The Happiest Days Are the Saddest

Something you learn in the aftermath of losing a child is to rein in the tears. You pass holiday decorations at Target, you realize your son won’t be here for the holidays, you start to cry, and then you remember that you're at Target. So, you find a way to make the tears stop until you’re somewhere more appropriate—like the parking lot. 

A close friend asks you who put Moses’ things in storage, and you tell her that no, he still has a room; for though he never saw it, he lived, and why should you pack the room up, simply so you have another space to furnish? And you start to cry as you think of the books on his shelf that you never read to him, and you remember the lone book you and your husband read him the night before he passed away in the hospital—a book about trucks, because you always told him to dream about choo-choo trains, and the closest book they had was about trucks…And then you remember you’re getting a pedicure with your friend, and rather than stop and process this surreal and deeply sad reality, you wipe your eyes and segue the conversation.

In the first several months after Moses passed, people would ask me how I was doing in an especially sympathetic manner. In a manner that implied they were asking how I was doing without my son, without saying those words. And on cue, that part of my consciousness—the part where my feelings on life and loss as a mother live—could answer with one of its out-of-office messages: “As expected,” “Busy,” “Forward-focused,” or “Doing the best we can.” Because I've learned for the most part how to put my deeper sadness on a shelf, how to laugh at funny jokes and smile at sweetness and find a happy moment in each day and focus on my goals and remind myself of all of the blessings I am surrounded byand come back to the sadness when I have the space to process it.

But sometimes, to my surprise, the tears start and I can't make them stop. And often, that's when the deepest truths come out. On my mom's birthday, for example. When trying to express the unending flow of tears, trying to explain the pain of not being able to buy your mom a card, because she's a grandmother but getting her a grandmother card just seems cruel and inappropriate, all I could say was: “The days that are supposed to be the happiest are the saddest.”

Sometimes I describe Moses’ life like college. I know it happened, I know I lived it, I know it was real; but I can’t go back. That chapter of my life is closed. Sometimes I think I’m living in a parallel reality: Maybe there’s another universe where my husband and I rock Moses to sleep and watch him grow up; a universe where I get to hold my baby on my birthday, because at the very least, I should get to hold him on my birthday.

I also cried unendingly a few days after Christmas. We were staying at the home of a friend of my sister-in-law's who had three children, one born quite recently. On the latter side of midnight, several glasses of wine had been consumed, and we were the only two people still awake. The conversation started like the rest, as she told me she couldn’t believe what Mac and I had been through. Then she asked me if I’d like to talk about Moses—not what happened, not how I was coping, not how I was moving on—but about my son. She said as a mom she loved talking about her baby, and she didn’t know if that was something I had the chance to do. Naturally, I beamed, I bragged, I recounted, and I cried. I talked about how sweet he was, how smart and how alert. His beautiful hair and how he really only fussed when we got him undressed to change him because he didn't like being cold. I remembered what it felt like to hold him and look right at him while he looked right at me. And I cried.

So often, when I want to compartmentalize and get to work and be my most impressive self, I can. I might feel upset for a minute, but I can come back to that emotion later in the day when my work is done. I just remove my emotional self and let her watch from a distance, floating above my body. But when I'm supposed to feel happy, when I meet the days that, before this tragedy, would have been the happiest
because my husband should be taking my son to the store and so they could pick me out a birthday or Mother's Day cardall I feel is sadness that Moses isn't here with us. And I can't stop crying.

A loss like ours is indescribable. The only lesson I have to share is this: The happiest days are the saddest.