Earlier this year, we published Shana’s story about losing her baby son, who was born preterm at just over one pound, after just thirty days of having him here. In the middle of his hospital stay, on the fifth day of baby Atticus’s life, she and her partner went to the courthouse and got married. It didn’t matter that they were planning a wedding for that summer, they needed to be a family for Atticus then. After that post went up, and you guys overwhelmed her with love, she told me, “When a baby dies, often people don’t want to hurt the parents feelings or make them cry, so they avoid talking about the baby or avoid saying his name. But all the parents want to do is talk about their babies and say their names over and over. Thank you for giving me the space to talk about my son and to allow me to say his name over and over.” And I wanted to thank each of you for holding Shana & Jared & Atticus in your hearts then. Today, Shana is back, talking about what their wedding this summer felt like, and how they’ve negotiated the darkness in the months since Atticus’s death. I know you’ll hold them in your hearts just as fiercely today.
To say that having a second wedding made sense would be an understatement. We had gotten married earlier in the year in the middle of tumult and we thought we should have a real wedding, surrounded by friends and family. My parents were supportive of this, and my sweet husband wanted the memories of what a wedding would have been like. I thought only of celebrating the joy of being together. I wanted to experience the laughter and love that supports weddings.
We were surrounded by love. One friend made signs and baked our cupcakes. I wore the $100 dress I loved again. Our awesome photographs were provided by one of my roller derby sisters. My wonderful step-father gave the most beautiful speech ever. My relatives and friends decorated our venue. My mother and father-in-law presided (they’re both ministers) over the service and infused it with the kind of sentimental value that comes with thirty years of knowing each other. It was a beautiful community affair that absolutely reﬂected my husband’s and my personalities.
Which is why it is hard to look at it a couple months later and feel numb.
Which in turn, makes me feel like a jackhole.
We had loads of people working to give us a new start. Desperately working to give us the kind of beginning that is wished upon newlyweds, but it wasn’t a new start. It was a wonderful party, ﬁlled with laughter and yummy cupcakes and friends dressed to the nines, showing up to celebrate us… but there are no do-overs after losing your child. There are just days and more days between your present self and the self you were the day he died.
We’ve ofﬁcially been married for nine months now. Eight months ago, Atticus died.
Since then, our relationship has been strained. Our goals and priorities are the same. Our love is immense. We still laugh and sleep in and cuddle. Getting on the same page has been loads more work. At times, I snap. What I should say is, “I’d really like to take Walnut Avenue back to the house.” But my mouth hisses heat and it comes out like, “Are you freaking kidding me? I TOLD you I wanted to walk down Walnut. Do you EVER listen to me?!” The truth is, my husband very much listens to me. The truth is, sometimes I feel life-lost and it scares me and admitting the truth scares me more. The fear spits out sideways and the one person that knows just how I feel is alienated.
I know this is typical of people who have lost children. We did the grief group thing. We have talked lots about our feelings. We have slowly cycled through the stages of grief. Sometimes, I make clumsy guesses at which stage I am in. It helps when people let me be who I am that day. It is infuriating when people tell me that everything is going to be lovely in the future. It is what it is today. I had a friend explain to me that everyone dies. Whew. Thanks for the life lesson, buddy. Now I get it.
I worked us into an argument recently. It started as an innocent conversation about getting our night time motors revved and turned into tears and my worry that my husband is trying to forget Atticus. I pointed out that he doesn’t mention our son. He shies away from conversations where Atticus is mentioned. All the while, there is this voice in my head, reminding me, “Everyone grieves differently. His love for Atticus burns bright as the sun; it just looks different than yours.” And my mouth still becomes a toilet, ﬂushing out every rage I’ve had for months.
My husband responded by pulling out his computer and showing me a letter he had written to Atticus. In it, he detailed our struggle to bear the weight of losing him. He shared with Atticus that while pregnant, we had been building a (metaphoric) home for him and that since he’d passed, we’d become prisoners inside this home. We’d had so much love and time imbedded into that house. We were invested. What do you do with a monument like that after someone dies? How do you move out? Move on? How do you start building a new home? New memories? How do we ﬁnd one another again?
Seven months and four days after losing our son, we took my most favorite, precious cat into the emergency vet at 9pm because I was worried he was developing a urinary tract infection. At 3:30am, we put him to sleep after discovering he had cancer (yet another long story). If you’ve had a pet that has trained you well, you know that there are pets and there are furry monsters who are extensions of your heart. Teyson was the latter. Oddly, it has been Jared’s letter and our cat’s death that has brought us back to some of the sane interactions we had before Atticus died.
My body has been exhausted by grief. I’ve been carried by friends. I know there are plenty of people that are uncomfortable by the sight of tears. They want me to be okay in a way that reassures them. I know that I am normal, having a very sane reaction to a very terrible situation. I struggle with wanting to be well now, to always treat my husband with respect and to feel the ease in our togetherness the way we were before.
So when I look at our second wedding, there is the sense we all came together to wrap lots of bows and lights around our pain… to pretty it up. But really, we came together again because Jared and I have so much to be grateful for, because we have so much love in our hearts, because each day the community we are in shows us how to grow up and grow closer together.
That second wedding, we vowed the following:
I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give.
I promise to accept you the way you are.
I fell in love with you for the qualities, abilities, and outlook on life that you have, and won’t try to reshape you in a different image.
I promise to respect you as a person with your own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than my own.
I promise to keep myself open to you, to let you see through the window of my personal world into my innermost fears and feelings, secrets and dreams.
I promise to grow along with you, to be willing to face change as we both change in order to keep our relationship alive and exciting.
And finally, I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give and all I feel inside in the only way I know how… completely and forever.
There is a saying about how we don’t tend to trip on boulders, but pebbles give us a hell of a time… I think it applies to marriages also. We got through the hospital stay and the funeral and swallowed “the big picture” whole. It’s been the fallout post-funeral… pebbles in comparison and we’re tripping all over ourselves. Fumbling as we may be, we are living our vows. We are partners. We keep reaching for one another and while that sounds sort of duh, I’m reminded constantly of my previous marriage in which that wasn’t the case. Jared and I might be falling, but we are falling together. As we look towards the future, we are building together.
So much of marriage is simply a negotiation of each other’s baggage. Sometimes it is messy and we peer warily at it around corners, one eye squeezed shut. Sometimes it strikes out like Medusa and turns those we love into stone. Our baggage has marched loudly across our bed this ﬁrst year; a cacophony of timpanis pounding, horns cascading, ﬂutes parading and our only recourse is living honestly and the willingness to keep reaching for one another.
Photos by The Format Photography