Healing Begins with a Touch

So here is the last of the series I started on Monday. If you're as good at counting as I am, you may surmise that we do not have one post per sense, assuming the usual five. And that's what happened that week five years ago: I set a goal for myself and then got buried by all the details. I never finished an essay devoted to smell or taste. Grief and memorial are not necessarily linear. Remember that. I have since written a few more things where these experiences are mentioned and my hope  is to one day tie them altogether for a chapter or section in the book I dream of writing. Perhaps by then, I will have come up with two more sense's worth of essays. There's much I would like to improve, as far as the writing goes for this last post. As far as content goes, these are topics I could see myself exploring for the rest of forever.

. . .if I could just touch the hem of your
garment, I know I'd be made whole. . .

On September 28th of last year, I let a man use a needle to bury ink beneath my skin. The result of my first tattoo experience is just below. The pink daisy is smaller and slightly turned away, as if blown by the wind; it represents Emmaline Paradise, the first baby we lost. The blue one is bigger and faces forward; it's for baby Jake.

I think the people I knew in high school would be shocked to see this permanent picture on the lower right side of my abdomen. In those young years, I never would have considered such an alteration. Even when I began to like tattoos on other people, I didn’t think there was anything I liked enough to consider wearing the rest of my life. Various people at my small Christian college viewed getting branded as a necessary part of the undergrad experience. I saw lots of crosses and fishes, but always felt that personally, I didn’t need to bear some mark for people to know what I believed. I hope I never boasted such convictions to my symbol wearing classmates. But if'n I was a bettin' girl, I wouldn't put too much money on my humility.

After our first miscarriage, I considered getting a tattoo, but all I could think to do were initials, and I didn't have the guts to put it somewhere where no one could see. That meant it would be seen, which meant there would be questions. I didn’t want to be looked at and I didn’t want questions. I really wasn’t feeling up to having odd conversations, about dead babies, with anyone, let alone the stranger behind me in the grocery line.

What I wanted was some remembrance. I didn’t have a graveside to visit, or even a picture, and I wished for a tangible witness to my suffering. But my creative sparks were doused by fear and I ended up doing nothing.

Four years later, I was definitely older, perhaps a bit wiser, probably not any less fearful, but absolutely more resolute. There would be no more hiding out, no more trying to move on, no more getting back to normal life. What was normal life anyway? I sure didn’t know. My heart had been broken, absolutely shredded and ground into the dirt. How could I expect to be normal after this? After I’d been anesthetized, intubated, and dilated, how could I look at life the same way again? After my lifeless child had been sucked from my womb and deposited in a place only doctors know of, how, tell me how in the world could I refuse to acknowledge my loss?

So I embraced it. I felt as much as I could stand, when I could stand it. I walked out on church services, I ran to empty playgrounds, I cried out, I played sad songs for my friends. I even shared my grief with my living children. And after about six weeks I felt some relief.

In early July I took a road trip to see some family. We had good talks. I told them I was doing better. I came back home and expected to continue my slow and deliberate ascension, but I didn’t. I got stuck.

There was nothing to do about it, so I withdrew. I was tired of pain, but could not yet feel joy, so I turned my feelings off. I don’t believe it was a conscious decision. I just know where I ended up. I cared for nothing and no one. I felt nothing and numb. I was tempted to do things I knew I’d regret, bad things. I flirted with danger and I didn’t care.

At the beginning of August we decided to send me to therapy. Saying everything out loud, to an objective listening ear helped. But it wasn’t enough. I started having trouble with everyday tasks. Cooking dinner and shopping for groceries overwhelmed me. I’d head out to Target and end up at Wal-mart because I couldn’t remember which was where. I lay in bed at night exhausted, but unable to sleep. My therapist told me I was in a double depression. She believed I suffered from dysthymia, and explained that since “normal,” for me, was still painful, my inner psyche didn’t feel it was worth it to try and get better.

This may sound like mumbo jumbo to you, but it was very freeing for me. I finally understood, and had a name for this illness. I gave myself permission to believe that my sadness was beyond my control, not just the result of circumstances, or weak faith.

In September I made two important decisions. Number one, I would go to my PCP and ask her to prescribe an antidepressant. Number two, I would get the tattoo I‘d been contemplating for 4 years. Now, here’s something you might, or might not, know. Thinking about something for a long time and planning it all out is nice. But following through with it is much, much better.

The day I got my tattoo was so exciting. I felt really good. I smiled a lot -- and no, I hadn’t started my medication yet. That happened the next day. But the ink was my spoon full of sugar. It was exactly what I needed to help make the medicine go down. You see, even though I’d said goodbye and done the best I could to mourn. Even though we’d held a family memorial and set our little sailor out to sea, I needed more, more than our fetus obsessed culture had offered me. I needed to plant flowers in the cemetery. I needed to bring a little beauty from all my ashes.

If our lives are a war, you could say I now bear the marks of a long and bitter battle. It’s really not over yet, and sometimes these battles overlap so it’s hard to tell where one stops and another one starts. But the day I got pricked, I turned the tide. I gained the upper hand. I fought back and declared that I would not be taken out. I think my baby was proud of me that day. When the pain reached its worst, I shed a few tears. They were more for Jake than for the needle. I couldn’t verbalize it then, but as I write it occurs to me, and maybe you can relate. Isn’t it strange? Isn't it funny -- how a huge, ugly, old wound can begin to heal through another one, one that’s small, pretty and new?

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