The most extraordinary life grows out of dead trees.


photo by reassaure

Ferns and orchids. Lichen and fungi the color of absurdist paintings. Small toads find refuge under the decay. The forest bed swallows death into a loamy mound of old and new growth. A birch bark lies just beyond. It tells the tale of circles, births and deaths, the years unfurl. I hold it up, that shell of stability, the center falls out like rich soil. I whisper my story to the bark scroll. These words, masquerading as scratches on its old skin, appear on its shell.

My daughter died. I wrote the story out long after it served any usefulness. I wrote about how the grief was gone. No one read about my not-grief anymore. It didn't hurt to have people turn away. I would have turned away in my early months, but I kept writing through it. I would let go of the grief, and then pick it up again. Because since she died, it has always been about her death. Maybe before her death, it was about her death.

There were others who came before me, who reached back. A simple gesture, but monumental, I see now. They revisited their grief while abiding mine. They kept silent and listened to my story and so I did the same, until reaching back no longer served any one. My hands are empty now as my story unfurls. There is new life here. And my story must become part of the fertilizer of others.

I wrote longer than I should have. The reaching was for me, pulling my unforgiveness along, leaving bits of it on the forest to become something beautiful. For when I listened to the other stories, I became more forgiving of my own story, of my own culpability. I didn't kill her, yet I have spent nearly five years forgiving myself for her death. Only you understand that.

Nothing. Nothing can ever make Lucia's death okay. And nothing, not one thing, can ever bring her back. A paradox that no longer confounds me.

Grief is as changeable as the forest. You never trek in the same woods twice. And grief is the same. You never write about the same grief twice. There is awe and emptiness and a void of her that is unique and different in every moment. Yet what I write sounds the same, over and over, because I began looking back at my grief, rather than writing of the present grief. The present grief became the fabric of the forest, the greens in everything. It is still there, the grief, that is. It is my mistake to say that it is gone. It is just different. It is a gratitude, and a comfortability in this life, despite her death. In the early years, the writing became a way to not feel grief. I could explicate a sentence, diagram it, break it down. The words meant nothing but grammatical math. I felt something, but did not, or rather, could not feel the true weight of her absence. I made it pretty, wrote moss around it, wove nature into the story, but make no mistake, it was still daughter-death. Ashes and dead babies. Sterile hospital rooms and calls to funeral homes. Sisters never played with. Babies never cooed after. Three broken people trying to remake a family. Over and over again.

But then it would catch up with me, and I would feel that grief with the weight of a redwood, leaning on my back. 

When a woman grieves alone in the forest, does she make a sound?

I made it a point to be heard when I was felled. I started forest fires, and shot off shitty emails and wrote angry blog posts indicted everyone for my solitary grief. I entangled the hearing with the reaching. My heart burst open, broken, bleeding, raw. And I keened. 


I screamed it. I would not be silenced so others could feel better about dead babies and grieving women and communities of people who spring up in the dark corners of the internet grieving their children that never lived. I would not be shamed because I painted it, or felt sad about never knowing my daughter, or wore my heart on my sleeve, or for starting a literary arts journal around the art of grief. Maybe all that happened for way too long, but it happened just the way it needed to happen. 

Today, my grief is grown over. The Now of Angie exists, absent of raw grief and anger, simply because I wrote about it and cried in public and arted and complained and felt sorry for myself and felt gratitude and made people uncomfortable and only talked to grieving people for a while and lived moment to moment and created rituals around my grief and made thousands of mistakes. It happened because I grieved out loud, in front of God and everyone. When I fell in the forest, I made a sound. It was a terrible, beautiful, righteous sound only the bereaved understand.

I am walking away from the writing about Lucia's death, not because I couldn't keep writing or because I no longer grieve, but because my writing serves no one anymore. Least of all me. Felled by her death, the forest floor crept over me. Overtook me. And small writhing insects made a home in me, something flew away from the forest floor, others stayed. New life grew in me, out of her DNA which still lives in me.

She is dead. We are alive. This is the great noble truth of our family.


With immense gratitude, I share my last post with the Glow community. Thank you for abiding with me on this grief journey through the last almost five years, for loving me when I could not love myself, and for sharing your stories and babies with me. Through the next few months, I will be transitioning out of the role as editor as well. I am passing the reigns to Burning Eye. Her creative fire and inspiring words will carry this space for new parents walking this dark road, and as always, Merry will continue guiding the discussion boards with aplomb and compassion. Together, I know they will continue to stoke the fires of Glow in the Woods' warm welcoming circle of parents.

Tell me, then, about your grief. How have you been making noises about your grief? Are you feeling heard? Are any parts of your grief are grown over? And what still flourishes?


photo by Garry - www.visionandimagination.com

I walked on the black-sanded beach by myself, waiting to come across a large carcass of a whale or ship, something broken and empty, like me. Here it is, I would think, the perfect metaphor for my grief. I would climb it, I imagined, examine it, and take a piece of it home. "You didn't die in vain," I would whisper. "I will remember you." And in that moment, the inextricable link between all creatures would be known to me. Nothing like that happened.

I had never traveled sad before.

After my daughter's death, I fantasized about moving away to somewhere very warm and beautiful. Life is too short to stick around New Jersey. Or maybe this time, when we didn't have a newborn to care for or money to be spent on her, was just the perfect occasion for us to travel the world for a while. We could leave this terrible place where babies are stillborn and you can't make a left turn. Eight months after my daughter died, we packed up our grief and headed to my mother's country, Panama, for ten days.

Some days, I was ecstatic, begging to travel long distances through the country for the possible glimpse of a sloth, or totally jazzed to hit the fisherman's beach to bargain in Spanish for some fresh catch. I bounced on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands like a motivational speaker. "Come on, people, those monkeys aren't throwing poop at themselves. We've got a jungle to trek." Other days, I could barely muster a walk out of the bedroom. I woke up several times each  night thinking about the dog or my father, wracked with guilt and overwhelming anxiety. Something. Was. Wrong.

The other thoughts in those hours of the night were how far away this country is from my daughter's ashes. Lucy's death seemed so small and long ago, like a dot I saw on the tarmac of Newark as our plane arched toward Central America. Oh, but I packed her death. It ached in my every joint, in every inch of my being. Some days, every activity seemed rather pointless or overwhelming or both. "Meh. I'd rather be sleeping."  And the family would leave as I read books and wept uncontrollably.

And I remained cold. Eight degrees off the equator, I shivered in the sun. I wore a sweater most nights, sometimes during the day. I couldn't get warm. It had been like this since Lucy died, not being able to feel warmth.  I carried a bit of winter solstice in my body now.


I cried during very chaotic turbulence, because what I didn't dare speak before my trip or during, was that I was convinced I was not coming home from Central America. Riptide. Hanta virus. Panamanian drivers. Mud slide. Pool accident. Infected finger. Lightning. Freak machete accident. The ways in which one can die on a vacation are surprisingly varied, interesting and around every corner. I sent emails to all my people, "I will always love you." The pilot actually came on the loud speaker on our return flight to say that we may have to make an "emergency fuel landing." This is it, I thought. I was the one with tears in my eyes and hand raised. "Uh, is that emergency landing because we have no fuel? Or is that a landing to get fuel? Could you just clarify the emergency part?"

Once you are on the shitty end of statistics, that small stretch of number is your homeland where no death scenario is too far-fetched, wild, or out of the realm of possibility. I even imagined different ways to be imprisoned in a Panamanian jail for being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a drive on a desolate piece of highway.  And my living daughter seemed a step away from death too. Sometimes I just cried, not because I saw Beatrice's imminent drowning, but because I wanted Lucy to be in the pool with her sister and her father, bouncing and splashing. I hate seeing Beatrice without her sister. My husband without his daughter. The world without a little giggling girl.


There was part of me that imagined this trip as something healing, something different than it was. I tried not to build it up or imagine it being a vacation from my grief. But I admit part of me felt like maybe a change of scenery would change my grief. Just a respite from the exhausting heavy weight of it. Maybe like Atlas passing the world to Heracles for a brief minute just to stretch the shoulders. How could I not be happy in such a beautiful place? But the pure exhausting nature of grief amplified the ugliness inside me and the beauty of everything else. Lush green and grief. Moss and anxiety. I looked out of our room onto the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, watching the sun set, and still, I was so fucking sad. It's easier to be sad in New Jersey. You are supposed to be sad in New Jersey. This was just another shitty day in paradise.


When we walked in our house, I walked straight to her urn. Why hadn't I taken it with us? I stared at it for fifteen uninterrupted minutes, I missed home.  I missed her (which had nothing to do with home.) I missed grieving her. Home represented non-judgment. No expectations. Just grief in whatever form it came. And yet the vacation was beautiful, dare I say, worth it. I listened to the story I told to other people about the vacation--epic hikes through the jungle, watching twenty hummingbirds fly around my daughter, lying on the beach, rolling a cigar in a factory with my cousin,  spotting a sloth in the jungle, or discovering a moss-covered wall and waterfall.  Those were amazing moments. The truth is when I spoke of my amazing days before, they have really always been an amazing moment or two enveloped by the mundane. After my daughter died,  they became amazing moments enveloped by the grief. And they are, in their own way, sometimes happier. Maybe the juxtaposition with grief makes them happier.

If someone asked me many years ago to describe how both my best and worst moment could be wrapped up together, I couldn't have imagined what that could possibly be. Then I birthed Lucy, knowing she was dead, both so incredibly tragic and beautiful. Her birth, a peaceful moment of agony. And so this first vacation after her death, an agonized moment of peace.


Have you traveled, or been on holiday, since the death of your baby? What was the experience like? How has grief changed your experience of travel? Or how has travel changed your grief?


She says, "You may be feeling heavy." And I am feeling so heavy, nearly paralyzed. And yet, conscious. The words come out before I think them. My conscious self has stepped aside.

She guides me into a boat that moves backward through time, like a movie about time travel--fall, summer, spring, winter, fall, summer, spring, winter. We dock and she tells me to get out of the boat, and asks me if it is night or day.


I am twelve, a street urchin, an orphan named John hiding at the docks, stealing food. Men find me and beat me; throw me into the water. It is a short, dismal life. I never knew love. I never relied on anyone.

“What did you learn in this life?”


We travel further back.

Is it day or night?


 What are you doing?

Stirring a huge pot in the middle of an old kitchen. A cauldron. I want to be alone with the food. I’ve sent the children to get vegetables from the garden, I’m adding herbs and whispering prayers over the pot.

What are you doing?


Like folk medicine?


It has been passed down from my grandmother and mother. And it was to protect my children from illness.

Do you do this for everyone?

No, just for my family. I don't want them to know I do it.


They are afraid and do not understand. They think it goes against their religion. And the women pass it on.

And so, I keep it secret. But the people are getting sick, and I use the herbs to protect my family. I sense that this is magical.

The hypnotist asks me to fast forward to an important time in that life. "Is it day or night?"


And it was the night of my daughter's first period, and I am teaching her about the herbs. She is crying and afraid of the blood. I show her how to walk in the moonlight and pick the herb and then we whisper all night, trying not to wake the men up. This life is so beautiful and pleasant. I never want to leave. She asks me to look at my daughter, and she asks me who it is, and I say that she looks like my daughter, Beatrice, but not.

Oh, I whisper, it is Lucia.

She moves me to the end of my life. I see myself old in my bed. My daughter holding my head, using a cloth on my face. I am wasted away. It has come quickly, this death. She asks me if I am afraid of death, and I say no. I have had a good life. My children have children, and their children have children. None of the things that happen to families happened to our family. None of my children grew sick and died. The herbs protected us. I can leave now, happily. I ask my daughter to give me belladonna. The men do not know. The women all die the same way. I am so happy to die this way, peacefully, with my daughter there.  

We return to now.

Why did Lucia die in this life?

It is our agreement. She just needed unconditional love, and I could provide that for her, even though her death would hurt. And that was part of my suffering in this life. We suffer to remove the obstacles that prevent us from spiritual growth. I need to learn through the suffering of her death.

Learn what?

Learn how to ask for help. Let go of John and his suffering, remember the trust I learned in the life where Lucia was my only daughter. In this life, this one I am living right now, I need to learn to trust again--myself and other people. I need to ask for help.

She helped me die peacefully, and I helped her. I am a moss-covered thing, traveling through the centuries, capturing the reasons for my grief, my aches, my hookable places. There is a peace in knowing I had one life where I mothered her, where I held her, soothed her fears, released her peacefully as she released me.


Do you feel like you had other lives with your children? Have you mothered or fathered them before? Do you feel like you chose this life? How does that feel to you? Is it comforting? Or does it make you angry?


I refuse to become a seeker for cures.
Everything that has ever
helped me has come through what already
lay store in me. Old things, diffuse, unnamed, lie strong
across my heart.
This is from where
my strength comes, even when I miss my strength
even when it turns on me
like a violent master.
--Adrienne Rich


The early days, my tenderness scared me more than the realization of my mortality. Death never scared me, rather the desperate need I felt to be comforted; to have someone fix my grief; the desperation to have my daughter's death and life acknowledged; to be held, cooked for, and tended to; the pure vulnerability; my inability to control my emotions; my hyper sensitivity; the pure, raw, screeching insomniac grief--that frightened me. It meant the pain would continue, perhaps indefinitely, because of the unchangeable fact that my daughter died, and I could do nothing to prevent it, change it, or make it right. This strong, capable, forgiving person had been permanently transformed into an angry, bitter, grief-stricken beldam without kindness in her heart. That scared the crap out of me.

I thought I knew what grief was before Lucia died. Extreme sadness, longing perhaps. I had no idea that grief is forgetfulness, self-centeredness, anger, moodiness, wanting to be alone when in a group and in a group when alone. Grief was hungry and desperate and pulling hair out from discomfort. It was fear. Times ten thousand. It is the feeling of shrinking and starving. Grief is obsession and living in the past. Grief, unadulterated and unwieldy, seeks a cure. I sought a cure.

I never admitted this to anyone except for in my writing on the internet, where I edited and pruned and plucked out phrases that sounded poetic and raw, but never managed to make my grief sound nearly as ugly as it felt. In person, I remained relatively staid, at times, even gracious. When asked how I was, I said, "As well as can be expected." When people saw me with my two year old, they saw an involved, present mother. Perhaps I forgot that they couldn't hear my inner voice saying over and over again, the mantra of grief, "My God, the baby died. I can't believe the baby died. The baby is dead." Over and over and over. I was so tired of my own voice, and yet could hear nothing else.

I waited for words of comfort to come, but there were none. I waited for someone to see through that veneer, but they didn't. An exposed nerve, I buzzed with irritation. I reached beyond my skin for something to protect that vulnerability. I drank too much, wrote too much, cried too much, complained too much, self-pitied and directed all the kindness I couldn't extend to myself to other grieving mothers, but it still wouldn't change. And because that vulnerability is so cold and uncomfortable, and the grief is so demanding and relentless, I shifted and adjusted. I shoved that tenderness deep down. I thought the ability to hide my vulnerability kept me alive for many years. Maybe that is true, or another in a series of lies I told myself, but nevertheless, I shut down. Shut out. I found something that was much more comfortable than vulnerability. I wrapped myself in unforgiveness, another layer of anger, marked it with the stamp:




That tenacity, roots tangled in the craggy sides of an uninhabitable place, desperate to find measly drops of water, just enough to survive, became the illusion of strength.

"You are so strong," Random, well-meaning person would say.

 "I don't know how else to be." I would look away.

Not you too.

You have mistaken my anger for strength.

I am a hurt animal.

A wild thing, baring her teeth at everything, waiting to heal, trying not to get eaten.

I need you.

Think like an animal.

Bite the scruff of my neck.

Make me cry.

I am dying of loneliness and grief.

I am dying of vulnerability.

Strength, I had nothing of it. I wanted nothing of it. It was another way for me to be Other. A noble, grieving mother-angel, not a person filled with rage and self-loathing. People said, "Stillbirth, it's the worst thing I can imagine." It isn't the worst thing I can imagine, and the truth is they truly don't even know the worst of it--the shitty, horrible mess in my brain. That the best of it was that I spent time with my dead baby, the worst is leaving her in the hospital to live the rest of my life. They cannot imagine how ugly I was inside, how dark I became, though I thought they could smell it coming off me. I behaved badly after all. I was dying of my own poison. It must have seeped out my pores. I kept going, but nothing I did was strong, noble or sacred. I just kept going. That did not seem like strength to me. It seemed like stupid stubborn obstinance.

"Oh, but that is strength," the wind whispers. "It is knowing you have nothing left and still going on."

The wasteland that lies between what I feel and what is true is frozen and dark, and at night, the ice weasels come. When I traversed that land, I saw that my anger froze all my landscapes, fear killed the plants and overreaction drove away all the people, I grieved all over again. Like it was the first day she died, and I had to live with the reality of my own creation. When I reached out, I could not mend the fences tore down, the bridges I had burned, the wrongly placed words I rejected. I lost my daughter, and gave away all my friends, simply because I was not brave or strong enough to trust them with grief. But when grief came again, it broke open the hard shell that encased everything I had ever believed. Something humble, damaged, but beautiful emerged. Even as it was happening, I saw it emerge, leaving the guilt of who I was behind. I did the best I could with what I knew. That is perhaps the saddest part, that that person was absolutely the best I could be with the knowledge I had. But this new, delicate being emerging searches for meaning again in the trees, the moss, the full moons, the rocks of a thousand shades of healing. My walk through the tundra of anger saved me nothing. It gave me nothing. It served me not at all. Except that it happened, and from it, I emerged. 


Was grief what you expected? How was it different? Did you embrace your vulnerability or your strength? How do you feel when someone calls you strong? In what ways has strength helped you? How has it turned against you like a violent master? 

a midwinter's night dream

I brush my daughter’ hair off her forehead. We reflect on our day, say some prayers of gratitude to the universe, ask to stay in our bed all night, pray for good dreams. "Mama, I prayed to have a dream of rainbow and unicorns last night, but I dreamed of poopy."

I search her face for cheekiness, but there is none. She is quite earnest. She really did dream of poo. She says she wants to dream of special places, and other people, maybe even people who died.

"Dreams thin the walls between the living and the dead, my love, and even though you cannot pray for a dream and expect it every time, you can ask someone who died to visit you in a dream."

"Like Lucy?"

"Yes, like Lucy."

"I had a dream of Lucy before."

"Did you?"

"Yes, I was playing in the kitchen, and under the stepstool I found twelve ladybugs. The lady bugs came together and formed a girl. She looked just like you with black hair and brown eyes and brown skin. She said to me, 'I won't go back to where I was. Not ever again. I will stay here forever and ever. I can sleep with you if you are scared.'"

"Wow, Beezus, that is amazing. What was she wearing?"

"A red dress with white spots, and she had two little pony tails."

"Like a lady bug."

"I guess so. She was very happy skipping around. She told me and Thomas to get Rodys, and we bounced all around the house while you did dishes."

"I remember that day, Beatrice, because I saw you and your brother bouncing and imagined Lulu bouncing with you too."

"She was there."

"You can play with your sister in your dream. That's amazing. I wish I could play with her in my dreams."

"Just pray for ladybugs, Mama."


I dreamt of Lucia only once. It was before her death. It was the only time I held her alive, and she was just barely alive. Her purple eyes blinked open and I smiled at her. Now, I believe it more a premonition of her death, then a premonition of her life. But naiveté and stupid arrogance couldn’t grasp the idea that the baby in my belly could die. In these four years, I have never felt jealousy of other pregnancies, or living children, or the earth people who never grieve their poor dead babies, but I am jealous of those who dream of their dead as though they live. Even my daughter, (I must whisper now, because I am ashamed of myself) I am jealous that she gets to dream of my baby, even as I want that for her. For everyone. I just want it for me too. A clear portal to our babies that we can access whenever we want.


photo by Douglas Brown.

All my prayers and pleadings have not yielded one dream of her. I carry dreaming crystals to bed, place them on my third eye. I drink teas of mugwort and lavender, write my wishes and put them in the pillow, but still nothing. Though I have not dreamt of Lucy since she died, I have winter solstice. I wake in the middle of the longest night, and look at the sky—a dream-like ritual of bitter cold and release. I watch for ravens and northern lights, cover myself in snow and a woolen cocoon that reminds me of the womb that killed her. I keep releasing the anger and guilt around her death, though I will never really release her. All of this, I think, is like inducing a dream of my dead daughter. Perhaps it is a lucid mid-winter's dream of fire and night and blurry meditations, calling to the ravens to bring her soul to me. It transcends solstice and continues through January, February, March...I commune with Winter herself. Winter belongs to my girl, even if she never comes to that particular cocktail party.

It may be presumptuous to take a whole season for my daughter. Though selfishly, I want more. I want the year. Or at least, just the night. I want one dream with my beautiful dead baby of the snow. I deserve it, or maybe not, but I want something more. Not this vast tundra of nothingness, dreams of wastelands, and empty arms, and ravens who tear at the skin of grief, but never carry my daughter with them.


Have you had dreams of your child or children since their death? Before their death? What was the dream? Was it comforting or disconcerting? Have your children, or other people, dreamt of your baby or babies? How did you explain it to them? How did you feel about it?