The stone remains a gift for my daughter. I am merely her father, holding it while she is momentarily away, awaiting her return and request to carry it herself, perhaps with a welcomed, but not expected, smile and kiss on the cheek.Read More
I was there. Right there. Within an inch. No, on the spot.
Precisely, undeniably, absolutely my dart was in the center of the target. That red center, that renders all the surrounding rings meaningless, as if they are merely decorative, their presence adding mere circumstantial detail to the act of throwing a dart. You miss it by a ring, or you miss it by an inch, you have missed it. And I did not. I had set a target for myself with regards to my family. Not consciously, but very, very cautiously. I wanted my second, and last, baby, before my son would be four. I wanted to complete my family while I was still in graduate school. And for the first time in my ten-year-war with my luck over my reproductive wishes, I hurled the dart on the spot, and got pregnant effortlessly at the beginning of the fall of my second year. I would have her right at the start of a year-long fellowship that would allow me to stay home with her. I would have her at the end of two years of staying apart from my husband. And most importantly, I would have her and complete my longed-for family of four. I was done. I could move on. I could make plans. I could focus on the career I had forsaken for ten years. I could focus on raising my children, and be the ‘whole’ mother to them I had longed to be. I was done making babies or trying to make them. I was there. I had hit the bull’s eye.
So accurately, that I was blinded by the beauty of it.
I stepped in. Hesitant, unconvinced, nervous. I could not believe I was one of them. Oh, finally.
I had wondered often how high the fence surrounding the playground was, willing even to swing my feet over it, only to feel once what it was to belong. A poor little girl, who had been standing outside the playground gates, longing in her eyes, for years. We all know her, passing by a neighborhood playground, many of us have seen her. A girl in rags, with a dark, unclean little face, bright eyes, dirty hands, hair in lumps, holding on to the wires in the fence. Eyeing the kids playing in the playground, and the candies in their hands they wanted and got, with pain and hope in her eyes.
And yet, on that autumn day, the door opened to me. Somehow, I got to come into the park, and with trepidation and disbelief, I felt like maybe I was indeed one of them. Someone handed me a candy, but I was told that I, unlike the other fortunate kids, would have to pay a huge price for it. I was willing to do anything to have a taste of the candy, to have a taste of belonging. I went through fire with the candy held firmly in my hand. I reached the other end of fire, and the candy was snatched from me.
I was thrown outside the park again, and the world didn't even look back at me, lying there in the ground, crumpled like a piece of discarded paper, my clothes still warm from the fire, my face covered in ash and soot, hot tears rolling down my streaked cheeks, my heart heaving from the fall. I missed the smell of the candy, and would happily cross a few thousand fires again to hold it again within my two fingers.
But I cannot. I was never one of them. I never belonged. It was a charade, I was only a clown, meant to entertain, meant to be made fun of. To be handed a coveted prize, only to be made aware what it is like to never, ever, be able to have it.
But I was there. I belonged. Only I came so close that I was burned by the fire.
I saw a butterfly. I believed it was there, fluttering away within the crevices of my belly, around me in the expanse of my dreams. I believed it came from me, and I believed it came for me. I let this thought, this faith, flutter in me too, that it brought beauty and freedom to my life, and that all would be well now. After years of warring with an adamant and invisible destiny, that seemed to be harboring some ancient and strangely esoteric grudge against me, I felt free from its clutch, free from the diabolic predictability of nothing ever working out. In a conscious, tactile moment of certainty, it felt wonderful to finally cease to be cynical, cease to feel trapped by unseen forces.
Finally carrying the girl I had always wanted, I began to believe in what had increasingly become an unattainable fairytale for me – that I could be a very ordinary woman now, with a little family of my own, able to live with my husband under the same roof. I did not care that this meant I would be severed from my work environment again, all I cared about was that my girl was here, we would be together, all would be well. I trudged on with the pregnancy, alone with a preschooler in the Chicago winter, looking ahead at summer, when my family would be complete, and the light at the end of the tunnel would lead the rest of our way.
I believed in my life. I soared high in faith. So high, so high, it unraveled me, bit by bit, on the crash down.
A feeling of having achieved the target of completing my family. A feeling of belonging with the more fortunate, who got what they wanted, especially in matters as natural as motherhood. A restoration of faith in my own life, the faith that everything will now be alright. My little girl, apart from being a beautiful, bright-eyed, intense, fragile little person, was all of this to me. She stood for the fulfillment of achieving my target. She stood for the patience of waiting for my turn to belong. She was my symbol for the faith that things can turn around in one moment.
She was here. My strength, patience, faith were here. For a few moments of music and magic, my fairytale had come alive. Only to turn into a darker tale of blank horror.
I cannot remember what it was like to not hit the target, to feel like I don’t belong, or to not have the faith in my life. And I cannot forget how, even as I was carving out her place in my life, in our family, I could see the coming together of my whole life, my deepest emotions and values, in her.
No, losing her is not the meaning. Having her is.
What do(es) your lost child(ren) symbolize in your life? How has having, and losing them, altered the meaning (or lack thereof) you ascribe to life?
This post is about my older living child. If you are feeling sensitive about others' living children, please skip this.
I am a boy. She is a girl.
I am big. She is small.
I am her brother. She is my sister.
I am the Metra. She is the El.
We were three. Now we are four.
Gender. Stature. Numbers. Opposites, new formations, favorite things, references. The unequivocal, irreversible way a three-year-old’s awareness of self was cemented, and his knowledge of the world expanded, as we announced to him gently about his unborn little sister.
Days later, we stuck two little Lego figurines – that of a little boy and a little girl – to a yellow Lego platform. The boy wore a hat, the girl had pigtails. They were my little son and my littler daughter, and we were very proud of our favorite ‘sculpture’. As we were fulfilled with our little children.
The Lego figurines still stand on my dresser. My children’s Lego avatars are together there, close to each other, on the same plane, in the same world. And around them plays a little boy, alone, his eyes not even daring to look at the figurines or claim them anymore. Now he calls himself “the boy who doesn’t have a girl.” Now he doesn’t want to grow up, turning his head side to side whenever someone calls him a ‘big boy.’ But even now, irreversibly, in his beautifully numbered world, we are four. When I burst out crying because he says that he always thought she was going to come out of my tummy and play with him, but she left without playing, he instantly assures me from the backseat, “Don’t cry Maani. I know she is always with me.”
Where do I begin this story of love, who do I tell about them? About a little boy and his undying love for his dead sister? What should this story be about? Should it talk about the truncated promise of camaraderie and companionship? Should it talk about love, pure and strong, that he poured from his heart? Yes, maybe. Maybe this story is about all of that. Yet, along the way, it becomes a murky tale of destruction, betrayal, abandonment, of meaningless loss. This story is about unfulfillment, of breaking apart, of having all this love but not having the one to give it to.
And then, this story is about a journey. Of a train brother and his train sister, running on parallel tracks. Never to meet again, never able to touch or hold hands. But always running together.
We rage on, angry, livid, that this happened to him, that our baby is having to unlearn all that he learned, and walk backwards at a time when the only road for him should be the one ahead. We are heartbroken that he was made to lead, and then left alone midway without a sense of direction. We watch helplessly as he eyes friends’ siblings longingly, coming home to tell me someone’s ‘baby is growing teeth,’ or another’s ‘baby is walking and falling down.’ Then we talk about what his sister would have been. Would. Have. Been. You would think it is too much for a little boy to imagine. It is.
But he smiles as he imagines “Bonu walking and falling down, walking and falling down.” He looks at my lost eyes, and smiles wider. I wonder if he would have smiled like this if she were here, walking and falling down. She. Were. Here. You would think it is too much for a mother to imagine. It is.
Then we travel together to what-if-land, stretching our imagination as far as it would go. Yet, it never stretches to reality, bouncing back like a big colorless knotty yo-yo. The imagined shapeless vision lays bare a very defined and empty reality. So we let our minds come back, shaken, frozen, broken. We let our imagination break away and freeze up, little by little, as we wander back to what-is-land, still smiling, and never looking away from each other’s eyes.
Those who know and love Aahir often tell me how he has had to grow up in the past year. That is partly true. Aahir, who is my knight in 5T clothes, grew up too much, too soon, long before Raahi died. He watched his Maani cry the day Baba left for Columbus, and there were still three toothbrushes in the caddy. They hugged and talked about her fears for Bonu, and he watched her make countless trips to the hospital alone. He grew up into a sheltering tree the morning he found his mother scared and needing to go to the hospital, since Bonu appeared to be coming that day. Sleepy-eyed, yet wide alert, he offered to wipe the spilled milk at breakfast, and again they worked as a team, he the fearless comrade, hurriedly putting on his shirt, she the tireless fighter, getting his bag together. When he said that he loves Maani, Baba and Bonu, as Maani buckled him into his carseat to go to his school, and then to the hospital, her eyes were full and her mental reserves empty. She desperately hung on to his faith, as hers was gone. He was three years old.
Those three-year-old hands would pull Raahi’s rolling bassinet to a private room we were finally allowed to bring her to, after her second surgery. His toes would get hurt every day, as the wheels rolled over them. He pulled on, never looking away from the bassinet. At the hospital, he stayed way past his bedtime, his eyes fixated on his little sister. He often fell asleep on the couch, waking again when it was time to go, his sleepy fingers pulling the bassinet back to the hospital nursery. All of the nurses knew Raahi’s big brother. All of them said he was the most caring big brother a little sister could ever have. When we would visit her by ourselves, they would all ask for my “big helper.” They didn’t know that he was less a helper and more a sustainer.
His “Big Brother” shirt hung in his closet, waiting for the day he would bring her home. He wore it for the first and only time, on the morning of July 15, 2013, as he danced around, readying his trains to welcome his baby sister into his home. He pulled at the “standy,” the feeding bag pole, at the hotel and the airport during our move, and ran ahead of us, alerting everyone, “Watch out, watch out! My little sister is coming!”
In the early morning eight days later, all he could do was scream. “Don’t hurt my Bonu Baba!” as a distraught Som gave CPR to an unresponsive Raahi. “I don’t want to go Ma!” as I pushed him into the neighboring room in the hotel. I could hear him screaming from behind the closed door, in there with strangers, as a war was raging outside. My comrade, my warrior son.
After we brought him back from a friend’s house that evening, he was quiet. He didn’t ask any question about his missing sister and the missing swing he had put together with Baba two days back. He lay next to me, ears perched like a wounded deer, sometimes holding my arm, often curling closer. He listened intently over the pouring waters as I sobbed in the bathroom. “Maani is crying,” he would alert everyone.
In the following days and weeks, Aahir got to know that his sister had “flown away,” and that he was never going to see her again. He remembered the little box in his chest, which housed the trains in Evanston and Tiki Mashi (my friend Katie), wondering if Bonu will be living there from now on. I had told him that everything and everyone we love live in a little box in our chest, and we carry them everywhere, when he was heartbroken at having to leave the Metra, the El, and Tiki Mashi back in Evanston. And I had said that the trains are going with him. “The Metra is Aahir, as it is big, and takes serious, heavy steps. The little colorful El Train in Raahi’s favorite purple, the color of my university, is Raahi herself. It flits by next to the Metra, hurrying along, running fast, just like she will soon!” Aahir loved to think of himself and Raahi as the train brother and sister, and from then on, he would often talk about the many journeys they would take us on, and how he would always run ahead of her, showing her the way.
We didn’t know that the littlest train would outrun us all in four days.
A week after Raahi left, Aahir asked me, “Has she gone on to her next station Maani? Why can’t the Metra go there?”
I ask myself that question every day, and try to understand it. Was this earth one of my little explorer’s many sojourns, was her brother her fellow traveler only for this one short journey? Did she know how much we loved being on this journey with her? Has she gone on to her next station? Is she saving us all a seat on her train?
I don’t know. I know that right now, we’re on the magical Metra. We tell him every day how much we love riding with him. We watch every day as he gazes into space, still looking and wishing for his colorful little El train to run by his side, and the emptiness, the meaninglessness of this drive clouds his eyes. Then he smiles back at us, and takes us on a spectacular journey, holding my hands tight, leaning on his father. Showing us what lies ahead, and what comes along the way.
We wave the flag, clear our throats, and blow the whistle for the train brother and sister.
How have your living children responded to their loss(es)? Is there any special imagery/story you have created or found that helps them address the absence of their sibling(s)? What have you, as parents, learned about them from the way they are growing up with and despite loss(es)?
Today we are honored to present the writing of two more Glow readers.
Anne is a dancer, teacher, writer and non-profit arts administrator. Anne and her wife Burning Eye's first child Joseph was stillborn at 35 weeks in December, 2012. Some of her poetry is being published in the upcoming anthology "To Linger on Hot Coals" edited by Stephanie Page Cole and Catherine Bayly.
My poet’s brain never had much use for numbers and formulas—
preferring the symbolism, the metaphor,
of mass, gravity, planetary orbits, chemistry, heredity,
the tiny organs in that poor frog.
But now, in the aftermath of your short life,
I turn to science for solace, trying to find sense and reason,
or make it.
I write poems about logic, Newton’s laws, math—
the equation never adds up.
Still, I can’t stop measuring, comparing, weighing—
searching for meaning among misremembered facts,
proving your life with whatever symbols I can find.
Today, the days of your life rest delicately on one side of the scale,
balanced perfectly by the days of your absence.
Tomorrow, the scale will start to tilt,
listing as the days keep piling up.
You will always be more gone than here from now on, forever.
But maybe that perfectly balanced scale is an illusion,
an incomplete equation.
Surely, the scale tipped toward loss long ago—
as heavy as these days have been.
Or maybe your realness, the weight of you in our hearts,
still outweighs the loss of you—
the nothing that can never balance your substance.
This next piece is by Carolyn. Carolyn blogs at hangyourhopesfromtrees.wordpress.com. She writes: Lost my first baby to a miscarriage at 17 weeks. I find solace, as I've always done, in writing, art, and thick, wordy books. Finding hope, now, but still burdened often by my loss.
I dig my toes into the rocky incline. Looking down, I can see clouds hovering underneath me. I am high enough that the place where I began isn’t visible, grey and swirling storm. Up here, as I pull myself further, the sun shines upon my shoulders. The sky is a brilliant blue, hopeful, vibrant. I keep climbing, distancing myself from the stormy ground. I don’t know what the plateau above looks like, but I long for flat ground and stable footing. I reach up and grasp at a root emerging from the rock.
Suddenly, I am scrambling, rocks and dirt begin to funnel down around me, I slide, scraping my skin, dust grinding into my wounds. I am falling, slipping down this slope, wind howls in my ears and I plummet below the cloud cover, into the cold, torrential rain
I came home from work today on shaky legs. I had a sense of panic. I was on edge. Everything seemed too bright, too real, too harsh. My eyes couldn’t adjust. I squirmed uncomfortably, I felt restless.
I caved. And I cried.
It’s been months since I’ve broken like this. I can hardly recall the last time I sobbed under the weight of the world. I buckled in the grass, hot tears on my face. I pressed my head to the earth and wept.
I clutched at my firefly necklace and I begged God not to take anything more from me.
I composed myself, wandered inside and climbed into my bed.
I slept, shutting out my mind, retreating into a world of quiet.
I find myself halfway down that steep incline, wedged into the rock, covered in blood and gravel. I manage to crawl up onto my knees, rocks and grit piercing my wounded skin. My head reels, my vision weaves, distorted. I breathe deeply as the pouring rain pounds my soul. I breathe in this storm until my mind clears, my heart slows, I regain balance. I pull myself up to my feet, digging my hands into the dirt above. Slivers of blue sky are revealed to me, far above this tempest.
I reach up and begin the climb again.
These are the last two Community Voices posts for this round. We want to know what's on your mind, readers. We want to hear your voices. What questions are you asking yourself in the wake of your loss(es)? What questions are you asking of others?