What could possibly have hit me so hard? Reminded me of my loss and rekindled the grief that lies dormant below the surface, but is so easily awakened?
I have a name for when this happens. In a previous post I call it a "grief mine." In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion calls it the "vortex effect". In Joyce Carol Oates' book, A Widow's Story, she calls it a "sinkhole." In fact, I will quote the passage:
The widow must learn: beware sinkholes! The terror of the sinkhole isn't that it exists. You understand, sinkholes must exit. The terror of the sinkhole is that you fail to see it, each time you fail to see it, you don't realize you have blundered into the sinkhole until it's too late and you are being pulled down, down...The guilty article? A Daughter Lost And Found. The blurb that made me want to read it? When Julie Mannix refused to get an abortion, her parents had her locked up in a mental hospital. This is the story of the child she fought to save - and how they made their way back to each other."
Beautiful nineteen-year old Julie, a Philadephia debutante, gave birth to a healthy daughter, whom she named Aimee Veronica on April 19, 1964. Unmarried, unsupported and unable to care for a child, she felt there was no choice but to sign adoptions papers after which "my heart ripped apart. I put down the pen, turned away and, on shaky legs, I left my baby behind."
After the birth, she was reunited with the baby's father and after marrying him, was disinherited by her family. These are the words that got to me:
I thought of Aimee constantly in the decades that followed. My longing for her triggered a series of deep depressions, which would come on quickly and linger for weeks; the passing years never softened them....Every year on April 19th, Frank and I celebrated Aimee's birthday, the date of which we had engraved on the inside of our wedding rings.This is a mother who longed for her lost child but because the adoption records were sealed, had no hope of finding her. "There was nothing to do but pray that she was with a good family and growing up loved." She did not stop thinking of Aimee - even after having two other children and even after the passing of decades. And what really got to me was that at the time of her wedding, this young, childless mother wanted to have Aimee's birthdate etched in their wedding rings, despite having seen her precious newborn only once, and that from five feet away. She never got to hold her, nurse her, sing lullabies and gently rock her to sleep.
I understand this mother. I understand her grief, pain and guilt over losing a child. I believe it when she says that time, contrary to popular belief, does not heal, remove or soften these feelings. And that she thought of this child not just for days, weeks, months or years, but for decades.
This is an example of a mother's love and the depths of the attachment to her children. Of the bond that exists in her heart long after the physical cord has been cut. It is a relationship like no other and only a fellow mother can understand it.
It reminds me of the sacred, unbreakable bonds to my own children. The ones for my three surviving children that give me great joy. And the one to my lost child, my beloved Josh, whom I will never see again, that produces such sorrow and pain, it is literally indescribable.
In reading this article today, I unwittingly fell into a sinkhole, stepped on a grief mine and was swept up in a vortex.