"This isn't just sad," I said. "These are the best stories. The ones that take someone's suffering and shape it, form it, use it. As writers, we take this character—you, me, Chanie, even baby Liam—who might be feeling lost, and scared, and brave, and determined all at once—and we give them love by paying attention. We will almost always find understanding. Even a bit of magic. Even if it's fifty years too late, it counts. It matters to try, and this is art."
I pulled out this drawing not long ago, years after our third and last came to be, and subsequently die. I studied the faces I had been so oblivious to before. Suddenly, what was once was a charming picture of our future family now represented my son’s intuition of what was to come—for our faces were anything but happy.
We pause naturally and both stare at the ground, the serendipitous coincidence of our exchange catching up to us. She picks up the conversation by stating what I already know to be true, but is so often and easily disregarded as obvious: “Even after 30 years, it hurts as much as it did the day they died.” As it has done so many times over the last two years, my heart breaks all over again. For her, for me. For what should be.
During the five days of festivities, the city never sleeps, and millions of people throng the streets all night, decked in their newly-bought finery. Friends and family return from all over the world, and in many homes, the festival also occasions their own daughter’s homecoming, from a city or country thousands of miles away. The festival is about new unions, reunions, of the coming together and being one again, of dispersed loved ones. There is space for all in these festive five days—from the deeply religious to the merely fun-loving.
It doesn’t get said out loud very often anymore. I think that others think that enough time has passed. That maybe they don’t want to remind me of you, my great love, my great loss. I think they think your little brother keeps me occupied and that I’m not missing you always. They don’t understand that both of those things happen simultaneously. I am deliriously in love with your brother and constantly remembering and missing you: “Henry, Henry, Henry.”
A lot of who we were is what makes us who we are. It is often what we once shared as a couple, that provides that extra blanket during the coldness of grief. This book spoke to me of the excruciating pain of losing but also of love and romance and living, of everything that existed before and during the sadness.
Si fuera elefante / If I were an elephant / Yet I never could be / And you, who never were / Dwell in this other plane of existence
You can see swimmers behind the people being interviewed—some in bikinis, some in tankinis, some in burkinis, not to mention swim trunks of all imaginable cuts and lengths—you get to understand their confusion. I wished that our world would become a bit more like that beach—that it would be ok to be as we are, that it would phase no one to see each other the way we are each comfortable being seen.
People come and go like leaves on a tree. To try and avoid that loss only makes you avoid true happiness. We die. But as Snoopy always says, on the rest of the days you live... you only die ONE of the days. I always loved that. Grief can be a good thing if you let it in. When you don't argue with it like a drunk husband, much good can come from its stillness. —Jann Arden
Individually, none of them were aware of each other nor would they have been enough. But collectively, they brought their own tools and skills to my huge mess of severed dreams, and thoughtfully stitched together my rough and ragged edges as the months went on. I clung to them carefully, with a gratitude not yet realized, and over time, was able to see their unique contributions to my story.
On the wall in the family room is Lydia’s name—painted, framed and gifted to us—sitting above the small patch of carpet where a little boy eagerly puts on his shoes to go outside, where a little girl shuffles across as she cries out for her mother, and where two parents collapsed nearly two years ago, sitting numbly and staring out into the grey sky of a world that no longer made sense. Above the fireplace mantle, her name carved into stone, her body burned to ash.
This is where my memory begins to fade. Wanting, what I now believe was the protection of my sanity, my mind started uprooting entire events and details of Raahi's hospital stay, as I could not bear to remember the nuances, grief sweeping through me like a forceful mudslide. My memory wanted to forget death, and with it, it had to forget life too.
For a brief moment, I feel a kinship with a nameless stranger who grieved for her child as I grieve for mine, so I stoop down and leave my field daisy at his grave for her—look, someone understands, someone remembers.
I remember exactly how we were sitting on the hospital bed. I remember the color of light coming through the hospital window. I remember A and I looking at each other, our pause of disbelief, and looking back at this idiotic woman who hadn’t gotten the memo. Then saying what I suddenly know I’ll be saying over and over and over: “The baby died.”
Every day, I get out of bed and pretend that I am okay. That it is okay. But the truth is, it still devastates me, three+ years out. Not a day goes by. Starting kindergarten (and milestones) or even when we're just laughing with our kids, I think of all she is missing out on and all the milestones that should have come between birth and death. I know how quickly bad news can happen and shift everything to black. Sometimes I read other stories here and I think, I could not survive that. And then I remember, I did.
Sitting on the sand a few months ago, staring out at the raging ocean, I wondered: is this a good place to put her ashes, to scatter them in the sea I love so much? Maybe with her name engraved on a bench, overlooking the place where I scatter her? Maybe her name doesn’t belong on a tombstone.
She laughs lightly in that social way. She is older now, and so am I. I don't want to think about how criminally, absurdedly cruel she was to me when my baby died. I don't want to recall, as I'm sitting here across from her, all the forcible bootstrap-pulling. Grief was superceded, upended, re-formed. Grief became compost, making the earth stinky and rich, and from it new things emerged and became green. I feel love, longing, but not upset. Not anymore. I watch her face. My Relic revs his engine and scowls from underneath his toque.
While getting ready for bed tonight, I caught a glimpse of our honeymoon pictures. My husband and I, four years younger, were completely oblivious to what lay ahead. I had no idea about so many things. I didn't know about the joy and beauty that waited for us. I didn't know about the heartache that waited too.
I’ve unpacked my entire belief system. Every day, in some capacity, I examine previously held opinions against a new and more open, unbiased mind. I carefully examine it from all angles, attempt to solve it with something satisfactory, but end up with nothing.
Today, she is a little girl; giving as much as taking from her siblings. Giggling, fighting, and bonding with them in a way that continues to bloom throughout their lives. / And today, like every day, she is gone.
No water for her, I say to myself. No force, no beauty. No fear of nature’s power, no joy at the earth’s beauty. No wonder at the universe’s expanse, no humility in our own smallness. She does not ask us questions, does not giggle at the sprinkling water, and does not rub her face against her father’s wet neck. I almost feel like she is not even in Aahir’s heart, like he has emphasized for almost three years. I realize how absent she is from this sensory experience that one can only participate in by being present.
What is the love particle? At what speed do these particles travel? As they head out to the vast, cold Universe, are they merely our sad SOSes? Perhaps they are also testimonies—a tiny speck was there, yes, all the way down there, and the speck’s mother loves him still.
David’s writing has a way of luring one in. Chapter after chapter, you want more. His story is unique in some aspects, yet I was able to resonate completely. I could see myself walking the Camino de Santiago with David and Lisa, blisters under my feet, understanding their hopes to complete the journey.
We're all so different—from different places, and with different backstories. Different things led to this loss for me than for you. Some of us are ten days out. For others it's been ten years. Post-grief, we've picked up and let go a jumble of subsequent disappointments, joys, achievements, and gauntlets. There's a shorthand to shared experience that crosses everything that would otherwise make us strangers.
I was bombarded by hundreds, maybe thousands, of unsolicited perspectives about his death, his worth, my grief and generally how I was perceived to be doing in the aftermath. I was shocked that so many people in my life felt they had a right to press their opinions upon me—in regard to my dead son! I resented that amidst learning to cope with my loss, I was forced to explain myself, and defend my grief, over and over again.
I want to tell my yoga teacher to shut up about what’s natural, and to stop talking about medical interventions as if they’re all bad. But I forgive her over and over again, each week, because she’s the one who first told me to honor Joseph’s place in my life.
My gut instinct was to turn away from Agnes—along with everyone else—and I didn’t know why. However, at five months along, with the decision to continue the pregnancy, there was little to no room for rational thought, much less self-exploration. I didn’t have the slightest idea how to share her with the world, nor did I want to. It is hard to describe what it’s like to carry a baby you’re afraid to meet.