abyss I call The Pit. I am sure there were others but none marked me with such depth as these two events. None changed me as radically as these either.
They branded me.
They ravaged deep furrows onto my soul.
My first plunge into the dark places took place after the death of our daughter.
My First Trip Into The Pit
Looking back, the fact the kids were lovingly cared for and that my remaining duties of wife and mother did not go by the wayside is an amazing feat. One I should be proud of for sure.
My grief was raw and all-encompassing. It was made all the more painful by an absolute lack of support from those whom we expected to have our backs.
I also suffered from a tortuous guilt which was unrelenting. Not because we had done anything wrong — the doctors had told us that much — but because I was heavily buried in the “if onlys” and the “I should haves.”
It did not help when a misinformed family member, who displayed much passive anger toward me, when confronted told me: “I am okay with her being dead. I am not okay with your choices.”
To say these words crushed me would be an understatement. This declaration added shame to my guilt. A terrible combination. As a result, I was rendered unable to reach out for help.
What if others judged me this malevolently? I could not bear the thought for I knew I would snap like a twig if those I sought refuge amongst instead turned against me.
If family members criticized us this brutally then I had little chance to be embraced by strangers. Right?
Even though I longingly wanted to find solace somewhere, fear kept me away.
Friend or Foe
If those who said they cared for me could not walk this road alongside me, I had no hope others would.
Yet, a few surprised us. Some friends, as well as some acquaintances and even a few strangers, reached out. After our daughter’s funeral, which was brutally painful as no family members sat by us. We left the graveside — exhausted, lonely, and spent — to come home. No get-together had been organized.
We arrived in an empty home and proceeded to feed our wide-eyed children still much too young too fully understand what had transpired.
I will never forget the friend who timidly knocked on our front door to check on us and bring us bread. Her face is seared in my mind. Her kindness, tattooed on my heart. Those who loved us WITHOUT heaping judgments on our already downcast heads were a healing ointment.
We Are Family
Those who judged us, we kept us at arm’s length. Yet, when Christmas arrived three short months after our baby’s passing, it was expected we would get together because “we are family.” Said family quickly discovered that for us, family ran deeper than blood when we stayed home.
I could not pretend we were family when I did not feel I was one of them and I would not subject myself to further cruelty when I was already drowning in grief. Keeping my head above water from day to day was no easy task. I did not intend on taking the risk someone would hold me under.
Hubs and I
When it came to grieving, hubs and I could not have been more different. He seemed accepting as I tortured myself with various scenarios. It was a fruitless — and harmful — task which had become a favorite pastime.
I wanted answers I would never receive. I struggled. Oh, how I struggled.
My husband was stoic and I was baffled by his silence, his quiet acceptance, his trust that God still existed and was indeed good, and that we all would be okay.
I did not think I would ever be okay.
When asked “how many children do you have?”
Answering by the number of children under my care seemed like a betrayal of our daughter’s life. However, tacking a “one of our daughters is dead” at the end of a sentence never failed to usher a change in the atmosphere as others were left searching for an appropriate answer. Usually, they muttered an “I am sorry” and shuffled far away.
I don’t fault them.
I get it.
Death is not a happy, comfortable subject. The death of one far too young even less so.
I mean no one announces at parties or around the dinner table: “let talk about death today!”
Does Anyone See Me?
I was in The Pit. Stuck there. Paralyzed by an array of feelings, none of them positive.
I begged for relief.
Another thing I noticed: there seemed to be an unspoken rule, that there is a time frame for grief and it is not very long.
After the funeral, you are expected to get back on your feet rather quickly.
I mean moaning, grieving, crying, and talking about our loved ones over and over does not bring them back to life. I know that.
Nothing can change the fact they are now six feet under. That’s pretty permanent. This grief which envelops us is seen as a waste of time. Moreover, it makes you gloomy (something no one wants) and in general, not much fun to be around. Likewise, it makes those in your vicinity rather uncomfortable.
Rare are those who can sit with you. Rarer still those who can do so without feeling the need to cheer you up, snap you out of it, or make silly conversation to fill the — at times — uncomfortable silence. Equally rare are those who hold space while listening to your grief even though they heard it all before.
Out of Time
When six months have gone by — or worse — a couple years and you have not ‘snapped out of it,’ you start thinking that indeed something is wrong with you.
The dark places claimed me for five years before spitting me out. Except while my descent into The Pit was instantaneous, my becoming free of it was not. I don’t even know how it happened, the process was that slow.
All I know is this. One sunny August day, high up in the mountain of Arizona, while strolling in a pine-scented forest, I realized I had left the dark places and kept on walking. Except I knew not when.
Relief and joy washed over me as well as a bit of guilt. I no longer thought of my daughter every single day. The sun was shining again. I smiled and laughed and was happy to be alive.
In time, I understood it was okay and I was grateful for finding “me” again.
The Pit: The Sequel
My second foray into The Pit lasted ten blasted years.
Early in our marriage, hubs and I had talked about adoption. Over the years, we had been quite busy making our babies. Therefore, adoption was not a subject we discussed often. We were too busy with our crew.
However, over ten years ago, we were given the opportunity to adopt a child out of foster care. We shall call this child Abe.
The time from the first meeting to placement in our home was only about 40 days. Which as far as foster care goes is extremely fast when you take into consideration we were licensed in less than 40 days (a process that we usually takes months). This expedited process should have been our first clue something was amiss.
Follow Your Gut
I was an experienced mother and yet I was so naive (except I did not know it…yet). I believed with every ounce of my being in the “formula” which had worked for my children: attuned parenting. Our children were indeed happy, secure, and content.
During visitations, my gut often told me some things were “off” with Abe. However, all my inquiries were met with wide-eyed wonder and pretty answers which made me question myself. As far as anyone was concerned all was well. Abe was fine. I was reading too much into things.
Additionally, we were refused details about his past (to protect the privacy of his birth family we were told). As far as our privacy was concerned we had none. We were investigated thoroughly. People trampled through our home, our vehicles, our yard. We were interviewed. This was a grueling process.
Then, one morning, without any other warning, we were told: “pick Abe up this afternoon” and this was that.
I was convinced cuddles, hugs, and love would turn Abe around in no time. Except Abe wanted none of it. Abe wanted me only when I had food. He made sure to never look at me nor touch me. I could only hold him if I had a bottle and even then he was stiff, refusing to give in to my embrace.
The rest of the family fared no better.
However, Abe loved strangers whom he showered with hugs and kisses.
My heart broke and I quickly descended into the grip of the dark places.
Depression settled over me like a wet blanket.
Once again I felt alone.
Who do you turn to and say “I think we made a mistake, this child hates us, especially me” and “I don’t understand what is happening.”
My feelings of isolation exacerbated my feelings of depression.
Very quickly, I realized how naive I had been when my exuberance met a brick wall which stopped me dead in my tracks with a hefty dose of reality.
I knew nothing.
And, I most certainly did not know how to fix this.
What Child is This?
As Abe grew, his strange and mean behaviors escalated and I was lost in a thick fog…unreachable.
I was angry, I felt guilty and I was ashamed I could not do “this.” I felt broken and dare I say…evil.
Nothing I tried worked.
When we buried our baby, I thought nothing could ever be harder to live through. I was wrong. You see, my daughter’s death was permanent. I could not change it. In time, I learned to accept it and to move on.
This situation with Abe was E-VE-RY day. At night, I would replay scenarios and tell myself “tomorrow, I will say this and I will do this.” Then, tomorrow came, and I was overwhelmed anew by the task before me. I had never worked as hard at anything in my life and yet failed so resoundingly.
I wanted a break and I want to hit pause until I could regroup.
I wanted a magic wand and a hocus-pocus or an abracadabra and I wanted everything FIXED.
NOW…would be nice.
Pretty please with as many cherries as you want on top.
Part 2 next week.