November 2013 archive

Your birthdays, the best day of the year

November is the month of birthdays in our house.  We have three birthdays, each days
apart, beginning with mine and ending with my third daughter’s birthday, the
last for the year in this immediate family and in between we celebrate the youngest’s birthday.  
We fuss about
birthdays, a throw back to our childhood’s, my husband’s and mine, when
birthdays were enjoyable enough but rarely fussed over. 
To me it’s the one day of the year when you can claim a
special place.  Invariably, at
least for me birthdays, my own birthdays are a disappointment.  
Other peoples’ birthdays can be fun.  You know the song: 
‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…’
That’s the feeling, though no one’s heart is breaking over
a lost or unfaithful love, though at a symbolic level I suppose the grief is to
do with being born, of being separated and out in the world. 
I saw a you tube clip of twins who had just been born, only
they did not know it not yet.  
It
looks as though they are being held together in the arms of a midwife.  They are breathing independently but
their eyes are shut.  They cleave to one another as if they are still in the womb and their arm movements
have the jerky feel of babies in utero. 
I want to watch them wake up.  I want to see the look in their eyes.  I want to see them cry, even to greet
the world, but the clip stops just as they are lifted out of their amniotic
bath.  
And so presumably their
lives begin.  Their birthday.  

The way of grief

Here follows the opening of my chapter in Eric Miller’s book, Stories of Complicated Grief: A critical anthology.

There are many more chapters written by others that are well worth reading.
Twenty years ago when I was still
young, I stood under the shower one morning and found a pea-sized lump in my
left breast. I had soaped myself down as usual and with my right hand I pressed
the skin against my rib cage to feel the texture of my otherwise smooth breast.
I was in search of imperfections.
A friend had not
long before been diagnosed with breast cancer and I was more diligent in my
search than usual. Only that night I had dreamed of my friend’s gaping breast
cut open by a surgeon’s knife. I took it as an omen.
‘It’s probably
nothing, but it feels a bit fibrous.’ I imagine the doctor did not want to
alarm me. ‘Best to get it looked at.’ It took a few anxious days before my next
appointment.
‘This won’t hurt
a bit,’ the specialist said, ‘ just like a mosquito bite’. He pushed a long
silver needle into my breast above the lump.
A mosquito bite?
Clearly no mosquito had ever bitten this surgeon before otherwise he would have
known not to lie to me. On a scale of one to ten – toothache being one, childbirth
ten – I rate this pain from my memory today, at seven. But it was gone in a
flash. The surgeon peeled off a pink bandaid to cover the drip of blood from
the pinprick hole he left behind.
The results came
back negative but still, ‘to be certain we should take that lump out,’ the
surgeon said. ‘I might have missed the growth itself.’
The night before
the day of the knife, I looked at my breasts in the mirror. I had a mixed
relationship with them. They were the love of my babies’ lives but they stirred
up unfathomable and ambivalent feelings in me. They were not however available
for serious wounding. I woke from the anaesthetic without pain, still groggy
from the drugs. The surgeon visited before my discharge.
‘All fine,’ he
said and used an unrepeatable word, which when translated into layman’s terms
means a benign fatty deposit. The white bandage held both breasts firm and
hugged my ribcage. I was mummified. ‘Keep the bandage on for a week. Cover it
with plastic in the shower. I’ll be able to take the stitches out then.’
In twenty years
the scar has faded but it remains for me to see, a tiny junction on the left
side of my left breast. ‘There is something peculiarly distressing about the
first wound on new skin’, writes AS Byatt in her book, Still Life (1985, p. 157). And so it was for me – this scar,
this wound, this mark on my breast. But as they say, I should be grateful, it
could have been far worse.
I have other
scars that are not so visible. They exist beneath the line of my skin, etched
into my mind. These are the scars of trauma and grief, the complicated
difficulties that have beset me from my earliest days. These are also the
childhood scars that steered my vocation and later joined to form other scars
through further traumatic experience. That is the way with grief. It becomes a
scar, a hard inflexible stretch of skin, which takes the place of healthy
tissue, the body’s attempt at healing itself. But scar tissue looks different.
It is paler and more dense. There is a limited blood supply available and
therefore less movement and circulation and in cases where there is too much
scarring, it can block otherwise healthy functioning. So, too, when grief
appears to have sealed over, when the initial trauma is past, the area of the
wound or loss becomes less flexible. If we are to avoid such hardening, our
grief must be worked through over time. 

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