On Friday, I went to the mikveh, which is basically a one-person bath house used for ritual immersion. Women will go to the mikveh to mark various transitions, before marriage, in times of trauma and illness, for conversion purposes, and some orthodox women will go at the end of each menstrual cycle before resuming relationships with their husbands. I had never been to a mikveh, but someone suggested that it may feel healing in some small way, so I decided to give it a try. There is something powerful to me about rituals, about knowing that I am participating in something that thousands upon thousands of other women have done before me, that this same mikveh has held the tears and hopes of women as they go to face some type of renewal or even rebirth, fervently praying for healing, for babies, for strength in marriage. It allows me to feel connected to something larger than myself, to something where birth and death, where pain and joy, where grief and happiness, all can co-exist in a way that is not as easy for me to see in our everyday world. It is also a forced slowing down, a forced taking time to reflect. So I tried. I wasn’t sure entirely what transition it was marking, as I by no means have moved forward it any observable way with my grief but it still allowed me to think about grief as something that is always moving, always changing, even if right now the movements are barely perceptible, and only indicate slight changes from one horrible state to another.
To enter the mikveh, you start out by taking a regular shower, because the mikveh is not intended for actual bathing, in the modern sense of the word.You then descend down tiled steps into a small pool, about four feet deep. Regardless of the reason for your visit to the mikveh, you engage in three immersions, which must be witnessed by someone to ensure that you fully go under water. You also are supposed to lift your feet off the ground for at least a few seconds, so that you have the experience of being completely surrounded by water.
“To Take the first step. To sing a new song. Is to close one’s eyes and dive. Into unknown waters. For a moment, knowing nothing.Risking everything. But then to discover. The water holds and supports you. The ground you return to is firm. And a new song, may soon rise again.”
To have faith that I can survive this, figure out a way to live without Sidney, to eventually put my feet back on solid ground. I haven’t figured out how to do that, and I only have a flicker of faith. In fact, this weekend has been quite challenging, hard to get out of bed, hard to get through each day. But I need to hold onto the idea that the water will hold and support me.
I said the following upon entering the mikveh: I have come here this morning to acknowledge this difficult and devastating time in my life. May this immersion help me in my healing. May it mark a transition from the immediate shock and grief so that I can open up to the next phase and begin to open myself to what is yet to come. When I emerge from this mayim chaim – these living waters – may I be filled with renewal and energy and a sense of demarcation in order to begin to see the direction for the next steps in my life’s journey. May these waters fill me with strength, courage and peace.
I am also including what the woman who bore witness to my mikveh said, so that I can continue to process, reflect, and think about how to move through life, to live with the loss of my beautiful Sidney.
Before immersion no. 1:
The first immersion is a time to confront the pain, anger, resentment and heartbreak that Sidney did not live and the unfairness that you, his mother, carried him, and nurtured him in the womb but he was not able to live in this world. As your body becomes fully emerged in the water, focus on what you are able to free yourself of at this moment – the anger you have towards your body, towards the unfair truth that you carried him but did not end up with the new gift of life you deserve. Release what you are able and leave that in this water. And, that which you must continue to hold onto and to carry with you, find a place to tuck it and protect and nurture it. So that it has its place and is a part of you, but, if possible, envision a place inside you where it lives so that you can honor it while beginning to let other parts within you heal and imagine the possibility of starting to move forward and to continue to heal after release.
So after hearing the words from immersion number one, and now re-reading them, I am not sure what I am able to let go of at this time, but it is something that I will continue to think about.
Before immersion no. 2:
Hineni – here you are. in your rawness and vulnerability, in this oh so fragile state and with all of your imperfections. It is not your purpose to try to separate out joy from pain. It is a total package and for immersion number two, I want you to focus on letting go of the parts of your pain that you can begin to release. Not so that you will forget it, but so that you might be able to begin to clear out new space with which to begin to encounter the possibilities of what still may be to come. This immersion should be about the totality of life’s experience, and how your pregnancy, your labor and Baby Sidney will forever be wrapped up in your experience and a part of you. These things have been impressed upon your heart and soul and will be marks on your life you continue to take with you as you travel onward. In this immersion, focus on finding a place for the disappointment and utter devastation for the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for Sidney joining your family and for all the ways you imagined he would add to your life. May you embrace that the loss will remain with you and Sidney will live on as a memory of what your family might have been despite having to let go of the hopes and dreams you had for what that would look like and who he would be. May you breathe out enough acceptance to begin the process of imagining the blessings and happiness that you, and your family, deserve and open your heart to the blessings still yet to come. As your life continues to change, may you emerge from the mikveh open to glimmers of potential joy that might come in the future.
Again, not at the acceptance point yet, but I am trying to accept that pain and joy can co-exist, that I can still grieve, love and honor Sidney while also finding ways to enjoy life…but again, this is in the future.
Before immersion no. 3:
The third immersion is for forgiveness of your body. With this immersion, try to focus on letting go of the anger, resentment and guilt you feel for responsibility as the one who carried Sidney. I want you to allow yourself to be kind and gentle, as you deserve to know that you did everything you could to provide for him and it is not your fault despite what you may learn about what went wrong or why he did not make it. You deserve to forgive your body and this immersion is an opportunity to release some of that which you are holding on to as punishment of yourself for losing Sidney. With this immersion, I want you to focus on releasing the negative feelings directed at your own body so that it may also begin to heal and that you might emerge from mikveh feeling you leave behind the uncleanliness and dirty feelings you currently feel towards your physical vessel.
This is the hardest one, to release the anger at myself, the disgust at my body for failing Sidney at the end. But again, something to strive for.
Despite not being where I would like to be after these immersions, I found the time in the mikveh to be calming, a way of ritualizing the road of grief that I will be forever on. So Friday was a little better than the slump I have been in this weekend. Perhaps some of you will find something from the words that I have shared here, the words that I am still reflecting on. And until then, here is a photo of bubbles, mostly because I don’t have anything visual in my blog, but also because they give a small bit of beauty to what to me feels like a very bleak world.