Here’s what’s in my stash.

A tiny pendant of a round and zen-like angel given to me by my mother-in-law immediately after it happened. Lorraine is sturdy and Yankee and Catholic. I love that she reached out to me this way. It came with matching dangly earrings, but metal makes my ears inflate and turn purple.

A wonderful “your heart in my heart” pendant made for me by Barb. She lost her baby boy around the same gestational age that I lost my Mae, and she makes pretty things. I ordered it as soon as I realized that I was going to need her name next to my skin all the time.

A slick, wire-wrapped crescent moon of tiger eye. Brian bought it for me at a country fair last August. We were wandering through the tents in the late summer light, and I was in a mood. A dark and golden stone for my dark moon baby. I strung it next to the heart pendant.

One of those bronze, semi-industrial, semi-romantic tiny tags (love. angel. mae. 2-28-09.) strung with a heart and more e.e. cummings. An unexpected gift from lovely Paige, only a few weeks ahead of me on this grief journey.

My Mother’s Day surprise from Tina. A group of us were swapping “bouquets” – anything with a flower theme – and now my bouquet hangs around my neck. Three little flowers and the word “mama.” Her initials. Her birthstone. Her dates. I’m spoiled.

My tattoo. I think of it as back-up. I don’t wear a necklace every day. Sometimes it doesn’t go with the outfit. Sometimes I just forget. But I never wanted to forget and then feel guilty. I never wanted panic myself into the deep, dark, sobbing missing of her for lack of having her name on me somewhere. So there is the strawberry—almost bruisey red at the bottom, white and not quite ripe near the stem. Her name is hidden in the veins of the leaves for me to point out to you. Or not.

Photo by marie-II.

“I like your necklace.”

“Gee, thanks!”

That’s usually as far as it goes. Unless I know you’ve caught the significance, and maybe I can see you’ve got one of your own.

A soccer mom approached me at the fields the other day, she and her husband both round and grey and fair. Their junior high girl was playing center forward, and their younger boy was kicking dirt, impatient. Both kids had dark skin, sleek hair. Cambodian? I wondered, and tried to remember if Cambodia has had an active adoption program. Because that’s something I might have recall of, now that I’ve been infertile for two years. And I wondered about her journey, and if they had lost anyone. Because that’s the kind of thing I might reasonably wonder about anyone now.

She keyed in on my necklace immediately. “That’s so beautiful!” She peered closely, trying to read the cryptically stamped metal. I casually place my hand over the pendants, blocking her view.

I could have told her my story. She was perfectly nice. Maybe she would have understood. But I deflected her glance.

On a recent class trip with a boat load of moms and 6th graders, someone was talking about “appropriate dress. I brought up, unprovoked, my tattoos and how someone else in our family would have to deter my stepdaughter from inking herself as a teenager. I even pointed them out – one on my shoulder, the strawberry on my ankle, god knows why.

The very sincere woman sitting across from me asked how I selected images that I knew would be meaningful to me forever. I blinked at her slowly and changed the subject.

* * * * *

I question myself. Why wear a necklace out in public, right there above my cleavage to dangle and attract attention, if I don’t want to talk about it? Why flash my big red tattoo in the summer? I feel subversive. This jewelry is just for me, and I’m wearing right out there in front of you. Look away! It’s weird.

But sometimes a moment opens unexpectedly. I started a new job a few months back. My boss and colleagues know little about my personal life, but lately I’ve had the urge to let them in, if only for honesty’s sake.

At a recent meeting my boss and our consultant simultaneously zeroed in on my necklace. They asked what was written on the charms, and I told them, along with the 60-second version of my daughter death story. I think it was the directness of their questions that did it – I didn’t think, I just answered. They ooohed and ahhhed and looked surprised and made sympathetic noises and then restarted the meeting. They were jittery and unfocused for a while after that. But I didn't feel scrambled at all.

That moment, and ones like it, has been good for me. Some families have a strong and open instinct to speak of their missing little ones. Not me—I’m more likely to hide, to protect. But often, when I’m forced out into the light, it goes better than I think it will, and I feel a little stronger for it, a tiny bit more whole.

Maybe that’s why I keep wearing the bling. It’s hard for me to create those moments of openness for myself. But sometimes, if the light is just right, my necklace will shine, and I’ll speak.

* * *

Do you wear any memorial jewelry or tattoos? What does it mean to you? How do you respond to comments and questions about it? Where are you, these days, on sharing your loss in public or with those outside your immediate circle?