I have a few tattoos, all of which I cherish. At a time in my life when my faith was faltering and seemed as though it might sputter out completely, I had it tattooed on my back. I wanted to be reminded that even when I couldn’t see it and I could not feel it, it was still there. I have a sparrow that reminds me of the most hardworking man that I know. I have a sailboat that reminds me of the man that I love. I have an appointment soon to get a tattoo to remind me of the little man that I just lost. And finally, I have a tattoo on my foot of the word ‘hope.’
In my twenty-six years on earth, I have had a bounty of joy and love, friendship and family, happiness and laughter. Unfortunately, I have also had a lion’s share of trauma and pain. There was a very dark time in my life when all of that pain and hurt caught up with me and felt like a millstone around my neck that I could not remove. Every day felt like walking through molasses. It was hard to convince myself that moving forward was worth the effort. I had ‘hope’ tattooed on my foot to remind myself that hope was the only real impetus for forward movement. Hope became my motivation through that time that felt so hopeless. Even though I could not see through the murk that blurred my surroundings, I could not give up and refuse to live. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And I did. I came out of that darkness. Ever since, when my surroundings start to look hazy, I can look down and see hope that motivates, hope that inspires, hope that keeps me moving forward.
Cory’s death, however, has jarred my determination and optimism severely. So much of my hope for the future was pinned on him from the day we found out we were having a baby. When he died, so did it. I think it’s normal to feel blurred and hazy after losing anyone, but especially someone within your nuclear family. Losing Cory has been devastating and he was only a part of our lives for four months. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child or a sibling or a spouse that has been a tangible part of life for years. I don’t know how anyone could feel whole or clear or focused for a very long time. Dan Handler wrote in A Series of Unfortunate Events,
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
I’ve never read a more apt description of how things feel now. I’ve spent so much time “readjusting” my orientation to the world. I’m no longer going to be a mother. We’re not going to have a baby. We don’t need that carseat. We’re not going to be parents. We don’t need these tiny shoes. We don’t need an extra bedroom. I won’t lose sleep like most people do when they’ve given birth. I don’t need to be careful of what I eat. We don’t need to check my blood pressure every night. The world is different and every moment carries with it a “dark surprise,” another aspect of our lives that is changed by the loss of our son.
Everyone is so hopeful with us lately. I appreciate it. Immensely. But sometimes, it seems unreal. Everyone is convinced that we will see Cory again. Everyone is convinced that we’ll have another baby. Everyone is sure that we’ll be okay with time. Everyone knows that Cory knows that we love him. Everyone hopes. Everyone is optimistic. But no one is sitting exactly where I am right now. From where I am sitting, it feels foolish to hope. Not just foolish, but irresponsible. To hope feels like a million things that are wrong. It feels like it’s not fair, like it’s not wise, like it’s dangerous. To hope feels as though I’m gambling right now, and it’s frightening. Lately, hope feels like a dirty word. It’s as if it is so dark right now that I cannot even see my feet to walk.
I want to hope. I am desperately trying to cling to hope with all of my might, but it is elusive and nebulous, almost ethereal. I cannot quite seem to grasp it and I am afraid that when I do, it will prove to be something other than hope or hope that has no substance or basis in reality. Hope hurts. And right now, moving forward feels an awful lot like leaving Cory behind. I’m not sure that I’m ready.
One of favorite poems is by Emily Dickinson. I’m sure you have heard it.
Hope is a thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash this little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
It seems, lately, that hope has asked more than a crumb of me. It has asked for all of my heart, all of my strength, every fiber of my being. Hope has been hard work. It sputters like an engine almost out of gas. It feels like the last lap in a race that has already run too long. It’s like a balloon that floats just out of reach. Hope has been so very hard, and scary, and consuming, and exhausting. But, thank God, it’s still there.