The month of March was consumed with the purchase and renovation of our first home. Although this is a really exciting time for Jeff and I, it has also felt as if a dark cloud hung over the process for me. This isn’t what I imagined for our family this spring. We should be preparing a space into which we can welcome our first baby, but instead we’re waiting on the results of more blood tests. I held back tears through the whole closing, feeling internally caught between excitement for something new and apprehension about leaving a space that holds so many significant memories from the past year.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on context memories, specifically how physical spaces hold memories and emotions for us. We layer meaning onto certain spaces– the fondness we experience when remembering a childhood home or the location where our spouse proposed. These memories are even more palpable when trauma is layered on top. The home from which we moved contained within it all of the intensity of 2020. It was the place where we found out that COVID-19 was sweeping the globe, our employers sent us home from work for fear of infection and all of our favorite places closed — restaurants, gyms, stadiums and concert venues– everything came to a screeching halt. We did as so many others, and evaluated what was most important to us as our circumstances forced us to slow down. The thought of impending doom does that to us, I guess. After reflection we decided the time was right to start a family. When we got pregnant, that was the home where I shared the news with my husband. I hold tight to the sweet memories of Jeff getting up early to pray for our developing baby with his hand on my belly, and sneaking out of bed to make me breakfast before work so I wouldn’t feel so nauseous. That was the space where tears of joy turned to tears of sadness after receiving the news that there was no heartbeat on the ultrasound. That was the place where we slumped into bed and sobbed as the reality set in that we were not going to meet our first child in June. So much has happened in the last year, all in that space.
If these walls could talk, what would they say?
The prospect of a major home renovation felt daunting, but the opportunity to make it our own lured me in. Project timelines, budgets, paint swatches and flooring samples all served as a nice distraction from our current circumstances. However, the elephant in the room was the room itself, and I felt its unbearable weight from the moment we walked into our new home. As I sanded the baseboards in the second bedroom I cried silent tears that splashed big dark drops in the saw dust on the floor. I was sanding the baseboards of our office that should have been a nursery.
If the walls in our new home could talk, I imagine they’d tell stories of both joy and sorrow. It’s a new year and a new space, but grief doesn’t get left behind. We’ve had promising test results, but we still aren’t out of the woods. Somedays I’m so motivated to be the picture of health in preparation for trying to get pregnant again, and other days I don’t have the energy, and resort instead to coping by eating junk food, having a glass of wine, or staying up late watching tv. Grief is like an iceberg, there is so much more to it than the visible symptoms. Under the surface, grief is also numbness, irritability, anxiety, avoidance, insomnia and lack of motivation. I have hope that this home will be host to our first living child, but I’m also trying to allow this space and this season of life to hold meaning and significance in its own right. In this season, I can enjoy carefree weekends not tending to the needs of little ones, but I can also think deeply about the kind of impact I want to have on those who might someday call me “mom.” In order to be present in this holding pattern, I have to settle in to the tension between hope for the future and contentment in the present moment. In this season, I’m coming to accept my grief as it is and a new side of myself that grief is revealing.
If walls could talk, I’d imagine they’d whisper one word: paradox.
Paradox (noun): a situation, person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
The paradox of loss is that it forces us, against our will, to experience such heartache, yet brings other elements of who we are into focus. It strips away the extraneous detail and helps us clarify our values and priorities. In the waiting, I’m unsure why we have to walk through this loss and subsequent cancer scare. It doesn’t feel fair. Yet I know that in hindsight, I will be able to see clearly the gifts that grief gave me even though I can’t see them at present. For now, I’ll take it day by day, and trust that this process is preparing us for whatever lies ahead.