Crying in the Caribbean
I'm continuously surprised by how quickly time passes when I take a look at the date of my last blog post. I have kept busy working on learning the ins and outs of fundraising, recruiting for our upcoming blood drive, trying to learn to take care of myself, and just getting some much needed rest. My mind and body are weak and tired.
Ryan and I were also lucky enough to take our "griefmoon" in the Caribbean. The term 'griefmoon' may seem very odd or morbid to some of you, but I want to normalize this phrase that helps recognize the fact that life is not entirely happy. But that you should make the choice to truly live it anyway. Because when you go through this hell of losing a child, living is a choice that you have to make. This griefmoon helped us to realize that.
If you've had a loss and you're able to take a griefmoon in any capacity, please, please, please do. It came strongly recommended to us and was probably the single most nurturing thing we could have done for our marriage. Though I'm not sure I've heard anyone else actually use the term "griefmoon," it's very common in the loss community to take a trip and for good reason. I've even connected with a fellow loss family in an entirely different part of the world who visited the exact same serene spot in St. Kitts that we were able to experience.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am probably obsessed with the Caribbean. Who wouldn't be? And why do I live in the Midwest? There are few things in life that just do not disappoint, and the Caribbean is that for me. The waters are calm and crystalline. The sun is warm. The wildlife is incredible. It's my happy place. It's the only place I know how to simply exist and just 'be.' It makes me feel at peace. I'm not exaggerating when I say that visiting there is a spiritual experience for me. I love cruising because it gives me constant time on that water.
It's no secret that I suffered from a serious amount of prenatal anxiety when I was pregnant with Rylea. Bringing a child into this world is hard. I always told Ryan that "if something happens to this baby" we would take off to the Caribbean. Not that I ever thought it would be any consolation, but because I knew that I always felt the most connected to the spiritual realm and to God there. That I might be able to feel her there. I knew that those waters would do something for me.
Thankfully, I was right.
We flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico and cruised to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. It wasn't until we went to St. Maarten that I realized how terribly ironic it was that I chose to go on this cruise. I looked out and saw a full rainbow painted against the hillside as it was raining pretty hard. Everyone on our excursion was complaining about how the rain had ruined our beach day. I smiled a guilty smile because I knew that this was all for me.
In 2017, this part of the Caribbean was absolutely and tragically ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Though I didn't have anything to compare it to, while we were riding on the bus through town in St. Maarten I was sobered by all of the remnants of hurricane damage that were still everywhere in 2019. There were still capsized boats all over. Trees still bent. Buildings completely leveled. Street lamps snapped in half. Statues torn apart.
The infant loss community is very divided over this analogy, so I will carefully say that in my own life, losing Rylea (but obviously not Rylea herself) is my most devastating storm. The capsized boats, the buildings knocked down, sections of the island itself completely gone, and the palpable ache felt when the people of St. Maarten would talk about the storm... It was all too emblematic of these past few months. All of my hopes, my dreams, my heart, my identity, my entire life just completely and utterly destroyed by this traumatic, metaphorical storm.
Our tour guide realistically told us the effects of the hurricanes on St. Maarten would probably be there for decades or longer. Just as I know that this is a trauma that will stick with me too - forever. They say that "even the smallest wave permanently changes the shoreline." These monstrous waves have been anything but small.
However, the devastation wasn't the only thing I noticed in St. Maarten. No. Equal to that devastation I noticed was that St. Maarten had also recovered from such a terrible storm remarkably. The island is rebuilding. Resiliently.
Every other property had a full construction team working on something. We passed countless hotels, beaches, restaurants, and houses all being rebuilt. As we got off the bus and to the beach, you could actually hear the construction going on the island. That construction drew my attention to the recently completed hotels and restaurants. The repairs being completed on existing structures. The new resorts going up. They gave me hope.
That although many parts of the island will never be able to be recovered and it will never return to the exact same state of normalcy as before the storms, the island itself still stands with a few old structures, some renovated buildings, and lots of new constructions all bustling right beside the capsized ships still resting along the shore. That instead of throwing in the towel among the rubble, like the Caribbean I would also be able to make the choice to build a "new normal" around the permanently fractured pieces of my soul.
The entire trip, I was constantly reminded of the paradoxical presence of both bliss and grief I do and will experience in every aspect of life from here on out. But isn't the reality that it's always been this way? I just never paid it any attention.
When we were on a boat excursion in Barbados, the DJ on the boat started playing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper. It's stupid or maybe out of character for me, but when I dreamed of being a girl mom, I dreamed it would look like Rylea and I doing our nails, getting into our pjs, and using a hairbrush as a microphone while we danced. To that song. When the DJ played that song on the boat, right across from me I saw a mother holding her daughter while they danced together so carefree. I sat in sorrow, crying, overtaken by grief, and was jolted back into my thoroughly agonizing reality while everyone on the boat naively danced around me. I kept staring at that mom... Does she have any idea?
I think the road forward will contain a lot of moments like this. Making the choice to live and accepting any grief that comes along with that. Acknowledging that the pain and this distorted joy are inextricable.
Two mothers on a boat with their daughters... You just can't see mine and I don't get to dance with her yet.
We got back on the ship that night in Barbados and I laid in bed and looked at the painting on the wall in our stateroom. It was a mother and a daughter in a beautiful meadow by the sea. This could seem like another slap in the face unless you've read my last blog post and remember that dream I had about a much-older Rylea and I dancing together in a meadow. I wouldn't say that I'm a "sign" person, but I just don't believe that was a coincidence when it was just what I needed from her that day.
When I was pregnant with Rylea, I had a very funny attachment to the song "Africa" by Toto. It makes no sense, but for some reason I heard it all the time and would cry each time it came on. I do not cry a lot and so I have no idea what it was about that song that made my hormonal self break into tears so much. We laugh about it still. But on our griefmoon, each night after dark, Ryan and I would go to the deserted top deck of the ship to talk and to look out at the night sky and across the sea. That night leaving Barbados and walking up to that top deck and with nobody else around and the star-filled sky up above us, wouldn't you know that "Africa" randomly started blaring over the speakers on the ship.
More tears because they're commonplace these days. And joy because I felt her with us then.
I chose this picture from St. Maarten for this post because in it there are storm clouds, rain, sunshine, tranquil waters, a rehabilitating landscaping, abundant grief, everlasting love, and somehow, a candid smile.