When the pumpkin patch is so effing complicated

Yesterday afternoon a friend invited me to do some restorative yoga (she knows I need some restoration!), but then we found out the class was cancelled, and Mark was cleaning leaves out of the gutters (so he doesn’t have to go out in his underwear the next time it rains) while his dad was mowing, and Mark’s mom was pretending to help with yard work, and Joel was napping, so I was bored and complaining, so Mark decided that we should all go to a pumpkin patch, since it was October 30, the day before our first Halloween with a living child.

It’s amazing what a difference a year makes… Two years ago, I wasn’t even pregnant with Matthew, and then, one year ago, Matthew had died just three months prior. Every season change felt offensive, and we wanted nothing to do with the holidays, so we jetted off to New York City for Thanksgiving (best decision ever), grilled some buffalo burgers for Christmas, and turned off all of our lights for All Hallows’ Eve, the excruciating kickoff to the hell that was the holiday season. And now, this year, we’re (thankfully) in a different place yet again – Joel is here, and he’s brought so much light into our lives, and, though we miss Matthew to pieces, our grief isn’t as fresh… It’s more familiar… There’s a scab forming over what, not all that long ago, was a huge, bleeding, oozing, gaping wound.

But, needless to say, last year, if someone had asked me if I wanted to visit a pumpkin patch, a quintessential fall family locale, I would have told said someone to go fuck himself, and then I would have cried in my bed for the rest of the day. Or week. Or month.

But this year, upon hearing Mark’s suggestion, I did not tell him to go fuck himself, even though quintessential fall family locales still make me sad, and, if I think about them hard enough, also make me want to vomit. Instead, I agreed that it might be a good idea to take Joel to the pumpkin patch, even though he’ll never remember it, because most of a human’s personality develops in his first three years of life, and, I thought it could be a good chance for Joel to see some new things, and he loves to watch people, so I figured there’d be plenty of opportunity to do this too. Plus, I craved some hot apple cider.

So we grabbed all of Joel’s gear and jumped into the truck and headed to a pumpkin patch out in the burbs. (Before getting into the truck, I noticed Mark was wearing his “Matthew’s Dad” shirt, which made me happy, so I snapped a picture.)

On the 20-minute ride to the pumpkin patch, I began to second guess our decision to partake in this activity, and, as we pulled into the parking lot, I could feel my anxiety creep in. “There are so many families here,” I said to Mark, “This could make me really sad…”

“Just focus on Joel,” Mark replied, “This will be fun for him.”

And I decided to do just this – focus on Joel and Mark and the rest of our family and my potential to drink some hot apple cider.

Upon exiting the truck and securing Joel into Mark’s baby carrier, I noticed a Wizard of Oz setup complete with a big rainbow, so I immediately demanded that we go take a family picture next to said rainbow. I then noticed a concession stand off to the left, so, after getting our picture, we headed this way, only to quickly find out there was no hot apple cider on the premises.

“What in the hell kind of pumpkin patch is this?” I asked Mark, “I want to leave.”

“Oh, come on. Let’s just walk around a little bit…”

“Okay…” I agreed reluctantly.

So we walked Joel around, and we showed him the ponies and the pigs and the chickens and the moo cows, which was exciting, because we’re certain Joel’s first word will be either “moo” or “cow,” because there is a picture of a cow over his changing table, so we’re constantly mooing at him, and sometimes I moo before I feed him too, though I’m trying to break this habit. The pig pen smelled like manure, and I hoped Joel smelled it too so it might enhance his sense of smell. And, as we passed each animal, we made the respective animal’s sound, laughing at how Joel will probably have many of his animal sounds confused, because his grandma (Mark’s mom) can get wild, making a pigeon noise for an owl or a coyote noise for a buffalo, etc. We then took some obligatory photos in front of the pumpkin pyramid and in and amongst the corn stalks, where, off to the right, some scantily clad high school girls were snapping what I can only imagine were fall glamour shots for Instagram.

Surprisingly, I had a genuinely good time. But, I found that having a good time took a ton of effort on my part to the point that I wonder if it will always be this way – will innocent visits to the pumpkin patch (and all other seemingly innocent things) always be so completely and utterly complicated for me?

Lately I’m finding that, to enjoy myself in virtually any situation, I must maintain extreme tunnel vision and exercise compartmentalization and mindfulness. I always have sad thoughts, but usually these strategies keep them from going too far, and, as such, I might be able to delay any resulting breakdown.

So, I’m standing in the middle of the pumpkin patch, and nearly everything, it seems, has the potential to upset me. I see a one-year-old boy riding a pony – his mommy is leading him around in a circle. I look away and see some more one-year-olds riding the mini-train, squealing with delight. I look away again, only to see a one-year-old go down a slide, laughing as he falls into his daddy’s arms.

“Focus on Joel…” I chastise myself. “You’re so thankful for him,” and it’s true… I am. So, for the next 15 minutes I smile real smiles.

Until my attention diverts yet again… I see a child Joel’s age, but then I notice his older brother. They’re both blonde haired, blue eyed… I think about how this is what my family should look like. I shift my gaze away to a couple of teenagers – brothers… My mind wanders – I think about how Joel isn’t our oldest, but he is our oldest here on earth. I wonder whether he’ll take on the stereotypical personality traits of an oldest even though he isn’t truly an oldest. I think about how, in pumpkin patches for eternity, Joel won’t have a brother. Or maybe he will have a living brother someday… But even then, there should be three brothers… I look in another direction – I see a family with three boys…

“Christine, stop trying to predict what your family will look like,” I chastise myself again, “You tried this before. It didn’t work. Be thankful for this moment – after all, this moment is the only one we’re really guaranteed.”

And this reminder to myself to enjoy the present for its beauty buys me another 15 minutes. I smile more real smiles. And this is enough to get me through the rest of our visit to the pumpkin patch. And eventually, we head back to the truck. And, as Mark loads Joel into his car seat, I see a blonde boy across the parking lot. But this time, I’m not sad… Instead, I laugh when I notice his hair is nearly as voluminous as Howie’s.

But the next day I’m angry again… Angry at the notion that the pumpkin patch is more complicated for me than it is for others. Angry that, to feel genuine happiness, I can’t think about my past, my future, or about anyone else. Angry that, in 50 more years, I’ll probably still feel like this. And I’m exhausted from the energy I expended to maintain the extreme tunnel vision and exercise the compartmentalization and mindfulness needed to get me through yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day. But it took real effort, and I need some time to recover. But there is no time. Instead, Mark is about to drop me off at work, and we’re rehashing the complexities of the day prior. “You think I didn’t get sad watching those kids with the ponies?” Mark asks.

And I’m even sadder now… To know he too was sad. And I’m feeling tired and worthless, as I so often do, and I miss Matthew so freaking much, and I’m not sure how I’ll get through the workday that lies ahead of me when I just want to sleep or cry. “Have a good day,” I whisper, as I slam the door and head into my building.

I’m happy this year is different and that I can do things that, just a short time ago, I never dreamed I could do. I’m beyond grateful for Joel. But I’m still struggling to keep my head above water and catch up and learn how to live in my new, complex world – the one with grief and joy and demands split between heaven and earth. And sometimes, it seems, all I can do is just keep hanging on for dear life and hope that once another year passes and 365 pages have turned, I find myself in yet a better place compared to the one I’m in today, a place I struggle to imagine right now.

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11 thoughts on “When the pumpkin patch is so effing complicated

  1. Every time I read your blogs, there is always something that feels as though it’s come from my heart and mind but haven’t been able to articulate. I find myself reading and saying out loud “yes. yes! Someone else gets that too, I’m not alone.” It’s coming up to Freddie’s 1st birthday. We were told he was dead on the 3rd Nov last year and I delivered him on the 6th November… yesterday was Halloween and I kept thinking about how this time last year I was deliriously happy, 38 weeks pregnant and absolutely no idea about the hell we were about to go through. I feel afraid for that couple. It’s as if they’re someone else in a film.. I want to be able to go back and warn them. Nowadays I have to live life with blinkers on, if I stray from the tunnel vision it starts to hurt too much. Like you, I can’t think about the past, the future or other people otherwise I start to feel angry, jealous, sad. Mostly sad. It is exhausting and I’m scared it will never get easier. There will always be other families with the ponies to remind us of the life we should be living. The void caused by a stupid umbilical cord knot.. I wish I had a rainbow to shine some light on this first anniversary. xxx

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    1. Everything you write seems so familiar to me too. You are most certainly not alone. I feel like I could have written this exact comment in some ways… Yes, there’s so much anger, jealousy, sadness – anytime the blinders come off. The 4th of July is awful for me in the way Halloween is for you. Every 4th of July I will think of that deliriously happy couple, blind to the horror that would happen just one week later. It sucks to have such a distinct holiday marker, but I guess it sucks no matter what. I have been thinking about you and my thoughts will continue to be with you through the 6th. It is so freaking impossible. A year goes by quickly and slowly and it’s all so surreal and so, so sad. I’m so sorry Freddie isn’t here with you. Sending huge hugs, mama. xoxo

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  2. You describe the combined happiness and sadness in beautiful detail. And it’s unusual how they can co-exist, isn’t it? You’d assume they’re opposed to each other, but it turns out not to be necessarily the case.

    Having an older (living) child, I’ve had to endure a host of children’s events from the beginning. The worst part is listening to the birthday song at any small child’s party. Life going on, life being celebrated, children blossoming into their future selves as we watch and sing and are happy for them.

    But I have not had struggles with feeling happy for a while now. I can speculate on why but maybe it’s better not to intellectualize too much (and, who knows, maybe my struggles will come back – it has barely been a year), but I just wanted to say that, in my experience, this particular struggle does change over time.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. It is encouraging to read that you haven’t had as many struggles feeling happy these days. I’m hoping some of these things do get easier in time, but I reckon it will be a slow process.

      And yes, many people cannot wrap there heads around the fact that joy and sorrow can coexist. I guess it is kind of a weird concept to those who’ve maybe not experienced it to the degree we have. Joy and sorrow. Anger for what’s lost and gratefulness for what isn’t. All of the feelings… which does get exhausting.

      And the whole birthday party thing… OMG – I’m sure it’s a unique form of difficult to have to gut out such happy events so fresh in grief solely for the benefit of living children. Happy events, including weddings, are still hugely triggering for me, and currently I’m having a hard time envisioning a time when they won’t be… which sucks, because I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid huge groups of happy people forever, and it would also suck to feel the need to have to… Ugh!!!

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  3. You give me hope that one day these bleeding wounds will form scabs. Thank you for that. Recently I attended a concert with some friends. Something I used to love and really enjoy. During the first song I just burst into tears. Who the hell crys at a concert?! I looked around at everyone so happy and enjoying themselves and all I could think about was that my daughter never got a chance to experience any of this. I had to leave and I did. I’m hoping that one day I can start to enjoy the things I used to. I love the rainbow picture💙💚

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    1. I’m so sorry the concert was upsetting and that you had to leave, but I’m glad you did what you felt you needed to do. Sometimes you just have to remove yourself from these situations. I’ve found myself in similar situations, doing things I once found enjoyable and having fun for a moment and then bursting into tears at the sudden realization that Matthew will either never experience it or isn’t there with me or us. It’s so very hard. It does get a little easier, I think, or different, or less raw, perhaps, but it’s a very slow process, and I’m definitely still struggling and hoping and praying it continues to get easier over the years (otherwise we’re all screwed), but I can look at friends further (years) into this and have hope for myself and for you and for all of us. Hugs, sweet mama. xoxo

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  4. I’m pretty sure our brains are connected in some weird way. Maybe it’s a loss mom thing? Where we all just feel the same fucking way about everything and when we read it written from someone else we think “yep. exactly what I think/would think/would feel or do”.

    Fuckin’ life. Always going to be shadowed in grief…I don’t care what anyone says- every day will always be taken with a “grain of grief”.

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    1. “Where we all just feel the same fucking way about everything and when we read it written from someone else we think “yep. exactly what I think/would think/would feel or do”.” This made me laugh, in a really dark way. Because we probably do all think the same fucking way about everything.

      I’m really struggling, currently, with the notion that even my best days are overtaken by this “grain of grief…” It’s so true and so sad, and I just wish our precious children were here with us. xoxo

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  5. This post is so spot on for me. I have a friend who told me I am so negative and people want to be excited for me but I won’t let them. When trying to explain how it feels to be on the baby loss side, she will have none of it. She simply tells me I don’t see her side as an outsider. You are right, I don’t and I won’t ever be an outsider to this. This moment is all we are promised. That’s my words to live by.

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    1. Ugh!! I’m sorry your friend doesn’t understand. You’re right – we’ll never be on the outside of this… And I don’t understand people in our lives who don’t understand – I mean, how could someone look at our situation and expect us NOT to be scared or sad or “negative” or whatever?!?!? Sending you so many hugs and well wishes, friend. xoxo

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  6. You mooing at your kid before you feed him is hi-larious.
    I’m total shit at the holidays. We’ve just gotten to the point where I own it, don’t try to hide it and was almost delighted when all our holiday decor burned up in a fire. (The house is fine, it was in storage.) I wasn’t happy to have lost it all, it just felt like it really reflected how I felt about them anyway. (3 losses in December has that affect on a person.) We’re decorating a lemon tree this year and thankfully G can go next door to Granny’s and visit her 85 stockings hung with care and Christmas village set out with love. You just gotta do what you can, and forgive yourself for what you can’t. (Let me know how that works for you, I’m pretty shit at that as well.) Sending love.

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