When they are gay,
the waves echo their gaiety;
but when they are sad,
then every breaker, as it rolls,
seems to bring additional sadness,
and to speak to us of hopelessness
and of the pettiness of all our joys.
I sat in the sand at the edge of the shore, looked out at the vast Atlantic Ocean, and watched the waves change the landscape with each crash. I absentmindedly dug a hole in the sand next to me, but then a wave came. The hole filled first with water. Then, wet sand caved in. The surface of the sand was flat once again, erasing any evidence that a hole was in the earth just seconds earlier.
I have heard the analogy that grief comes in waves.
But as I sat in the wet sand five months after my infant son’s death, I found grief more comparable to my futile attempt to dig a hole at the ocean’s edge. I was working so hard to be present, to find joy, to move forward without moving on, but grief didn’t care about my effort. No matter how furiously I dug, no matter how sore my fingertips were from scraping the grainy sand, the powerful force of the tide consumed the hole in an instant.
There were brief moments during our family trip to Myrtle Beach when I felt happiness: standing in the shallow ocean water with Luke’s wet little hand in mine, seeing the pure joy on his face as he wiped his mouth and said, “Salty, Mommy. The ocean so salty;” introducing Zack to the world of Harry Potter while snuggling with him in bed at night; seeing Jake confidently take off his puddle-jumper, cannonball into the deep end of the pool, and swim to the steps without any help, his smirky-smile revealing how proud he was of himself; sharing looks with my husband Jeremy when the kids said or did something funny, or infuriating, or heartwarmingly sweet.
The problem was that those moments were only moments.
The joy I felt lasted only an instant–lasted only as long as a hole dug in the sand at the shore’s edge. The rest of the time, underlying sadness permeated my being. As much as I love the beach, I would have rather been at home with my sweet Reed. There was no getting around that fact.
During the years I had struggled with infertility, I felt sadness and longing when I saw bellies rounded with life or mothers carrying their wiggly babies. After I had Zack, those feelings dissolved completely. I had reached the other side of that envy, or so I thought. After losing Reed, those feelings came back even stronger. There was the woman presumably on her babymoon, who looked at least eight months pregnant. There was the mom breastfeeding her newborn on the beach, his red crooked foot sticking out from beneath her nursing cover. There was the family of six walking on the sand just steps ahead of us during our evening stroll to look for shark teeth. Everywhere I looked, there were physical representations of what I had missed out on, what I was currently missing, and what would never be.
If I stop to think, I know that none of those women’s lives are perfect. I also know it does no good to compare my life to the fantasy lives I have created and attributed to the people on the beach.
I’m sure the sight of my family has caused these same feelings to stir in other people.
A stranger would never guess I struggled with infertility or suffered two miscarriages. A stranger would never guess a fourth little boy is missing. To an outsider, we look complete as a family of five.
Regularly, people at church, in restaurants, and at the park, say to me, “You have a beautiful family.” And they’re right. I do have a beautiful family. They just can’t see all of it. And that hurts.
They say, “Three boys! You sure have your hands full, don’t you?” And they’re right. My hands are full. But they should be fuller. And that hurts.
They say, “It goes so fast. Enjoy every minute.” And they’re right. It does go fast. But I can’t enjoy every minute. And that hurts.
But maybe, just maybe, the next time I visit the beach, I won’t try to dig a hole in the ocean-saturated sand. Maybe I will appreciate the ebb and flow of the sea instead. Maybe there will be more moments of joy than of sadness. Maybe I will be able to focus more on what I have than what I have lost. And maybe my love for Reed and my memories of my time with him will make me smile more often than they make me cry. Maybe, just maybe.