Something happens in the days following loss. After the initial bombardment of support (and, let's be frank, there are people who truly care and people who simply want to know what's going on for the sake of their own nosy curiosity), the world began to feel quite empty. People asked me to call them if I needed them and, at 2 a.m. as I sat in my bed wondering if my chest was collapsing and if this is what dying felt like, I knew I needed someone but how do you decide who or what you even need? Reassurance that life goes on, sure. But how do you make that phone call? You don't. You lay in bed and watch the ceiling fan spin and realize the silence and vast emptiness of the world is haunting at best.
Sometimes, there is the silence that surprises you. It's the silence that comes from those you consider close to you. It's the silence from family members or close friends who continue to exist, Facebook shows you, but don't seem to be existing in your world. It's the silence that screams the loudest, the silence that pulls open your wounds that time is trying desperately to heal. It's the "why don't they love me?" or "why don't they care?" at three in the morning when you're so sad about so many things that you feel disoriented. It's the thought of the people you would want to call at 2 a.m. if you were going to call anyone, but the confusion that they seem to have dismissed themselves from the grieving process completely.
"People don't know what to say," my mother says. "They don't know what to say, that's all." Each time I bring up my shock, horror and heartbreak over the family member or friend who excused themselves from the time I needed them most, this is how I am reassured. Not just by my mother, but by anyone who tries to justify the silence from the sources I needed the most. People don't know what to say, I'm told, so they just don't say anything. It's supposed to make sense to the point where I'm in the wrong for letting it hurt me, where I'm in the wrong for bringing up my daughter and the tragic, painful, devastating events that led to her diagnosis and death. I'm supposed to hold it together for their comfort, of course, lest I forget that this isn't all about me but about how everyone else is coping. My grief counselor warned me about this, her hand on my wrist as I stared holes into the carpet and let the tears burn my eyes. "People are going to think this is about them, they're going to make this loss about them but it is not about them," she promised me.
People didn't always have the right thing to say, which is important to mention. The grocery bagger at Publix who awkwardly embraced me in a side hug and told me she lit a candle for me fumbled over those words. The barista at Starbucks who told me she was so sorry and would keep our family in her thoughts came up with that line on a whim, somewhere in between me ordering my coffee and her realizing that I was no longer pregnant and had no baby in my arms. The mom group acquaintances and friends from high school who exist in my life only on Facebook, well, they tried, too. They sputtered out condolences and offers of support that were sometimes awkward at best, but they said something. There was a stack of cards and letters on my dining room table for a month before I took a breath and tucked them into Wylie's box of things in her room, a stack of cards and letters so massive but none were sent from some of the people who I needed the most. I sifted through the stack daily in hopes I was wrong, in hopes I missed the letter or card from the person I so badly needed to hear from, but I was never wrong. "It's not that they don't care," my mother would assure me, "they just didn't know what to say." Anything. Say anything. Say that you care. After all, I'm not going to be grading your performance or words or sincerity and understanding. I'm likely just going to need some arms to crash into and someone to listen as I sob about the injustices of the world and other things that I couldn't fix, just as no one could fix Wylie's heart.
It's the silence of those you need, those you feel closest to in this world, that screams the loudest. It's what halts the healing process and slows it up. It's the silence of those who you need the most that pushes you further away from the support you're receiving, the support from people who are supposed to care about you less, think about you less, be there for you less than those who have spent so many years invested in you and your friendship. When a Target cashier sends me a smile and a well wish, letting me know that Wylie was on her mind today, but a beloved relative or close friend still has yet to offer condolences or speak Wylie's name, it's ten steps back in my healing journey. It's a slap in the face that sends me spiraling out of control and into a world that I'm unfamiliar with. It's a reassessment of everything I know when I'm already trying to put the pieces back together, at least enough to function.
May will be one year since we said goodbye to our daughter and with her loss came a tangled mess of reassessed relationships and confusion, of hurt and despair. Of appreciation for those whose friendships perhaps I hadn't prioritized enough. It was a reassurance to myself that I can get through despair, I can get through trauma, I can get through pain without those who I thought I relied so heavily on.
But, still, it would be nice if they said something. It would be nice if they let me see the rough draft of their thoughts, the awkward words and fumbled promises of care and support as we navigated the world without our daughter in it. It would be nice if I knew what their words sounded like, if I could at least try them on and piece myself back together with the glue of their love that had held me together for so many years up until now. Up until when I was the most broken that I have ever been.
They didn't know what to say, so they said nothing. I will always be scarred by that nothingness, no matter how my new life goes on.