So Thanksgiving was a mixed bag.
The actual day, Thursday, was fine. The drive out was long and I was tired, but we made it. The cat and dog traveled well and were fine (and are getting to know each other slowly). My mom and I cooked dinner together and it was fantastic. A nice day.
We went to bed early in anticipation of getting up for Black Friday sales (and did score a new laptop, a camcorder, a PS3, and most importantly, a fuzzy blanket). Then we went to my dad's house for another Thanksgiving dinner (also excellent, with a Cajun rubbed turkey that was extremely flavorful and moist). Played games, went back to Mom's with a happy, tired dog (he got to play with his cousin-dogs, while Mom's dog is a bit more tetchy).
Saturday found us back out buying more Christmas gifts; we've long had a $20 per person limit and this year have decided to stretch it and ease the burden of shopping by doing gift baskets with 1 personal item for each of DH's family members. Thank God, as it has always been an exercise in frustration and angst and fighting, as I don't know his family well enough to buy really personal gifts or score awesome deals on such a low budget, and DH hates shopping and starts getting depressed about how out of touch he is with his family and it inevitably leads to fights and tension and hurt feelings. Gift baskets = way, way easier on both of us. And our wallets.
Following that, we went for our third Thanksgiving dinner with his family. And this is where the weekend went awry.
Now, understand, this is the first major holiday since we lost Gabriel. In July, we expected this to be the last time we'd see family child-free. I expected to be 35-26 weeks pregnant, huge, glowing. We were seriously looking forward to having Christmas at home, just us for the only time. Walking around Black Friday sales, seeing lots of babies, accidentally stumbling across a Classic Pooh stocking with 'Baby's First Christmas' on it, seeing miniature trees and remembering how we wanted to give each child their own little tree to decorate . . . it hit and pinched and stung and both Dh and I had moments of clenched teeth and glassy eyes and forced smiles of 'No, really, give me a minute, everything will be fine.'-ness.
I was worried about this dinner, more anxious than I've been in a long time. There is history with the in-laws, and perhaps that is playing a role in this too. But the last 18 months have been good. My parents-in-law were lovely and kind about the miscarriage, and excited about Gabriel when we announced our pregnancy at Memorial Day. They were sensitive about me needing space and Jason needing succor when we were at home immediately after the loss. But this was my first face to face, and I wasn't sure what to expect, exactly.
I did not expect what we got, which was nothing.
Not one word said to us about Gabriel. Not a single question about how we are doing, or about him. Not one thing. Not even a question within a question of a lowered voice, filled with concern and crinkled eyes trying to convey the deeper meaning of "How are you?"
At one point during dinner, I saw myself stand up, set down my napkin and fork, stand up on my chair and shriek "His name is Gabriel. He was your brother's son. Your grandson and nephew. He died three months ago and his parents are sitting right here next to you and you are pretending nothing has happened." It was so vivid in my mind that I had to blink a few times to be certain that I hadn't actually just done that, and I was still seated in my chair, my third round of turkey this year on my fork in my hand.
It just was so surreal. And surreal enough that I found myself saying, "Surely, surely they will say something here. During the grace maybe?" No, we prayed for our troops, for our government officials, for world peace, but not for my lost little boy. "Maybe after dinner. Maybe someone will just take me aside and ask." Nope. Nothing.
I settled on the lounge chair and watched the football game while other people came in and out, a baseball game with rotating players and shrieks of joy from the niece and nephew going on in the front yard. I spent a long time studying the wall of family photos from my seat. It was so very apparent how much Gabriel looked like his daddy - the head, the ears (from his paternal great-grandfather, apparently) and the shape of his face (from his maternal great-grandmother, clearly), and I wondered whether he too would have been blonde like my husband as a child. (and I was secretly glad, once again, that my boy had my nose and lips and chin. God, he was beautiful) I saw both my mother-in-law and father-in-law watch me study them, but neither said a word.
When we left, I let loose a torrent of anger at them, focusing on all the little things that irked me - the way they spoke about my SIL, about her boyfriend, the cracks about my nephew I thought were in poor taste, the cutting remarks disguised as teasing that flew around the table - and then we hit a stop light and it tumbled out of me before I had consciously realized what was eating me up.
"Do they KNOW that we had a son? That he died? Like, three months ago? I didn't just imagine it all, did I?"
And DH released a deep breath in something between relief, frustration and a sigh and said, "No,you didn't imagine it. I was starting to wonder too, though."
And I said, "I just wanted some acknowledgment. Some recognition that our son ought to have been here and isn't. Some acknowledgment that Gabriel existed, you know?"
And DH said looked sad and said, "I know." I was angry. Furious that he had been denied that by his own flesh and blood relatives. I wasn't seeking much - we didn't need to be solemn and funereal and speak in hushed tones and look sad. There was very little said at either of my parent's homes about him. But we did acknowledge him, and they do acknowledge him and I know I am free to speak about him whenever I want or need to and it is acknowledged that Gabriel is part of our lives.
I expected that there too. And I didn't get it. I was a roaring mama tiger, in defense of his existence and right to be acknowledged as a human being who lived and died here.
And yet . . .
I also did not bring him up. Me, who is never afraid to mention him in casual conversation, to tell strangers about my son, to say his name, to bring him up. I did not bring him up to my in-laws. And of course . . . I should have.
I tend to forget on this side of things, how prickly I really still am. I forget that not everyone knows I long to talk about him, and would have delighted in comparing his picture with DH's baby pictures, and tracing his features with my parents-in-law. How lovely I would have found it to talk about his big feet and how he kicked me with my SIL who has children.
People don't know how to react among the bereaved and fear saying or doing the Wrong Thing, especially if it reminds them or hurts them or God Forbid, makes them cry. I forget that, because I know it can't hurt me any more than it already does and I know that crying is cleansing and healing, not something to be feared and avoided.
I also don't know how much they know, if they know how traumatizing the whole thing was, if they know how perfect he was. I know they haven't seen his pictures, and I don't know if they know of their existence.
And so, I battle with myself. Were my expectations too high? I battle with my anger towards them (and is it fair, and do they deserve it, or am I being hard on them because of our past history?) and towards myself (am I a coward, or was I just too stunned to break the barrier down?). With what to do now. My determination is to continue to give Gabriel space in our lives. After all, nothing changes the fact that he is our son and we are his parents. It's just that he is not visible to us now; his spirit is all around us. I want him to remain in our lives and want him to be acknowledged as such. And already, now, the precedent has been set by both sides to leave it alone, don't mention, keep it quiet, ignore, pretend it didn't happen.
How do I fix that now?