It has been 2 months since my 5-month old baby nephew Hunter died in my sister-in-law’s house in a fire. It has been 2 months since the day I received the text messages from my husband that would turn my life upside down. 2 months since I waited to see my sister-in-law in the ICU because the police wouldn’t let anyone see her until the doctors said she would survive from her life-threatening injuries. 2 months since I stood in a hospital hallway, reading news headlines and watching news clips of my sister-in-law’s house in flames, and seeing the words “arson”, “homicide”, “baby killed”.
2 months since all of this disbelief, intense confusion, grief, and desperation has started to settle and take root in my life.
I find myself wandering in life, trying to keep my head straight to do the mundane things like make my daughter’s lunches for school, look at her agenda, schedule work meetings, figure out what to do for dinner. Before all of this happened, I was struggling already to try to manage everything, and often asked my friends and colleagues, “How do people do this?” Now I am past survival mode, into a strange place of numb surrealism. I try to stay in the here and now, but can’t seem to get out of this pool of emptiness that keeps pulling me back down and trying to drown me.
Losing someone you love is a horrible thing. When that someone is an innocent baby, it is somehow so much worse. Any life cut short is a tragedy. But when that life had just begun, it is not just a loss of a life. It is also the loss of all the dreams and hopes that everyone around that little life carried and cherished.
Since this happened, I’ve had a lot of people tell me about their own experiences with losing a child. It has happened much more than I would have thought. Because it’s not something you normally talk about – it’s too depressing, too heavy. One mother who lost her 4-year-old daughter 30 years ago told me “Life is a series of losses.” And it is. We spend our lives investing in relationships with people, creating families, and eventually we all lose someone we love. Sometimes one at a time. Sometimes a whole bunch at once. It’s enough to make me wonder why we should care about each other in the first place.
“The shadow proves the sunshine.” ~ Switchfoot
That’s what usually pops into my head when I start going down the dark road. These very dark times in life are a stark contrast to the bright times. I look back at the pictures I took of Hunter with my daughter. The videos of her reading to him. I remember the sheer joy on his face when he laughed and giggled when I made faces at him. I remember the happiness he brought to our whole family because of his innocence, his adorable face, his sweet temperament.
Usually I’m in my car when I get overtaken by grief and start sobbing uncontrollably. I suppose it’s then that my mind starts to wander. Or something comes on the radio, like when The Tragically Hip’s song “Fiddler’s Green” was played the day after Gord Downie died. A song he had written for his sister when his own nephew died. Then I have to sob and try to piece myself back together to function in real life again. And it seems so strange that I still have to do real life. I don’t want to do real life. I just want to hide in a dark hole and not have to face anything anymore.
I know it will get better with time. Sometimes I feel like I can be okay. My daughter’s presence forces me to at least pretend that I am okay. Grief is my new normal.