Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Moving On


I dreamt of a blind child the other night, a little boy with his hand on a cane. In my dream, I did not know at first that the child was blind, but I knew he was not my son, and so I assumed of course that the boy had taken Evan's cane. "That doesn't belong to you," I said, taking it back from him.

The boy's father gently intervened. "Actually it is his," he said. "See?" And he showed me the boy's name written on the handle -- "GARRETT" -- just as my own son's name is written on the handle of his cane. I saw too how this child's cane differed from my son's, that its handle was composed of thicker, molded rubber. Of course the father was right. Of course this cane wasn't Evan's.

"I'm so sorry," I said, knowing instantly and by feel that this cane did not belong to my son. "I had no idea."

I have dreamt of defending my son before, of intervening on his behalf, but in seven years this is the first time I have dreamt of another blind child, and of another cane.


"Life changes. Life changes in an instant." So Joan Didion begins the narrative of her year of Magical Thinking, following the sudden death of her husband and life partner, John Gregory Dunne, of a massive heart attack. That line has always resonated with me; after my twins were born, I understood how life could change in an instant, and never be the same.

I also understood the terror of the counterpoint, "Life goes on." A friend made this remark shortly after Evan's birth and Ellie's death. She'd patiently listened to me talk about the suddenness with which my life had changed, of my inability to think of the future or of a time when I wasn't bowed under by grief. "Life changes," she said, "but life also goes on."

What I could not tell my friend, but what I knew to be true was this: when life changes in an instant, it does go on for others, but not for you. Grief holds you tight, and only loosens its bounds slowly, in unpredictable bursts. Three weeks after Evan and Ellie's birth, my husband and I had dinner and drinks with friends. I laughed and made jokes and imagined the possibility of happiness for the first time. It felt like grief had lifted, until I went to the restroom where waves of guilt passed over me for even letting loose with a smile. My son was gravely ill, my daughter dead. How could I even think to laugh? Grief, I found, was tricky that way. It was there, practically speaking, to keep me in line and remind me that life had changed. "Don't go thinking things are the same, that you can laugh and have a night out with friends," Grief seemed to imply. "You're not getting off that easy."

From the outside, it's reassuring to think that grief has its stages; these imply that eventually life does go on, that grief is a tunnel with an end. I found that the stages were more like dead ends to a maze, and that I backed in and out of most of them disoriented, the same way I backed in and out of hospital parking spaces that winter.


In the world of special needs, when one is in the midst of grief -- by way of illness or diagnosis -- there is no predicting the moment where it feels like life will go on. When our child walks, or talks? A birthday party with friends? A successful school year with real progress? A doctor's appointment with only good news, one where everything's the same? I have often wondered which benchmark would tell me that we were living a life I recognized, even as I knew our lives had forever changed. Evan learned to walk and I reminded myself of the time I wondered if he would ever need shoes. He learned to drink from a cup and I realized how far we'd come from the days of tube feedings and syringes. He met milestones I never believed possible, and with each one I thought, Is this it then? Is this what it feels like to have life go on?

I believed in those signs of moving forward, but I also saw how so many reminders could bring me right back to the place where life had changed in an instant and would only stand still -- another need for surgery, a therapy session gone awry, a son who might never speak. I wondered if I'd simply been tricked. Life hadn't gone on, life had only changed in an instant.


The night I dreamt about the boy and the cane, I understood that life finally had gone on, without my even knowing it. That dream cane, with its thick rubber handle, offered me a strange and tangible recognition I had yet to receive in my waking life. It belonged to my world and my life. And there they were too: another blind boy, another father, my son. Fellow travelers from my unconscious to keep me company on my way. This was my life then, moving forward at last. So much so that I would not only be living it, but dreaming of it too.

Vicki Forman is the author of This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood and
teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has appeared in Philosophical Mother, The Santa Monica Review, Writer to Writer and Faultline. She lives in Southern California with her husband and child.

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You speak so eloquently for those of us who are stuck between standing still and moving on. It is difficult to explain how I can rejoice at my son's newest accomplishment while still becoming overwhelmed with sadness that he is still so far behind his peers. Despite 4 years of daily therapy, he is stuck in the spectrum. When, for a moment, he steps beyond it, my heart soars...but I still feel the tug of reality as he slips back, beyond my grasp. Thanks for somehow finding the words for those of us who experience this daily. Your column is such an important source of inspiration and support.
Vicki, this brought tears to my eyes...for you & Evan and the way you weave the tale of acceptance, and also for myself. so much recognition of the way that grief overwhelms us and impacts our experiences of everything after, even though my path through the after has been different from yours. this humbled me and moved me, and made me grateful for my own gradual release into a life that has gone on. thanks for this, today.
Vicki, many, many thanks for this powerful meditation on grief and how life does move on...eventually.
I always love your column but this was struck me today. "Moving On" I feel like I try to do that only to be smacked back into "my place." I am sure you know exactly what I mean by that - all special needs moms do. I actually threw myself a big huge pity party last night. I was the only one invited. Then I held my little girl in my arms and watched as she fell asleep relizing it is SO much harded on her than it is on me. I need to give myself that reality check every once in awhile and I do look forward to "Moving On" one of these days! Thanks again for another inspiring column!
oh, my. so very, very beautiful. and so true, too! thank you for starting my week off with this triumvirate: beauty, truth, and beautiful true words.
Beautifully written as always. Although we are quite lucky in regard to our 23 weekers health/progress, there is nothing "normal" about being born at this gestation. Grief waves still crash over me, but I always try and bring my thoughts back to what we do have, not of what we've lost. It is comforting to know others who have similar experiences can truly feel our pain. Thank you for writing, it certainly brings me comfort.
Wonderful essay, Vicki. Your description of grief as a maze with dead ends is spot on. Definitely not linear. Nor is the realization that life goes on. It stops and starts. Realizing and accepting our reality can happen in surprising ways. I love your dream. Thanks for sharing this.
Beautiful as always Vicki. You have inspired me to blog about a dream I had recently, about walking, but instead of Elias taking his first steps it was me. I'll work on it today and link back to here.
i love this. we have found so much strength in the support of other parents with kids like ours. the feeling we are not alone is huge. there is a blog with the title 'a life less ordinary' and i feel that is the gift our kids have given us.
oh this is just beautiful. i love that this telling came to you in a dream, that your subconscious let you know that you had already gotten there. i'm just now reading Didion's book. it is remarkable in its poignancy and restraint. very powerful. it slips under my skin and my unconscious.
Wow. This was absolutely beautiful. I cannot imagine one person who wouldn't be able to relate to this piece, or these feelings. Life changes in an instant, and none of us get off that easy when Grief remains the bully within.
Hooo-doggy! That last line. Whew! That last line! Powerful, powerful stuff. Perfectly articulated. It speaks to everyone... anyone. You know I love the metaphysical more than the average bloke but I love, even more, when other humans being tap into that sweetness. I adore your subconscious. Superb stuff, SuperMama. :)
I read this this morning and came back tonight to read it again - thank you.
My first visit to your site. I was moved by this. I've recently reunited with a college friend I haven't seen in 15 years and she just lost her daughter 2 weeks ago. She is going through her grief cycle and you brought me a lot of insight to what she is going through and hope for her future.
I still remember the moment that we knew that my grand daughter would never walk, talk, go to a school prom, eat a birthday cake. I remember time standing still and no matter where I am or what I am doing Trinity is on my mind. Your words are touching and eloquent. Grief has been my constant companion for 4 yrs now.
I am humbled. Your recognition of our 'aching hearts' and our journey to understanding brings clarity and peace. Few are challenged, fewer understand. Our pain seems unbearable at times, but we are resurrected by our children's fighting spirit and endless love ( Holly and Alex). We experience this "Lovely Life" 1945- Hazel Sorensen: Ah, lovely life stay yet awhile with me I am a beggar for your errant charms Although I know your sorrows many be I try to hold you prisoner in my arms I'll ever dread to see you go away Yet you are fickle as the restless sea Your trials are heavy, but let come what may The thrill of you is ever there for me. Thanks also to you incredible ladies who responded to this column. I hope all of your husbands/partners feel the depth of your souls. You put it on the line each and every day. You also humble me. Grandpa Bill
You said this all so beautifully.
I voraciously read Didion the fall after we lost our triplets at 22 weeks. She was the only one who had words and explainations for how I felt and lived. And, now I find that you do too. Life does go on, but a trauma like neo-natal loss keeps you rooted in that moment when life changed in an instant. Sometimes I feel like a ghost wandering between the two. Thanks for writing. This is beautiful and honest.
Devastatingly beautiful. Completely real. Thank you.
I can't even tell you how much this touched me. Every day our daughter accomplishes something new - and every day her sister isn't with us. How to celebrate one while missing the other? Life goes on, but it's sure NEVER going to be the same again. It's definitely not up to my expectations. I can live with the therapies & doctors & diagnosis. It's the loss that sidelines me, and runs me down without warning.
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