her name

photo by  Neal.


All I ever gave her was a name.

The most beautiful thing I have ever done was to name the girl for Light and Peace. Lucia is the light. Paz is the peace. She is the light and the dark. The peace and the war. I named her long before she became who she ended up becoming. What I mean is that I named her long before she died. I named this child metaphorically. Metaphorically only if she were dead.

All I ever gave her was a name.

But what she gave me was infinite. The understanding of unconditional love, of absence, of suffering, of impermanence, of fear. (Fuck, I was afraid after she died. I was afraid of being alone and being with others.) She gave me an understanding of without. She gave me the whole of the abyss. I didn't smile when I saw her. I didn't laugh because she was here. I found her birth beautiful, but it didn't erase the horror of her death. I wish I could have at least given her the sound of joy once.

I gave her some kisses, tears. I gave her an urn. A place on the shelf in the secretary. It sits in front of all my books about God. Those things seem the least I could do, the very least.

I gave her part of my wrist. I wrote her name across it--the name I gave to her. When I tattooed it on me, I took her name back. All I gave her, I now have--the blood, the tears, the urn, the name. It was her second birthday, and I didn't know what to do anymore. I wanted her on me, in me again, blood pulsing through her little beautiful body, so I wrote her name on the inside of my wrist. The blood rushed to the spot when she removed the needles and ink. Her name written in black in a cloud of inflamed skin. With her name tattooed on me, I can always possess the only part of her I gave her. I can always send my blood to her again. When I squint my eyes, her name looks like Sanskrit, or clothes hanging on a line. Like hieroglyphics that show little symbols of grief and heartbreak and undying love.

After her name, and before it, I made two dots. She is in the middle. Two breaths. Two pauses. Not the end of my story, not the beginning, somewhere in the middle that seems like a beginning and an ending. Three years ago today, she died. Three years ago tomorrow, she was born. Even though I have integrated her death into our family, into my being, into my body, the fact catches me up. She died. Forever.

I take comfort in the physics of it. Everyone dies. This is not about me, or my family. Then I get all caught up in the metaphysics of her death. I want her back, and science won't give her to me. My four year old daughter explains to me that TracyOC's four year old daughter C. believes that when sisters die, they go into the sky. Beezus believes that when sisters die, they go into trees. I imagine in another place that weekend Tracy and I were talking about the same thing.

I don't know what I believe anymore. She is gone. Last year the moon was full, and eclipsed on her death day. The night felt magical and important, like Nature herself was reminding me of the mysteries I will never understand. Like the mystery of her death, and her life, and her holiness. In those mysteries can be a beauty, a light, and something resembling peace. There was a sense of connection in it, the death and the eclipse and the full moon and the winter. This year, I feel numb, quiet, and confused. The wind whistles through the eaves of our house, makes it sound like footsteps on the back stairs. It is solstice. It is cold and dark. It is a new moon. Total blackness. The Earth has not yet given birth to the Sun. And if she does, will the child be a dying star? A supernova in our bellies?

A shooting star across our lives, and then she is gone. Poof. Make a wish.

In the first year, I tried desperately to transform my grief into a kind of joy about her. That never worked. I could only transform it into a kind of reverence for her, a kind of worship of her holiness. I would whisper her name. Lucia Paz. She is a holiest being I know because she never spoke, or breathed, or prayed, or harmed another living soul. She just died. And in death there is a peace, maybe even a light. She was pure love given. Pure love received.

All I gave her was a name and it was someone else's name. A saint whose eyes were plucked out for being too beautiful for a celibate. When they plucked her eyes out,  God made more beautiful eyes grow back in their place. I bake Sankta Lucia buns with saffron and think about her eyes. The skin on her eyelids were torn and bruised, and I had to lift them gently to see the color. Her eyes looked dead.

We are only making them for her.

The saffron buns, I mean. She doesn't eat them. She is dead. So they stale and mold over. I mourn the buns. Sankta Lucia is celebrated on one of the darkest days of the year. Candles are lit and a little girl wears a white dress and a crown of candles. She sings a haunting song about light and peace. We remember our Lucia on the darkest day of our year. It is so dark, it never seems like day at all, just an twenty-four hour cloak of darkness over our family. The saint's eyes were plucked from her skull, like my daughter was plucked from my womb.  She didn't grow back. She floated away into the night sky and became something else, maybe a tree, or perhaps nothing.

I sit outside tonight. With ice lanterns and cocoa, I wait for the Earth to give birth to the Sun. I wait to give birth to her. My tears freeze into long icicles, hanging in front of dawn. Eternally winter solstice in my heart, eternally the darkest day. I will whisper her name to the trees, the sky, to the nothing I feel inside me. She will not come, but perhaps the waiting is the important part.

Tell me about your child's name. How did you choose it? What does it mean? Did the name change after your child died? Did the meaning change after your child(ren)'s death? Was it symbolic? Do you have any rituals or yearly practices that revolve around your child's name?

i'm gone and i'll never look back again

Laying flat on my back on the couch surrounded by the darkness in my heart is how I have spent many bright days and long cold nights over the last three years since Silas died. I was not new to the idea of sadness and loss and hardship, but it was a revelation to be consumed by it so completely.

After all, there is nothing as completely devastating as the loss of your son or daughter.  We know our parents and grandparents are not immortal, but it seems like a given that our children will outlive us long and strong, healthy and true.

But now I know.

Silas's death transformed my guts.  I used to shit perfectly.  Once in the morning, once at night. Solid, honest craps each of them.  But now I'm erratic.  Sometimes the toilet sucks, and I know I'm not good when I'm not looking forward to that daily event.

Do you know the gurgles?  When laying flat on said back completely annihilated by how painful it is to miss my son I feel the slow crawl of tension mixed with terror sleazing through my innards in the dreadful, lonely night.  Lu is next to me so I'm not alone but the loss is endless.  Like the night will never end.  Like the gurgle slip-slithering through my insides will never end in a solid shit.

It is the gut-pit we all know.

It seems clear to me that all the sorrows of all that is known can fall endlessly into the despair that parents feel for the loss of our little ones.

Based upon my own experience, it really is that fucking bad.  You can't hyperbole the shitiness of this shit.

Our arms are made to hold them close, even when they are not here.

Here he is, though.  Absolutely present in my life.  My son Silas.  He exists more concretely in the typing of his name than in his physical existence.  I held him briefly hooked up to tubes and then later when it was only us, but I've held him even closer in the way I think about him, the way I write about my life without him.

I've learned to think in a certain way that seemed invaluable to survival.  Music was my first refuge.  I fell in love with music that made me feel Silas's absence with crystalline clarity.  After music it was laughter.  My brothers helped to remind me that bitter laughter is better than none at all.  And if I could find my way to open my mouth to speak or yell or maybe even laugh, then food and drink would surely find it's way in.

Look at me!  I'm a normally fuckitioning human.  Yeah that's right.  Fuck you functioning.  Good as fucking new.

Slowly I re-learned how to present a relatively normal facade, but always at the center of our focus was creating Silas's sibling.


I write to you now from the other side.  Stop reading if you are angry about not having a child, or if your loss is so fresh everything is enraging.  Read that top part again, and keep fighting.  Don't let anyone stop you from being exactly who and how you need to be.  Do not stop.  Do not stop.  Get up, stand up, throw those fucking hands up.  Push out the night.  Hide from the daylight.  Embrace your endless, enraging tears for your child, your daughter, your son, your big sticky stinky shitting fucking life.

It's true, it really does suck this much, and it always will.  Always always always.  It will always suck exactly this much that you and me and my wife and your grandparents and our siblings lost a life that was going to be amazing.


Stop reading if you're not pregnant yet with your next child, of if you're in your pregnancy and are freaking out all the time like we were.  Stop reading if you're me a year ago and I couldn't stand to read about the next, bright part of people's lives.

I'm on a futon in the living room and Puck is digging his furry, feline head under the folds of my sleeping bag.  The detritus of baby surrounds me.  In what used to be my bedroom: my wife, the other cats, my second son Zephyr, all sleeping & feeding & crying & pooping as babies do, and sometimes moms and kitties, too.

I stopped believing in hope and now it's my full-time fucking job.  I hope he's okay.  I hope that rash is no big deal.  I hope he's not crying because he's deathly ill.  I hope I get to see him more tomorrow.

I have to hope, and I've trained myself to stop that silliness and deal instead with exactly is right in front of me.  Except now, what is right in front of me, in my arms, is a son I feared to hope for.

The gurgle is in my heart, now.  The gurgle is in my brain when I see Zeph's little-old-man-new face staring back at me, absurdly alive and utterly clueless to how powerful he is. He has annihilated time.  It reminds me of when we first lost Silas and day or night meant nothing at all.

It is so much better now.

I didn't want to write this part.  Lu thought it was necessary, though.  She wanted people to know that there is still always hope of some kind.  We were the worst kind of unlucky to lose our son Silas, but we are profoundly fortunate to have Zeph with us now.  She never let go of that possibility while I continued to prepare for exactly what was, every day, over and over again, no matter how shitty.

She's in there right now using her breasts to feed and grow our son.  I'm out here on the futon writing about our insanely brutal and beautiful and sad and hilarious lives as Airbag blasts from little speakers, my toes tucked into the sleeping bag and Chumby our cat curled up on the couch.  I will sleep tonight completely enraptured by the endless darkness of Silas's absence and the now-ever-present force that is my other son Zephyr who is brilliantly alive and utterly confounding.  How do we do this now?  How does anyone?

Okay, I hear tears.  Maybe time for a diaper change or midnight dance-party.  Different day, better shit.

What physical aspects of your life changed when you lost your child?  What have you reclaimed since then, what is forever altered?  Has the lack of physical connection with your lost child forced you to find other routes to feeling close to them?  What are they?  What else do you want and how will you get it? 

good grief

'Tis very true, my grief lies all within; 
And these external manners of laments 
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief 
That swells with silence in the tortured soul; 
There lies the substance: and I thank thee, king, 
For thy great bounty, that not only givest 
Me cause to wail but teachest me the way 
How to lament the cause.

A voice. It sounds as though it is coming from far away although its source is right next to my ear. "Stop it. You're embarrassing yourself," he hisses at me. I don't respond. I don't stop. "You're scaring that little boy." 

I can feel his muscles tensing, wanting to move away from me. But he doesn't.

I have fallen into parts. A dry, thin, Greek chorus of me hovers up close to the ceiling. Tutting and disapproving. Scathing. All this emotion. So very florid and unprepossessing. It idly ponders things like the upholstery on the chairs and the many layers of gloss paint on the hot water pipes, painted and repainted over and over again. Bored with the hysterical fit taking place beneath.

I note the frightened face of the young boy with distant horror. "Shut up, shut up, shut up," I whisper at the collection of other fragments of me gathered on the floor of the same hospital corridor.

They form a fleshy tube designed for howling through, with my physical features stretched and wrapped around its outside. They slump on the floor, melodramatically collapsed. They wail and leak. And continue to wail and leak. Blood, milk, water, phlegm. They are beyond being reasoned with. 

The distant pieces inform me that I should be embarrassed and mortified.  And I am sorry for scaring that passing little boy. Very sorry indeed. It seems to me that his mother has an accusatory glint in her eye. But I cannot stop.

He looks at me, my husband, with a look that has been repeated many times since. 

You are doing this all wrong, you are very strange and you are a stranger to me. You are, not to mince my words, completely and utterly batshit crazy. My wife, what on earth has happened to you?


This is not how I thought I would react. I had an idea, before I had experienced any such thing, that I would be elegant in grief. Graceful. Gracious. I imagined that I would retain my kindness. That I would be considerate. That I would be the tower of strength that others could lean against. 

But I never imagined that the first death I would contend with would be that of my child. My three day old daughter. It transpired that I simply couldn't grieve for her quietly or discretely. This experience knocked my small claims to calmness, stoicism and compassion over the head and carried them off. Leaving a space to be occupied by my inner banshee.

Death didn't barge in. Not yet.

I still wanted to pretend that I hadn't even seen Death come in at the door. Because, in my childish grief mind, if I didn't see Death, perhaps he wouldn't see me. Or them. Besides there was no room for Death. There was no room for anyone at all apart from me and my daughters. I barged in on myself and squashed my face into my own face so hard, that I could no longer see. There was only me. My grief. My pain. My own closed eye pressed up against my own closed eye. Forming a greedy trinity with my children that occupied my entire field of vision, relegating my husband, my sister, my mother, my father, manners, social conventions, simple human decency, all to the peripheries. 

I was not the ascetic grieving mother, dressed in black with a single tear welling in the corner of her eye. Grief didn't endow me with restraint or wisdom. I was a despairing, empty thing with a ravening maw. Cramming myself with sweet things, fussing like a toddler over being too warm, too cold or too tired. As though all the inhibitory circuits in my brain and the taboos ingrained therein had been abruptly switched off. I wanted to scream and drum my heels deep, deep into the ground. Eat twenty three packets of chocolate biscuits. Walk around all day wrapped in a duvet. Storm around in tears, unable to contain anything, sending it all spinning out into the ether. 

But a few weeks later, I woke up, showered, dressed, brushed my hair, applied my make up and drove to the hospital. I sat quietly by the remaining incubator. Tears moistened the corners of my eyes. When one of the nurses asked me why I looked so grumpy, I replied, "Oh, that's just the way I look. No need to worry. I'm fine."

An internal switch had been thrown and I can't go back. To that greedy, grasping, uninhibited sadness. Sometimes I almost regret it, almost miss it. I don't think I'll ever cry for my daughter on the floor of a supermarket again. No matter how much I might feel as though I want to.


I am not proud of my behaviour in the immediate aftermath of Georgina's death. I have had to apologise to many people. But I don't know how to find that little boy or the young man who rounded the corner of the supermarket aisle looking for a tasty snack only to be confronted by a wailing woman in amongst the crisps. 

At the time, it didn't feel anywhere near enough. Part of me wanted to make even more fuss, to scream louder, to tear my hair and rip my fingernails out and leave them in a pile in the corridor, to scare more passing children. Surely my daughter's death deserved to be marked by more than the scaring of one paltry little boy?

At other times, it feels like too much. How could I have done that? How could I have folded in on myself so weakly, so comprehensively? How could I have frightened that little boy and embarrassed my husband? How cruel and how selfish.

Nobody can teach you how to lament. You can only muddle through in your own fashion. 

And no matter how public the display, or how private the lamentation, it would have been only the merest shadow of that unseen grief, the substance of which is known only to me.

Do you feel that there is such a thing as 'good' grief? Some sort of standard (or polite) way of behaving in the event of a bereavement such as this? Do you feel other people might be holding you to this standard, judging your grief as a success or a failure? Are you even judging yourself? 

Do you feel you let everything out or kept everything in? Do you feel proud of how you grieved? Or do you, like me, look back slightly shamefacedly?

courtesy, common?

I drive to work about the same time every day. Most of the time the soundtrack for that is news. I drive home at all different times, depending on how many students came by that day, what else I have on my plate, where else I have to be, and how soon. And so the soundtrack for the drive home is a mish-mash. Some days, it's mp3s of the stuff I downloaded over the weekend, some days-- CDs. But some days, depending on what I stumble upon when the car comes back to life, it's radio again.

And this is how sometime last week I was introduced to Philip Galanes, who, as I found out that day, writes the advice column Social Qs for the Sunday edition of NYTimes, and now has a book out by the same name. I started driving part way through his conversation with the Fresh Air host Terry Gross, and stayed on the channel. There was something very human and kind about Mr. Galanes, and it made me think that the program wouldn't be a bad thing to listen to all the way home.

They spent some time on peculiarities of the modern, technology-enabled world, touched upon dinner party etiquette, but by the time I was flying down the highway, the conversation turned very personal. First, about Mr. Galanes's childhood as a family "fixer," and then, tragically, to the death of Mr. Galanes's father, by his own hand. Deep, personal pain. Feeling responsible, as many suicide survivors do, but in his case because he was, you know, the family fixer. And, for years, not something he could talk about honestly. Eventually, he could.

So what do you think happens when someone answers a question about, say what his parents do by saying actually, my father committed suicide when I was 23?

"One of the shocking things about suicide too is that people feel very entitled to start asking really wildly inappropriate questions. Like the first thing generally people will say to you after you say that your father killed himself, is that they'll go oh, how did he do it? They might say oh, I'm sorry or oh, that must be terrible for you. Then they'll go how, how did he do it? And I don't know if that's some macabre thing coming up or what it is."

I wish I could say I was shocked. But I am not. Not even a little. The thing is, I learned, people feel very entitled to start asking really wildly inappropriate questions and to start dispensing really wildly inappropriate advice in all sorts of situations. Like, to take a completely random example, when you answer a question about children in a way that does not leave out your dead one(s).

What I did find a little surprising, what I am still mulling over, and why I am writing this now, is Mr. Galanes's response to the follow up question on what makes for an appropriate answer to a wildly inappropriate question like this. Because his response, and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of his response, is much-much kinder than I am inclined to be to the wildly inappropriate. His response is meant not just for suicide survivors, but also for those encountering other kinds of drive-bys. A common ones, in his own description, are the various incarnations of the fertility-presuming questions aimed at quietly and desperately infertile. But there are also the ones aimed at conspicuously single, and, I imagine, many other kinds of vulnerable.

So in his own words: "I think the best response that I have been able to come up with is "Why do you ask?" Because it delivers the question back to someone in a way that lets them see it, hopefully, for how inappropriate and - I don't want to judge the people. [...] Most people are just thoughtless. They didn't mean to hurt your feelings. So by saying why do you ask, you give them an opportunity to really consider, wow, that really was pretty inappropriate."

And later: "But no, but you're quite right. There are lots of ways. It's also entirely appropriate to say gosh, I'd rather not discuss that. But I find the less that my response is like a slap across their face, the more I feel the possibility is for the two of us to go on and have a nice conversation that isn't going to be about how my dad killed himself or why."

And I think it is this presumptive kindness that really gets me. Because I certainly see what he is saying, but I can't say that I am fully on board. Or maybe I am not fully on board in case of the kind of loss common to us here. Because here's how I look at this. The person doing the asking, the wildly inappropriate one, is not the one who needs kindness. Or not the one who needs it more. The person whose heart is, again, ripped open by the question, that's the person in need of tenderness and kindness.

What I think Mr. Galanes is doing by committing to this kind of a soft and gentle mirror-holding, is accepting onto himself the extra responsibility for the feelings of the offender. I find the kindness of such an impulse commendable, but more than that, I find the imposition of it unfair. That is, I rebel against accepting his advice as the norm for myself or anyone else. The fine line I am willing to walk here is that I am ok with any individual who voluntarily decides to go that way, but I am firmly against deciding as a society that this should be the norm of behavior for the offended party in the conversation. Because see, this imposition of self-restraint then normalizes the wildly inappropriate, makes it an ok thing to ask, and assumes that the burden of not letting the conversation escalate rests on the already vulnerable.

I've said from almost the very beginning that I do not so much mind the random questions as I mind the clueless and hurtful reactions to my answers. It is the truth of our society that people ask personal questions, some of them shrouded in wording that implies judgement about your choices, and some of them worded entirely neutrally. So people ask. But I find it cowardly and unacceptable to only be prepared for the shiny happy answers. Mr. Galanes says that people blurt out stupid stuff because they are unprepared, because you in your answer have "just laid something unexpected down." It may be unexpected, but it is not outside the range of human experience. And that is what upsets me about the wildly inappropriate-- they are ready to carry on a long and fluffy conversation when your responses fit their expected pattern, but God forbid you should bring in a real painful truth and you can almost hear the circuits in their brains frying, resistors popping like popcorn.

Angry? Who, me? Actually, I prefer to think of it as indignant. I think the difference is that Mr. Golanes wants to fix things, and I want things to be fair. Not, you know, in the cosmic sense-- I know that's impossible, as attested to by the very need for this site to exist, by the abundance of the RE offices, and by the suicide survivor networks, just to name a few,--  but in an everyday sense. In the sense where the courtesy Mr. Golanes wants to show the wildly inappropriate, the courtesy he feels obligated to show them, I want them to feel obligated to show it to us. If the courtesy is to be common, I want it to be well and truly common.

To give Mr. Galanes his very deserved due, he doesn't call for the vulnerable to always show the soft spot. He himself lied for years about how his father died, trying on this illness and that. He appreciates that the vulnerable's need for safety, as his was during those years, and as the woman in the midst of a serious cancer relapse whom he very recently provided with a dispensation to lie until she's ready, that this need is more important that the other's need or want to know. But maybe there are some soft spots that burn more painfully when hidden. After all, when Mr. Galanes lied about how his father died nobody around was presuming that he didn't have a father or that he didn't love his father. In contrast, a desperately infertile woman, years into treatment, might want to expose her needle-poked flesh to wipe that smug smile off the face of the presumptuous fool who is going on about how she must enjoy the opportunity she has to sleep in on weekends. And a bereaved parent might, just might, want to point out that the hardest decision a parent has to make is really not the one about whether to spend the money on that expensive toy your kid really wants. I am just saying.

The thing is, I have, on occasion, myself used the relatively gentle "why do you ask?" And at other times, I have been far less kind. As I say above, it is the mandate of always picking choice (a) that I shirk. And maybe, as Mr. Golanes suggests, the difference is in whether I want to have the conversation continue peacefully or whether I want to explode the biggest bomb in the middle of the room. I don't like scenes. I do not enjoy scenes. And for certain I do not want to use my son as a weapon. But there are ways to be quietly dignified and yet to deliver a memorable punch. I reserve those mostly for repeat offenders, but I have delivered those too. The way I see it, the wildly inappropriate has already hurt me. How I react to it will not make the hurt less. But maybe, if I am memorable, it will make it less likely that the person will go on in the same vein. Maybe, just maybe, I will help spare another bereaved parent down the road the tender mercies of this particular wildly inappropriate person. Maybe.


So what are you-- a fixer, a justice-seeker, something entirely different? And where do you come down on this? How should we respond? How have you responded?

Beautiful Empty

It was a Saturday, 8:30 in the morning. I was humming down Orange Grove Boulevard on one of those rare, glorious Los Angeles overcast days. A gray fog hung around lazily while the landscape seemed to be collectively exhaling, on account of the sunless sky, which normally burns and glares and sears until this desert landscape is charred brown. Trees drooped in thanks, flowers lay still, doing their part to not jinx the unfamiliar sky. Even the sidewalks and streets were near empty, as if work and play and errands and coffee were traded in for longer sleep in darker rooms.

I was alone. My mind seemed to match the stillness with one of those rare states of near nothingness, where thoughts and ideas and people and conversations and to-do lists and worry are replaced with what is only visible to the immediate eye. Red light. Green light. Trees, houses, fence. Turn left. I relished the unusual clearness of mind.

It was in this peaceful state, this nothingness, when Margot suddenly rushed up to the surface. Her being, her name, the idea of her seems to have taken up residence in my pores and under my skin and in all of the recesses of my mind that I never knew existed. Out of all these places, she rose up, speaking to me in this nothingness. But this particular morning, it was just her.

Her. Margot. Without everything else.

There weren’t any questions about the future state of our emotions. Will we be happy again? How happy? Will our grief continue to evolve? Will the sadness ever really feel lighter?  What happens if she starts slipping away? There weren’t any thoughts about friends who have let us down or those who have been there. There wasn’t any anger. There weren’t any concerns about impending situations of social anxiety. There weren’t any dark thoughts about her death and cremation. Or frightened memories of the hospital and almost losing another life. There wasn’t any confusion over the philosophical questions of life that have resurfaced. There wasn’t any anxiety over the possibility of future children or losing the living one we still have. There wasn’t any jealousy over the happy and innocent families that took their babies home. There wasn’t any hurt over insensitive comments or those who diminish or ignore our heartache. I was free of disappointment and depression and regret.  In this moment, it was just my Margot, in the purest form of missing, without all the baggage that usually clouds up her absence. It was, perhaps, the first time the missing held me completely captured since the first time I held her in a darkened hospital room.

I pulled over and cried out for her as I did in the hospital. I screamed her name. I spoke to her as a Father speaks to his children. The brokenness was as raw as ever, yet it left me hanging delicately in a state of calm. The missing felt real, felt good even.

How nice would it be if grief were this tangible, this straightforward? How convenient to simply miss our kids off and on through the days and years, not having to face the other elements that come with grief?

Because so much of the time it’s not just her anymore. Somewhere along this lonely path, the worries and jealousy and concerns and confusion and hurt and anxiety and over analyzing and constant evaluating have ganged up, in an organized mob attempt to distract from the very core of what matters.

My daughter, my second child, the one who should be pulling ornaments off the tree, is missing. And, well, I simply miss her.

Are you able to simply miss your own children, or do you feel the weight of other elements of your grief? Does the simplicity of the missing grow over time, or do all of the other elements to grief get stronger?

Coming Back to You

I looked for you in everyone / And they called me on that too
I lived alone but I was only / Coming back to you

I remember him. He is with me – a mostly weightless load now. He reminds me of what was going to be and what wasn’t. He is the future I thought I would have, the person I thought I would be. Now we are two separate galaxies, orbiting each other. We move in synchronous orbit most of the time, aware of each other and living our separate lives. A few times a year we meet in near orbit. Never quite touching, but the could have been becomes close enough to what is, causing an almost singularity. Sometimes the crash is soothing – I feel him more closely. Sometimes, like all space events, the result is dust and light and heat and brokenness.

The orbits have fixed points: times in the year when we come close to each other and I plan for them: readily watching for a galaxy I can visualize with a naked eye. Other times I stare in the sky looking and unable to see him. I shrug my shoulders and decide that he must be at apogee orbit – the furthest away from me he can be, travelling slowly.

And the fields they're under lock and key /Tho' the rain and the sun come through
And springtime starts but then it stops /In the name of something new
And all the senses rise against this /Coming back to you

I am a woman at an offsite meeting, with pumps and pearls and we are standing outside the board room on a break. We are chatting, these new colleagues of mine and I. I don’t know how the topic turned to midwives. On our team, one of the guys is married to a midwife and one is the son of a midwife. That’s about the only explanation I have about why we should be a team of analysts, talking about childbirth.

In those uncertain days after Gabriel’s death, I talked about him. I talked about him to everyone. Objects in orbit move slowly at apogee – at perigee, where they are close to us, they speed up. I knew those moments would be quick and I thought the force of remembrance and words could slow the orbit down – keeping him closer to me for longer. I know now that there is nothing that can act against the force of geosynchronous orbit. He must needs move away, hitting apogee so that he can come back to perigee.

I did not tell them it was me when I talked about high risk pregnancies. I did not tell them about my son, I did not tell them about the stroke, about almost dying. I did not tell them of the small bouquet of flowers at a funeral 4 days before Christmas, from mummy and daddy. I did not tell them about being alive when you most want to be dead. I referred to another woman. I hid who I was.

Even in your arms I know / I'll never get it right
Even when you bend to give me / Comfort in the night
I've got to have your word on this / Or none of it is true
And all I've said was just instead of / Coming back to you

At this point – this point of far-ness in orbit, he is not there for anyone to see. He is a fleck against a pitch black sky; far away and moving slowly through the cold. I cannot explain to someone who is not accustomed to looking. I cannot move their eyes, talking in arc seconds to describe his path. I cannot say, I think he’s out past the Kuiper Belt, in amidst the asteroids just past Pluto. You can’t see him, but he’s there and he will come back to me.

I am the woman before you, in her pearls and black suit. I am the woman talking about risk and cost-benefit analysis, with a black berry on her hip. I am exactly as you see. I am a childless woman. When we are far apart I am nothing more than what you see.

It’s just this: sometimes you might see me turn towards the stars. I look at the sky, turning my face to the darkness. He is far away at that moment, too far to see with naked eye. It’s ok. He is coming back to me.

Do you find you ever feel like you are 2 separate people? Do you ever hide your child, or at least choose the times you talk about your baby? Do you map your journey through the year almost as an orbit? And do you find that you are more easily able to let your child go, knowing that they will come back to you in certain times and places?


(Lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song “Coming Back to You.” There are many versions of this song, from Jennifer Warren’s album Famous Blue Raincoat to Leonard himself. The most beautiful version I have heard and indeed the one that inspired this post is performed by a Canadian Band called The Once.)