The first week was the worst.
There was no ribbon on the mailbox.
I came in the back door to the familiar smell of home. It was quiet, the kids in school. Everything was the same, but nothing was the same. It was a little like being lost, except I knew every detail of this place, the kitchen table my daddy built, the fireplace with the key for the gas starter balanced on the mantle, the Lazy Boy recliner where I had spent so many hours during the last few months.
I walked down the hallway, refusing to let my eyes wander into the children’s rooms. I collapsed onto our bed where Cliff helped me climb under the covers. He stayed with me the rest of the day, holding my hand, bringing me tea, unpacking my bag.
When the children came home, they tiptoed into the room and hugged me tentatively. Jennifer climbed up on the bed beside me and rubbed my hair. They were sad, but more than that, they were worried about their mama.
Over the next few days, friends made dinner, took care of my children, and came and sat with me.
The pain was so fierce it seemed physical, like someone had taken a dinner fork and jammed it into my chest. It was still close to impossible for me to be alone. The second day home, my mother-in-law came for the day. She puttered around in the kitchen, coming in often to check on me. Once when the pain rose to near panic, I cried out for her. She came and held me close and told me I was going to be okay. She had lost a child, too. My husband’s twin, when they came almost three months early. So I believed her and nestled back into bed.
My body had not recovered from the act of childbirth when my milk came in, another exquisite form of agony. Despite the fact that they had given me a shot at the hospital to dry up my milk, my swollen breasts felt like they would explode. The pressure from a pillowcase pulled tight around my chest eased the pain only slightly.
During that first week, a steady stream of friends stopped to see me, listened to me tell my story over and over. I’m a fairly quiet personality. I process things internally for the most part, but I needed to tell somebody, anybody, everybody about this thing that had happened. I was grateful for them, grateful that when I needed arms to hold me, ears to listen, a shoulder for my breaking heart to rest on, someone was always there.
Someone had given me a copy of Empty Arms by Sherokee Ilse. I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t bear to listen to someone else’s story. I was still trying to find the way to live my own.
Later, I was able to look back at this stage of grief, most people label it as denial. I’m not sure that’s the most accurate appellation for my experience of it. There was no way to deny what had happened, but shock insulated me at least some from the intense emotions, giving me time and grace to process, to survive, to choose life.