4 years gone

Tomorrow is Silas's birthday.  He would be four years old.  Imagining our four year old son cavorting through this house, the yard, our lives, is painfully impossible.  I can imagine what that Universe would look like from the outside, but not how it would feel in there.

It would have the same hint of crimson in the leaves and the same gorgeous fall breeze alight on a brilliant blue day.  There would be the same cool and colder nights and suddenly hot September afternoons.  But maybe I would not notice the touch of decay creeping into the shadows.  Certainly the first falling, orange leaf I witnessed would not carry the weight of death and despair like it always does now.   With my amazing son's fourth birthday helping to usher in autumn, I probably would not hate this time of year.

September makes me cringe.  With the flip of the calendar I know what is coming, but I have no idea how to deal with it.  I doubt I ever will.

Taking a quick inventory it appears that this year's emotions are: helplessness, fear, anger, disbelief, confusion and a deep and abiding despair.  In other words, same as it ever was.  In detail: I can't change the past.  I'm afraid of anything happening to Zeph, ever.  I'm still quite upset with the midwives, and at my foolish, naive trust in them.  That this is my life and that my firstborn son is dead remains impossible.  Four years now I still don't know how to properly prepare for and honor his birth/death day.  And of course, still, always and forever, I am profoundly sad I don't get to share my life with him and see what kind of man he would have grown into, and how he would have changed me.

I always feel all of that on some level, but this month and week and final days compress and tighten in my veins like my blood is being replaced with liquid concrete as my memory unfolds the events of that long night and longer day.

Growing up my mother would always recount the events leading up to my birth.  I loved hearing her tell me our beautiful, shared history.  But Silas's day is made of silence.  No one wants to hear that story and I can barely stand my own mind as it ticks off each milestone and moment.

The outpouring of love and support from friends and family as Sept 25 approaches yet again has been... nonexistent.  I'm shocked that is the case, frankly.  Maybe they are planning a surprise grief party, but I doubt it.

Our families had been incredibly supportive and understanding as Lu and I thrashed in agony in the first years after he was gone, and then they continued to handle us gently and kindly as time passed.  But maybe four years is enough for them.  They did their best, and now that's pretty much it.  New son in our life and new babies all around means new beginnings and big happiness for everyone and it's time to move on and let Silas drift into our past, as if his life was just something that happened, instead of something that is.

There will be a few friends that are conscious enough to make a call or send a text or email.  And I almost wish I could steal all knowledge of Silas from my amazing mother debilitated from MS and my incredible father taking care of her, if only just to save them from any more hardship and sadness, but I know they are crippled with despair over the loss of their grandson, and I know they know what is about to happen once again.  I wish I felt that same conscious understanding from others, but the fact is people are mostly wrapped up in themselves, and if you want anything from them you need to tell them clearly and loudly exactly what you want.

But that's the problem.  I can't say, "Hey it's going to be Silas's birthday in a few days and it is still really really tough, so I need you all to just say his name to me and tell me you miss him and show me that you remember."  Because if you have to remind someone to remember something, they're not really remembering at all, are they?  They are just responding to your clearly spoken need without any of the actual remembering or forethought.  And that fucking hurts.  It's that same expectation game all over again, but I don't really give a shit.  They should remember.  They should tell me that.  They should reach out and grab me as the calendar winds up to Sept 25 and launches me to the edge of the Abyss once again.

Instead we'll do it ourselves, and take care of each other as we always have.  We are going to Silas's tree tomorrow. This will be the first year we have a living, breathing child in our lives and it definitely makes it far better than it has ever been before. Of course as we sit there around his older brother's memorial tree I am not going to be able to stop thinking about the fact that someday I will have to share this deep sadness with this gorgeous, innocent child.  And that, of course, is awful.  I don't have any idea how I'm going to handle that or how his understanding of this awful history will affect him as he grows up.  I already feel terrible that we will have to break his heart someday.

Me, Lu and Zeph are going to Silas's tree tomorrow, and we're going to plant tulips and have a little lunch picnic and cry our fucking eyes out and laugh at our amazing son who loves to play with sticks more than toys and enjoys eating rocks as much as fruit.  He loves both of us so vividly he almost can't handle it sometimes.  He's a wonderfully wild and alive little child and I wish with every cell of my being he had an older brother to torment and grab and run with and learn from and squeeze just as hard as he yanks on us.

I'm not working at all tomorrow.  I'm just spending the day with Zephyr, as I always do on Tuesdays.  It should be his older brother's birthday party.  Instead it is something else I wish no one would ever have to endure.  With silence all around and everyone consumed by their own lives, we will embrace each other hard and make this awful day slightly less unbearable just by doing it together.

The concrete fills my veins drop by drop as this day approaches, until I am immobilized by sadness, and my soul shatters with every step I take through his birthday, his deathday, his impossibly brief life.  I will settle into bed as dust tomorrow night and I will dream of his stars and wish his younger brother had Silas in his life.


How has the day of your child's birth and death changed over the years?  How many years have gone by since you lost them?  What has changed about how you deal with that day?  How have the people around your responded (or not) to that anniversary?

shopping with my daughter

Em is a mother of four children. As she describes it, "Three sons on earth who bless me daily and one daughter in Heaven who has impacted more people than I know in her too-short life here. I miss my daughter with every breath." Em writes about her and her life after Eva on her blog After Eva. Em's essay was selected in the spring guest post submission process, and we are so pleased to welcome her words here today. Please join in the conversation in the comment section. --Angie

I took you shopping today, my sweet.

First we dropped off your brothers with a friend. You didn't mind being left alone in the truck for a few minutes while I brought them inside. Then we went to the second-hand store the church runs on Friday mornings. My heart was heavy within me as I caressed you in my pocket while I drank coffee with another mum. The other children there were so demanding. Not you, my sweet. You were quiet as a mouse. I saw a pair of shoes on the shelf. Little shoes that should be just your size. I wanted them. I ached for them. I left them there.  Actually I had donated them to the store a few weeks earlier. They were to have been yours, my dear.

Then we went to pick up some photos. Photos of you, my sweet. It's amazing how good a deal photographers will give you  when the child in the photographs has died. They couldn't find them. Never mind, I'll pick them up another time.  We went on to the grocery store. I bought milk, tomatoes, yogurt, cucumbers... I didn't buy any baby food. We don't need any in our house. You don't eat it anymore, my darling.

Next stop, the mall. This special stop is why I brought you with me, my treasure. This is why you accompanied me shopping today. We stopped in at the little booth that does engraving. The lady there commented on how cute the little rocking horse was that I wanted engraved. She held it up and looked at it. She asked what I wanted engraved on it. I told her it was you she was so casually holding in her hand. You, my sweet, encased in a rocking horse that should have been a piggy bank for a living girl, not an urn for a dead one. You never should have been able to fit inside that little horse. We engraved your name:

Eva Ruby Christine-October 15 2010 to August 15 2011.

Beloved Daughter, Sister, and Granddaughter. There are so few things I can buy for you, so few ways I can mother you.  So, I get your urn engraved. I caress your name etched into the pewter and the tears stream down my face at how beautiful it looks. How beautiful you are, my sweet.

We left the mall and carried on. We had many stops to do today. You didn't cry or fuss about your car seat. I took you out of my pocket when I was driving. Let you get some sunshine. We went out for lunch together. I put you on the table in front of me and I ignored all the people who looked at the tears washing down my face as I ate my lunch with you. I thought about how different it would have been  to have lunch with you if you were breathing. I wouldn't linger over coffee, and what would you be eating my darling? Would you want to hold a french fry in your chubby hand?

We drove back together, along the road we had come. I caressed you again in my pocket, rubbing my thumb along your newly engraved name, and we went to pick up your brothers.  They came tumbling out of the house. Full of joy. I gently showed your little rocking horse to my friend who babysat your brothers.  She didn't know what she was holding as she commented on how surprisingly heavy it was. That's when I told her it was heavy because it was full of ashes. Full of you, my treasure.

I didn't let her hold you long. I jealously reached back for you, and safely ensconced you in my pocket once again.


If you chose cremation, where do you keep your baby's ashes? Do you ever carry them with you? Have you ever taken them out with you? If you did not choose cremation, tell us about the ways in which you carry your baby or babies with you, i.e. through memorial jewelry, t-shirt, trinket, or tattoo.

Everything In Its Right Place

Today, we welcome a guest post from Brianna at Daily Amos.  In 2010, Brianna's first son George was diagnosed with heart failure caused by supraventricular tachycardia at 24 weeks gestation. Over the next four weeks, the doctors tried to slow his heart rate down with medication. After stopping treatment, Brianna developed Mirror Syndrome and had to have an emergency c-section. George died shortly after birth. --Angie

Sometimes I wish that instead of letting someone else do the job, we had escaped from the hospital, all three of us, and ran away to some place where we could have done it ourselves.  Wrapped him gently in linen and flowers, then set him in a tiny boat adrift and ablaze on the sea.  His body, our hope, and my former self flaming and crackling against a black sky while rolling on the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Instead we flipped through a list of funeral homes given to us at the hospital and made a phone call. Two days later, a stranger collected his body and took it to a sterile and cinderblock constructed factory to be cremated. No ritual. No tenderness. Just business. It was neat, tidy and impersonal when his death was anything but those things. I guess that is what civilized people do these days; we let the men in the suits with the solemn but detached faces handle our dead.

There was a time not too long ago when a woman would wail and weep and throw herself at the body of her dead loved one. She would unabashedly rail against Death's untimely visitation. At some point in time we traded the display of mourning for the "dignity" of silent suffering. When George died, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but instead I whimpered in the solitude of my bedroom. I felt ashamed to grieve too loudly or too publicly and so George's death wasn't marked so much with an exclamation point as it was with an ellipses.

Pretty early on, we decided against having a memorial service. Family and friends were scattered around the globe and neither of us had the energy to coordinate anything. Making phone calls and working out a date that everyone could make it to seemed like so much more than we could handle. We could barely even organize a trip to the grocery store let alone a memorial service for a well-loved but barely known baby. I remember thinking at the time that there should really be a secular equivalent to a priest or a rabbi, someone with a little more personal investment than a proprietor of a mortuary, to handle things like organizing a funeral service for those of us who don't subscribe to any particular doctrine or religion.

So instead of having a service we quietly picked up the little copper box that held his cremated remains and brought them back home with us, where over the next few months they meandered around the house like Goldilocks.  First on the bedside table, nestled in knitted baby blankets. Too warm. Then inside the bedside table and out of sight. Too cold. A brief stint on the mantle. Too obvious. Some weeks on the shelving unit. Too ordinary. Finally back to the bedroom atop a set of dresser drawers. Just right. Good enough. 

 There on the dresser, next to my jewelry, is where that copper box has spent the last year and a half, accumulating dust.  I know that what is in that box is not my son, whatever made him him was gone long before his physical body was put in the fire.  What hides away in there now, and what I am still frightened to see, are just the remnants of a mineral matrix; calcium phosphate, zinc and potassium.  But even so occasionally when I pick it up to wipe off the weeks of neglect, I feel a stab of guilt.  They deserve more than what I have up until now been able to give to them.

It takes time to gain perspective.  It takes even more time to build action on top of that perspective.  For me, it has taken two years to find the strength to do what I feel like I wished I could have done right away- look upon his death and those ashes without trembling in fear.  Last weekend, on the anniversary of his death, we brought the copper box with us down to a tree-lined stream intent on opening it for the first time and giving some of them up to the cold water.  That his ashes would travel along in the stream, bits of those minerals being taken up by other living things on the way, is as close to believing in life after death as I have ever been able to come.  That he would, in a way, become part of something much bigger than the sum of his parts is as much as I could ask for at this point.

Two years of inactivity made opening the box and gaining access to his ashes as difficult as breaking into a safe.  After multiple attempts and comical -albeit morbid- visions of the lid popping off and ash flying everywhere, we figuratively threw our hands up in the air and gave up.  So for now the copper box, along with some new dents and the entirety of its contents, is back in its place in our bedroom...next to a single dress sock and a receipt for gas.

I'm not sure when or where we will be ready to let go of his ashes again.  My hope is that when it happens, if it happens, it will be peaceful and we finally feel like we found the right place.

Glow in the Woods's section How to Plan a Baby's Funeral shares the different perspectives about how some of our readers and regular contributors handled funerals, cremations, burials, and the planning. This section is a permanent section and intended to be a resource for parents in the hospital. So if you have a moment, please head over and share your perspective there as well.
 What did you do with the remains of your child(ren)?  Did you have a memorial service? Why? Why not? Did you wish you had done something differently? If you have your child(ren)'s ashes, do you think that one day you will ever be able to let them go?



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?

all kinds of honouring: how to plan a baby's funeral

There. There it is, a title shed of euphemisms, because I want someone out there who is desperate and lonely and grief stricken to find us immediately with a search engine.

It's a horrible thing to contemplate, but those of us who read here have had to do it -- have had to think about what to do now, what to do next, even if the answer was "Nothing."

Our ways of dealing with death are various, as are our glances backwards at the whole process. Would we have done it differently? Did something go wrong then, too? Do we have regrets? Did someone give us incomplete information? Would we have asked more questions had we been less in shock? Was there anything we wish we had known?

Or was the horrible experience as perfect as it could have been? Was it meaningful and powerful? Was it redemptive and constructive? Did anyone shock you with kindness or simply shock you with mere understanding of death itself?

Today we add a permanent piece to the cabin library, over there on the left side, on funeral planning. The experiences of just the contributors are varied, and we hope helpful to those coming to find information and company. As with anything we write here, our words are magnified and enriched by our readers' comments and we hope you find time to go and add your experience over there so that others might be strengthened and find some common ground. I think it's always helpful to know that whatever it is you're going through and thinking, you're not alone.

When you have time and inclination, please go comment and add your experience to the permanent record.