Originally published on May 18, 2012, on The Next Family.
I gave birth on a Tuesday, in the early morning, and Thursday afternoon we left the hospital. The guys were still staying in town one more night because our discharge was later in the day and they had a six-hour drive home (plus a lot of time for stops this trip). So Friday we had one last goodbye, and then they were off. A few hours after they left, we were off, to Minneapolis for my annual professional conference. My first experience with pumping and traveling, and it was quite the learning experience at that. By the way, frozen breast milk travels through TSA screenings perfectly well, while fresh is infinitely harder. Just so you know. Everything went well, and on the little one’s one-week birthday, we were on our way back home. I have to credit daddy and papa (my intended fathers) for being amazing during this time. I had emails, phone pictures, calls, and updates. We were all sharing pictures and gushing on Facebook, and things just went outstandingly well. We had talked ahead of time about how to handle afterwards, what expectations we all had, what to do and not do, so we were prepared, and I think that was a huge help in navigating those hormone-driven and sleep-deprived post-partum and early infant days. It also helped that daddy is a counselor, and deals amazingly well with people. As things calmed down and I got back into work, there were changes, obviously, but we all dealt with them as they came with copious communication. I took some time to focus on myself, and pamper myself some, not by time off of work (yeah, graduate students who want to graduate don’t really do that), but with things like eating out, massages, and using pumping time as time to read, play online, whatever. We set up a time to go visit the new family, marked the date on the calendar, and just enjoyed the end of summer. I had my prospectus defense scheduled, so I spent a lot of time getting that document ready, editing, and practicing questions (which, ironically, I’m going through again as I prep my dissertation for defense). Life was good. What no one communicated about, and what no one expected, was that Monday morning call from my mom and her husband. What no one expected was that our first reaction would be “Did her husband do it?” when we heard of Kim’s death. What no one expected was that the answer would be no. Kim had married an older man early on. She was half his age when they married in her 21st year of life. She and I had been close as kids, we’re 4.5 years apart, but our dad died when I was 14 and she was 9, so that made us closer than other kids with the same span between them. In some ways, I had thought of her and been protective of her as a mother would. By the end of that week, we would be driving across state, going to a *very* private memorial, and saying goodbye. I don’t deal with funerals well. I may do dissections frequently as a biologist and not think twice about it, but dead people freak me out. Seeing my little sis there literally took my breath away. Hearing the comments of “She looks so good” made me gag. Fewer than thirty people were allowed in to pay their respects, but my in-laws and another surrogate that was local to Kim and had known both of us came for me. Daddy and Papa sent flowers. My dear friend Kristina, who had watched Kenny when I was in labor sent cards compulsively. At my prospectus defense, ten days after Kim’s death, one of my advisors gave me a card. Towards the end of August, when the date of our big trip came up, I was informed of a second memorial for Kim. This would be the larger service, with the cousins, and extended family. This would be not the stiff pastor speaking of some other Kim, but family sharing and crying and eating, with no preserved body and a pillow carefully hiding a missing occipital bone. It was to be the same day that we would be with the new family. Again, I was separated from our family; so instead, I celebrated with “my family” by going to an outdoor concert with Daddy, Papa, and their little girl. There was music, and outdoors, and food, and love- and that was my memorial for her. To say the healing process was hard would be an understatement. We walked as a family, me, Dwight, Kenny, my mom, and her husband, in an Out of the Darkness walk in Cleveland in October. We had t-shirts printed with an image of Kim with fairy wings that I had put together. Most days, I was able to drag myself out of bed. Oddly, when I read my teaching reviews for that term, my students praised me; I laughed at how well I had managed to fool them into thinking that I wasn’t falling apart. I went to grief counseling. I still sit here, nearly ten months later, in tears as I type. Grieving is not something that gets easier with practice; I should know, I’ve done this before. And, by a huge twist of fate, my commencement and hooding this summer falls on her birthday, and just after the one-year anniversary of her death. A part of me sees her laughing somewhere over this fact, probably with our dad. She always was the drama queen, and wanted to be the center of attention. Well, this year her birthday will be for both of us. This is my payback for all the years of having to share my birthday with her half birthday. I’d take back every mean thing I said just to share a birthday with you again.