It’s the night of DPCon’12, and I’m so exhausted even red lipstick isn’t helping. At the equivalent to this conference last year, in 2012, I was two months out from Tony’s death and so disconnected from the world, it felt like a dream… a nightmare that belonged to somebody else.
It was one of the best days of my life. It was one of the hardest. I spoke, not particularly well. I retreated, disappeared into my room every hour or so, where I sat on the floor in front of the mirror and reminded myself I was real, I did exist, this wasn’t a dream. Somewhat back in some kind of reality, I regrouped, then held my head high and walked back into the fray. I spent a lot of that day mindlessly hugging people who desperately wanted to take away my pain and couldn’t; while I was struggling, mute to the words I needed to tell them how much they had helped, how they kept me alive, what they’d done for me. So I’d just squeeze them as I tight as I could, hoping they could feel it through my the weight of my arms around them.
I was my own living, breathing proof of survival that day, as I stood on a stage in front of 200 people and recounted the details of the last two months of my life. It was horrific. The conference itself was mind–blowingly amazing– a community that had existed only behind a screen suddenly come to life, moving and jumping and laughing and hugging and talking and meshing, the room pulsating with energy.
|Best known image credit according to the Google God is here.|
I spoke and it stung like fire, like baptism; but it was the balm to it’s own pain. It was watching a room full of people feel your suffering, and wishing they could take it away, just for a moment… if for no other reason than they just couldn’t stand to hear it in my voice anymore.
Today I witnessed a woman, beautiful and brave and as real as they come, tell a whole room full of people her story, share with them the day that changed her life.
It felt like watching a ghost of myself.
I began crying even before Kristie, who blogs at Hespera’s Garden, took the stage. The photos projected onto the screen behind her, taken by Fe from Heartfelt, an image of Kristie’s face crumpled in pain as she cradled the lifeless body of her stillborn son Avery… there is no pain that compares to a mother, sobbing so distraught that if there was a God, he must be deaf.
I watched as she faced a crowd of 200 people, some who knew what she was about to say, some who didn’t. With her, I took a huge breath, and I watched as she set her words, her story, the memory of her precious baby boy, and let them fill the entire room.
All those words, those big words that bring with them images of something so huge in its meaning you can’t quite find the adjective big enough– words that fall in line with ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ and ‘inspiring’– Kristie was the spoken essence of those words. The entire crowd hushed, no one whispering or shuffling or daring to rustle the almost sacred silence that had fallen over the room.
My heart broke with every word Kristie spoke. I was so proud of her, I thought I would burst. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I wanted to run to the stage while she was in mid-speech and hug her and tell her how brave she was, how we were all holding her in our hands right now as we watched her navigate between emotion and composure– an audience connected by gossamer threads of compassion, a net with which we would catch her if she should happen to fall, this woman who was brave enough to be vulnerable, generous enough to share her story and show her pain.
That’s brave, with no disclaimers, no opt–outs, nothing but yourself and your emotions and the truth. Being vulnerable, being real, exposing yourself at risk of being hurt… knowing that risk and taking the chance anyway. A leap of faith. Saying ‘This is me, this is real. I am giving to you of myself here more than you know, and it requires me to trust human nature enough believe that no one will kick me when I’m down, no one will rub salt into a wound they can see bleeding.’
That’s brave. That’s strength. That was Kristie, speaking with dignity and conviction and love for her children, a love that doesn’t abide by silly laws such as mortality or ‘getting over it’.
The room was dark, and I was glad for that as I sat, snug, between Miss Pink and Kell and watched Kristie do something akin to what I had done, twelve months beforehand, only better, with more passion, less of a sense of shell chock than I displayed in 2011. I heard the pain and trepidation in her voice, and I cried, lip quivering, attempting to hold my head back so I didn’t smudge my make up, as Kristie introduced herself, gave us her background.
“Then, on the 14th of July, everything changed…”
Change the date, and I spoke words almost identical to that a year ago.
And with that I broke. I leaned on Miss Pink’s shoulder and bawled. I sobbed, head in my hands, shoulders shaking, breath hitching. I cried for Kristie, for Avery, for me, for Tony. For Kirrilee and Ella. For Amanda and Greg, for Teni and Scott and Ianto, for Krysten and Payten.
I cried for all of us who are grieving, every person in that room, in this community, reading this blog, hearing this story… Every mother or father or wife or husband or brother or sister or friend… For anyone who feels, anyone with that pain, keening for the warmth that is now a space that cannot be filled.
Kristie spoke the honest, brutal truth, and it was beautiful. She spoke openly about the weight of a baby, not moving, being placed on her chest. Her voice lowered, and she described, hitches of pain throughout, how she begged her baby boy to please, please wake up, please. She screamed her son’s name, fresh with pain, into the space of that room and we felt a roll of thunder, a mother’s grief, come with it.
“Avery! Avery! Avery!!” I have never witnessed anything so powerful in my entire life. It shook the room, stopped them. It was so real, so honest, so damn brave. Shock and awe and an infinite respect for a woman who had not only gone through this pain, but has the courage and the strength of will to share it, to release it into the universe; to not only honor her son, but to ease the suffering of others simply by giving them the knowledge that they are not alone, that someone else out there understands the desolate pain mixed with intense love that is grief
Kristie’s speech had become more than a story about a blog, about a woman, about a baby. Kristie stood and put herself bare and she told her story and it echoed of thousands of mothers, thousands of fathers, brothers and sisters; the story of thousands of babies who never drew breath.
Powerful. Brave. Amazing. We watched this woman, collectively in a state of amazement.
As Kristie finished her speech and walked off stage to a ringing mountain of applause; I recognised that tiny bounce in her step, the little bit of lightness, and I remembered the heady high of it. Of being terrified, but knowing that this– this ?- is nothing compared to what you have already had to do, burying someone you loved more than yourself. The filling, warming rush that comes of being afraid and doing it anyway and then being so damn proud of yourself; the adrenalin rush that would follow for hours.
I wanted to wrap Kristie up and hug her, and I did, as soon as I got the chance. I told her she was awesome, brave, amazing– I was so damn proud of her I could have popped.
Everyone who lives any type of life finds themselves grieving someone or something, at some point. But it’s made shunted and difficult, and it’s shamed and silenced. We put time limits on it (“Shouldn’t you be over this by now?”) and we discourage people from expressing their pain, because it just makes everybody uncomfortable (“You can’t cry for him, his spirit will stay stuck here on earth if you cry”).
People who are suffering through the loss of someone they love, foot in front of foot, second by endless second… we are difficult and messy, no one knows what to say to us. And there is nothing that can be said to eases that whole–soul, all encompassing ache.
No one likes to feel helpless, to be frustrated, to be unable to change something so painful. Those in mourning, screaming out their hands to be saved by people who can’t swim. As people, generally, we see someone else’s discomfort, their inability to handle what we have to say, and we learn not to talk about grief or loss or the chasm of longing it leaves behind. We stay silent, and when people ask “Are you OK?”, we lie.
|I gave this Little Miracles card to Kristie, sealed. Apt.|
Except when we don’t. Except for those people who are brave enough to take that pain, open it up to the corrosive oxygen of the world, and say– here it is. This is real. This is death and life and love and living. And I know you all have your own pain too.
There are not many people brave enough to speak about grief, to face the discomfort it causes others and still be honest, still tell the story of their pain and their loss and the short life of their gorgeous baby boy. It takes guts and confidence and balls and all kinds of awesome.
And every time someone does, every time someone is brave beyond the call of what any reasonable god should expect of them to begin with, and then chooses to be stronger still by speaking out and showing others they are not alone… Every time that happens, the silence surrounding death and the unquantified shame in grief becomes a little louder, whispers start to come from the darkness. People in pain, who feel what we feel and who need to know that someone understands, even just a little bit, to return to them some emancipation of normality.
I love people who are brave. I love people who are honest. Kristie was both of those; and strong and dignified to boot.
I once thought that there could be no beauty in grief, no cause for any measure of reflection or salvation to come from that pain. Tonight, I saw Kristie through the eyes of the audience that witnessed my pain twelve months ago. And she proved me wrong.