Enjoying What We Didn't Choose

“I’d do anything to have a single morning to sleep in”

I said this a lot during my first two years as a parent. Sleep deprivation is intense and very real. For about 6 months earlier this year, Jackson woke up every morning around 4:30, ready for the day, no matter what we did to try to get us all back to sleep. By summer time we had finally gotten him to "sleep in" until the 5’s. And then one miracle day, the 6’s. But I never got used to the tiredness and I would always tell my family that the best birthday/Christmas/Mother’s Day gift was the gift of sleep. All I wanted was a precious nap, or a luxurious morning to wake up to my own rested internal clock. 

Then Jackson died. 

It’s a strange thing to crave sleep and time and freedom, and to then suddenly have them and hate them. I wake up every morning to silence and miss his crying. I spend every evening doing “whatever I want” and miss his demands to play “1, 2, 3” or “Where is Jackson?” over, and over, and over again. I make evening plans and weekend plans with no conflicting obligations, yet miss my carefully-blocked schedule of naptimes and mealtimes and bedtimes. 

Bryan and I spend what feels like an eternity – each day – in a quiet house with all of the time in the world and no desire for any of it. 

And then there are the moments when instead of hating our new lives we find ourselves enjoying them. Back-to-back games of Settlers of Catan, a spontaneous dinner outing, or that stupid precious nap in the middle of the day. It feels awful to like or enjoy something that has grown out of this horrendous tragedy. 

To this end, Bryan coined our new mantra: “We didn’t choose this”

Obviously, we would trade back all of these new freedoms to have Jackson back. I’d gleefully take back all of the hard stuff – the sleep deprivation, the tantrums, the poopy underpants – to have one more second with my son. But, given that he is gone and we are forced to live a life we so painfully did not choose, we are finding how to “enjoy” anything remotely enjoyable. We call these “We’ll take ‘em” moments. It’s definitely not easy, but we have learned to be gentle with ourselves.  

Learning to enjoy new freedoms has also grown into learning to recognize and appreciate what I call our “slivers of growth”. It’s only been 8 weeks, but I can already see some examples of growth, including: my marriage, intimacy and closeness with our families and friends, new "grief friendships" with other bereaved parents, deeper empathy for my clients, a greater appreciation for the fragility and preciousness life, unwanted yet invaluable wisdom about grief (and, sadly, several opportunities already to use this new wisdom in supporting others grieving), and someday, if we’re lucky, the opportunity to bring children into this world who otherwise wouldn’t be here. 

It bears repeating – I would trade back all of this closeness, wisdom, and yes – my future children, to go back in time and erase this horrendous loss from my life. But I can’t. And accepting that I can’t has been the foundation for allowing enjoyment in our lives and accepting our new slivers of growth.