The toddler tumbles like laughter
over the dry grass.
Disregarding all signs of mourning,
she chases the crows with open delight.
She greets everyone she sees,
all the mummy’s and daddies and “bapa’s,”
convinced each one is part of her family.
She even ambles after a thin, pink-shirted man
with a slight bend in his back,
calling: “Bapa! Bapa!”
When we reach her sister’s grave
she sits happily on my lap,
and leans over to pat the “Staahhh.”
I tell her it’s Josephine, a name she can’t yet say.
Unphased, she takes her nursing blankie
and flaps it about and pats it
until her sister’s stone is nicely tucked in
with her name peeking above the blanket.
“Baby, nigh, nigh,” she tells me.
Then grabbing her blankie
she trundles off to seek new adventures
and waves, “Baa-bye!”
trusting I will follow.
I kiss the dusty stone
So for some reason things were hitting me harder than usual this week, and my perceptive friend noticed and decided a mommy date was in order. Some time to decompress. So we both arranged babysitters (small miracle) and took off to a fancy part of town to have tea and scones at a classy café. Creamy earl grey tea and a heart shaped cheese scone with Devonshire cream and raspberry jam. Very civilized!
We settled in our cosy wicker basket seats by the window to talk. After some chit chat we got into discussing the mystery of suffering. I say mystery not problem, because as philosophers explain, problems are things that can be fixed, like a broken clock, while mysteries are things to be entered into. The heart cannot be fixed simply by turning certain screws or thinking certain thoughts. Some wounds remain forever…not in the sense of being deadly, but in the sense of forever transforming a person’s heart.
Having both experienced deep suffering and loss, we agreed that there is really no answer to the “problem” of suffering….in the sense of a solution that makes it all go away or become fine. To treat sorrow as a problem to be fixed is to trivialize grief. Sometimes the worst thing a person can do is to try to make it all better by explaining it away or giving little pat answers to the great mystery of suffering.
The pain of losing someone (a child, a spouse, a best friend), is not something that needs minimized with band-aide phrases meant to make you feel better. Instead, suffering needs to be entered into, acknowledged, faced. So my sweet friend, noticing me a little discouraged, suggested a visit to my little Jo. We hadn’t been to the graveyard to see her since we moved, and I was feeling it. After our tea we bought her the prettiest little pot of flowers we could find, did some therapeutic window shopping, and got take-out to go have a picnic with her.
I told my friend, as we sat with my little daughter, sleeping beneath her flowers, about a poem I had written shortly before she was stillborn, back in those innocent days when I had no idea what was going to happen. It was called “Mama’s waiting to hold you.” Of course it hurts to read it. But there’s a kind of prayer at the end, which I do feel was answered, just in a radically different way than I expected. I ask that my daughter be blessed, and through her for God to bless the world.
You could say, “How awful, how ironic…” but I don’t think of it this way. I feel she is very blessed…very safe, happy, free from any sadness or danger…that she is glowing like a little jewel in the Heavens, and so fully her little sweet self. And I know that she has brought many blessings, and continues to touch many lives. She continually transforms me, and helps my heart to grow.
It is hard not to have her with me in my arms. But …
There are no shadows
Without the sun,
No darkness of the cross falling upon my soul
Without the brilliance of glory
Shining behind it,
With hidden brightness…
There is mystery. There is sorrow. There is hope. I cannot explain it. I can only embrace it, and do so strengthened by the love of those people willing to share this journey with me. To all who do so, thank you.
This year we had a quiet day at home and missed the parade as our newest recruit is only 9 days old, and I wasn’t up to marching anywhere yet. Instead we read some articles about Remembrance Day, such a the D-day memories of a 90 year old veteran, who joined up at age 15. We also read the fictional journal entries of a young British WW1 soldier as he joined up and experienced his first months in the trenches, followed by losing his leg and his close friend, Private Harry, and travelling back home to share the news to Harry’s mother.
In both things we read, there was the contrast between the young idealistic hopes of a short, heroic experience of war, and the reality of a long, painful and ugly struggle. The kids felt sad for these young soldiers, and my five year old declared quite a few times that she did not want to go to war, and that we would never let our new baby boy do so!
We talked about the generosity of these men who were willing to give up their lives to protect others, and how grateful we should be to them. In the past we have visited the war monuments in the graveyard, and taken time to discuss the sadness of war and to pray for the soldiers and their families. I remember being very moved by the tombstone of a very young soldier who died serving in the bicycle brigade. Imagine…so vulnerable!
366 days ago I wrote a draft of a post entitled “We Lost the Littlest Soldier.” Remebrance Day last year was only 42 days after I lost Josephine in labour, so my pain was very raw, and I was still bumping into neighbourhood acquaintances who innocently asked me that horrible question, “Where’s the new baby?” Tears came easily at the Remebrance Day Ceremonies that year.
No matter how old our children are when we lose them, they are still our babies. My heart goes out to all parents who have lost their children to war. My you be strengthened by the memory of their courage, and by the sure hope of seeing them again, in the land beyond pain, beyond suffering, beyond anything but peace and the knowledge that we are all, no matter where we come from, precious children of God.
which flowers to bring you
Everything dries up so fast
gets parched and wrinkled in the heat
and there’s enough death already
in the graveyard
There should be a stone at least
shiny and beautiful at first
with simple eloquent words in your memory
nestled in the grass ever more cosily and
eventually getting dusty and scratched
But I hesitate
and hover over your small grassy mound
like hot air unable to settle
unwilling to take that last step
lay the last stone
and seal the tomb with the stone which
forever silently repeats the word “goodbye”