Community Voices: Ritual

I am incredibly honored and pleased to present two readers' voices today as guest posts on Glow.

The first piece is by Juliet Spear Gardener. Juliet is the mother of Peregrine Elan, who died and was born at 39 weeks gestation in January, 2013. She lives in Northern California.

Each week, I keep an eye out for the right stone and slide it into my pocket.

Each week, we bring the stone, water, and flowers from our garden. Once, we brought an antler: old, fragile, gnawed. Once, a cutting from a plant that is a cutting from a plant that P.’s grandmother grew. Once, wildflower seeds—only one took root, an orange California poppy whose abundant blooms open for the day but are closed during evening visits. After weeks of checking my favorite nursery, they finally had blue lupines; that week, I remembered the shovel.

Each week, we walk down the stone path, the steep slope. Each week, I remember that first walk: me still wearing a black maternity dress, P. carrying the tiny casket he built, my hand on his back, our families trailing behind.

Each week, we water the plants. I pull out the rocks and recount their origins. I arrange the flowers and explain their names and attributes—jasmine wafting through our bedroom window, the summer joy of chewing sourgrass, wisteria’s delicate drips and Kool-Aid breath.

Some weeks I cry; some I listen to the Eucalyptus leaves. Some weeks I hold P. while he cries; some I wander nearby, restless. One week I pounded the earth. Some weeks I don't want to go. Twice I lay back and felt the sun and wind on my skin.

There are 32 stones there now, each from a place I wish he could have seen with me.


This second piece is by Tamara. She writes: I thought I knew what the future looked like. I didn't. Learning to live without my son is the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. My wife and I are putting one foot in front of the other after losing Ezra on August 6, 2013. I try to make sense of it at Queerly Trying.

My wife and I picked out our son's name before he was conceived, an initial each for our lost mothers. In a different reality, the reality we were supposed to have, where my son had his whole brain intact and we welcomed him joyfully in December, we would have had a naming ceremony. I was already planning it, this welcome to the world for the boy we wanted so much.

In August we sat instead in the geneticist's office signing a stack of papers authorizing the induction of labour at 22 weeks. In order to spare our baby a terrible death, I consented to each form, pausing when I got to the one allowing autopsy. Stillborn was printed neatly in the space for our son's name. Nameless. Stillborn OurLastName, the baby that wasn't.

Under Jewish law, if a baby doesn't live for 30 days, there are no rituals performed. In my personal pick-and-choose brand of agnosticism, I had never thought much about this. I made Chanukah latkes and taught my students to play dreidel. I threw a feminist Seder every year. I didn't really believe in God, but I believed in community, in history. I had never considered what I believed about infant death. I didn't know, until I held my beautiful still son in my arms, how much I was going to need my Jewishness. He needed his name.

The hospital's one rabbi was on vacation. Every rabbi I contacted pointed to the law and said no. You don't even believe, said whispered voice in my head. I insisted. Finally, a friend reached a cousin who is married to a Jew who knew a rabbi who was willing to help. That good man got in his car and drove across town to bless the stillborn son of a couple he had never met.

The rabbi shook my wife's hand. He sat at my bedside and murmured condolences. He tenderly held my baby, wrapped in a blue blanket, and intoned the words given for healing, given in welcome. Welcome, little one.

I only understood snatches of the Hebrew. I caught "r’fuah shleimah"—complete recovery. And the most important part of all. Ezra ben Tamar. Ezra, son of Tamara. Named, in that drafty hospital room, before me and my wife and the God I'm never sure about. Named. He existed.

I can't explain the comfort that those prayers gave me. I won't try. What I know is that I wasn't ready to give my baby to the nurse until it was done. Ezra George, the son of Lauren and Tamara, named for his grandmothers Elizabeth and Gloria. Our son.


What rituals have you done for the one(s) you have lost, little or big? Who have you invited to be part of these rituals?