Kenny Childers is a songwriter and musician from Bloomington, IN, whose band Gentleman Caller, has just released their fourth record, Wake (Mariel Recording Company). This record meditates on the loss of his daughter, Roxy Jean, who was stillborn at thirty-eight weeks on August 1, 2007, and the fault lines rippling from that loss for him and his family. I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from Kenny. His insights, dark humor, and absolute honesty about this journey continually teaches me something about grief and living after. —Angie
My daughter’s seven plus pounds are still etched into my arms. It’s been more than five years since we got to hold Roxy Jean for the first and last time, but the weight is still there. It’s not a thought on a shelf, but it is the shelf that all other thoughts sit on. Parents that have lost children know what I mean when I say that our lost child is the background music to every conversation. It is the silent “..and” at the end of every declaration, every sentence that Terra and I say to each other.
“I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow (and Roxy is still dead)”
“I’m going to pick up Mason after school (and Roxy is still dead)”
“I can’t WAIT to go on vacation (and Roxy is still dead)”
I have communion with her at the bathroom sink before I brush my teeth as I swallow the pill that helps stave off the horrific anxiety I’ve had since she left. I have communion with her when I hear Mason and Lila laughing and I feel a nearly debilitating shudder of the weeping kind of joy at their ALIVE-ness. I have communion with her every time someone invites me to a public event and I make up another excuse not to go… partly because I can’t stand crowds since she left and partly because, well, I want to be with my children an irrational and probably unhealthy amount of time. I have communion with her every time someone mentions God and I irrationally recoil as if I’ve touched an electric fence. I have communion with her every time I look into Terra’s eyes and see some vacancy and feel COMFORTED because I remember that I don’t endure this slow suffering alone.
Roxy was stillborn in the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy. No warning signs. No fear. No fear, that is until, on the night of July 30th, 2007, Terra admitted that she hadn’t felt her move in hours. After a harrowed, wild-eyed night, we found relief under the fluorescent lights in room number 3 as the ultrasound picked up a fast, faint heartbeat. We were led to a larger, darker room for an ultrasound, still shaking where we sucked our breath in and waited for the ultrasound tech to verify Roxy was wiggling and healthy. The UST ran the transducer over Terra’s abdomen, and we welded our hot eyes to the screen. Roxy was still. The room was silent. Breathing, breathing, breathing, no, no, no, there was a heartbeat (it was Terra’s)… No no, no, but the UST said it anyway: “I’m sorry Hon, there’s no heartbeat.” Terra’s head turned to me as if it were on a spit, mouth open as if screaming, but nothing, just breathing hard, in and out. She didn’t close her eyes. She didn’t look at me. She didn’t look at anything. I heard myself screaming, but didn’t feel it. I came back to my body from the outside in. The universe restarted, and we were completely different, completely OTHER. There should be another word for the loss of a child, because frankly, it is it’s own planet of unfathomable horror.
Five years later and here we are in a house: Terra and I, Mason and Lila (and Roxy, who is still dead.) Four people walk around with five shadows. I have been somewhat concerned, at least once a day since Roxy died, that every member of my family is going to die in some random, horrific fashion. I dream of car crashes and cancer. The grief has become a moving target as the years go by, but the FEAR, when it’s turned on, is always the same. Every fever Lila has. Every time Mason wants to ride his bicycle in the road. The mountain of cold, glassy terror is there, and every day I have to move it to manage.
Before my daughter died, I had always imagined that child-loss must feel like a guillotine… bang!! Your head rolls off, blood spurts out of your neck hole and that’s that. You are a goner. It’s not that easy or quick. It eats you from the inside out, twisting your bones, wrenching your muscles, straining your nervous system and turning your skin into wax paper. It’s waking up one day, deep in a cave with no flashlight. You hear fifty voices at once. You feel like you need to outrun it. Hurry. You bump into everything, and your energy gauge is empty before you’ve even left the house.
Lila told me once that she thought Roxy was a tree, and said that she would look for her. Writers throughout history have used trees as symbols of age and wisdom. I think about how Roxy has brought me too much of both, yet somehow I am still grateful.
Since your baby's or babies' death, is anxiety or fear part of your communion with your baby? How has your level of fear or anxiety increased? Decreased? What effects has it taken on your interactions with living children or family?