“Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day.”
A map is precise, yet imprecise. It will show highways, intersections, and crossroads. In the world of GPS, it is constantly updated with the latest information. But it also lacks. Maps do not show individual driveways. Or homes. Even Google Maps, with a street-level view, does not reveal what is contained within the walls. A map can show you where to go, but not what you will find when you get there.
There is a map on my body, marking the journey of grief. Tired eyes, drawn mouth, scar from an unnecessary biopsy, stretch marks. I have further made a permanent landmark with the recent addition of the tattoo. The lines are drawn onto the map of my body, but I do not yet know where they will lead or end.
The journey began years ago with an ectopic pregnancy and early loss. It followed a path of healthy pregnancies and comforting friends in their losses without truly having the right form of empathy. It came crashing into a war zone with the loss of Nelle and Iris. Now I struggle to find my place on the map. For someone who has always been so sure of my path, the uncertainly is unnerving. I often find myself lost, calling out for guidance, with no one to lead. No one understands where the path will go. This is uncharted territory.
The journey lead me yesterday to cross the path of a friend, who had recently experienced her own loss. I could not tell her the end of her story either. But I could lead her, for a little while, along the path. I could take her hand and tell her that I had been walking along this path for months, and give her an inkling of what to expect. We all walk on our own roads, but sometimes they intersect, if only briefly. We could shed tears together, and laugh and be angry. We were in the same place. In all reality, we may not always be walking along the same road, and at that point, how do you move forward together? It is a brutal, painful question in loss: when someone finds a way to move forward, while you are still hurting. It is a question we do not have to answer now.
We have known each other for a very long time, and physical distance became a separation. Conversations were further apart. She wanted to know why I had continued the friendship, after all of these years, when often she had not reciprocated. I told her “Because some friendships are worth fighting for.”
Talking was emotionally draining. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other. We lamented how people don’t know what to say, but saying the wrong thing is worse. We talked through tears about our losses. But in the end, I said better to talk than not to talk. My sleep was flooded with nightmares. I dreamed that I had accidentally placed an order for new baby furniture, and then when it arrived I started screaming hysterically that I did not have a baby.
Today my 6-year-old asked me “Mommy, what scares you the most?” I responded “Not much scares me.” What was I supposed to say? That the future scares me? That pregnancy scares me? That even though I may appear to be strong and brave, that I wilt inside when I think too far ahead into the future? If he were older, I would explain my fears and lay my cards on the table. But he is 6 and does not need to know what churns in my head. I do not need to share that burden with him.
For now, my friend and I walk together, arms outstretched, sharing that burden. Not everyone knows the trauma of pregnancy loss. It is an even smaller subset that knows the anguish of a subsequent loss.