Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Pause at the End

Seventeen years ago, I sat on the steps of the rental house I shared with three college roommates, bewildered at what was going to happen next. I had graduated, gone on a road trip with friends, and was preparing to move to the Twin Cities in a few days, but I had also maxed out my vision of the future. Sometimes, when driven to accomplish something, the way I had focused on getting a college degree for as long as I could remember, there's nothing left in the psychic reserves to plan for what comes after. Sure, I had some vague ideas of things I wanted to do, but nothing was as concrete, anchoring, and enjoyable as what I had just done. The future had arrived and I had the disconcerting experience of feeling time stretch out beyond an endpoint that had been fixed in my mind. It must be what things are like for true believers in the apocalypse that find the world did not end on their leader's predicted date. It took me a year to recover fully and five to identify the next big endeavor of my life that I could throw my energy and singular focus behind.

Sometime around the beginning of the last decade, around the time I got married for the first time, my biological clock kicked into full force and I knew that it was time to focus on having children. Like going to college, this was something I wanted to do from the time I was a little girl, and everything seemed aligned to carry it out. The path to building my family ended up being a bit more meandering than the path to educational attainment. I didn't expect pregnancy to be as hard as it has been for me and I certainly didn't expect to get divorced and restart my family building with a different partner. Now ten years after getting pregnant for the first time, I have given birth to my last child, and I find myself once again scratching my head as to what is next.

As disconcerting as it feels right now, I also know this is the right decision. I always knew that I wanted to have more than two children and after three pregnancies and a fourth bonus child that I thankfully didn't have to carry, I have satisfied that desire. I have realized at 38, going through pregnancy and now the sleepless nights of the newborn stage, that I have come to the end of my energy for doing this particular work again. I look forward to completely focusing on the monumental task of finishing raising my current children. I also feel great happiness about the pure potential of using my creative energies in other areas of my life.

And yet. And yet I find my eyes brimming with tears sometimes when I hold Isaac and my mind wanders to the finality of it all. It feels like it's just a short trip from my choosing to be done with childbearing to no longer being of childbearing age. I am feeling my mortality. This is compounded, I think, by the realization that I will never have a daughter and that my intimate experience of girlhood and young womanhood ends with me. And so, the losses I felt as a girl and young woman, although they were always mine, feel so completely mine now. For example, I will never know in any close proximity, what the father-daughter relationship is like for a young girl, and losing my relationship with my own father at a young age hurts all over again. There is no way through these feelings but grief. To paraphrase Gerard ManleyHopkins - it is Charlotte that I mourn for.

And yet. And yet grief feels like such an inappropriate and self-indulgent emotion when holding a beautiful, healthy, sweet-dispositioned newborn in my arms and knowing that Isaac was the exact right baby for me to have. Grief feels wrong when I have been given the gift of raising four children.

And yet. And yet my experience with grief has shown me that as inevitable as it is, its greatest power is in being a marker of the things most important to us. We each have only one life and there are limits on the things we can experience in our allotted time. Some things we give up with no emotional impact, and some things wreck us in their sheer significance. Those are the things we are most meant to do.

So now, faced with the end of one of the things I was most meant to do with my life, I will not attempt to delay the completion with hopes of avoiding grief. I will grieve it - for the beauty of how it was and for the imperfections I perceive in what it was not. I will stare a while into this void, and I will move on in search of the next great thing that will break my heart as fully.


Happy Kid City said...

Wow. Such powerful writing. I love how you said that grief's greatest power is "in being a marker of the things most important to us." What a wonderful way of looking at it.

Liliane said...

Amen. Well said. Joy, grief, possibility, loss...