Sadness take my heart
and crush it
Squeeze all the water out
till I lay like a limp rag on the floor
Sadness take my heart
and crush it
Squeeze all the water out
till I lay like a limp rag on the floor
This September 30th was the 5th anniversary of my daughter Josephine’s birth. And death. Stillborn. It’s a bittersweet day for me, as we mourn and remember and celebrate her, especially by planting fall bulbs which will fill our garden with colour in the spring. We try to fill her birthday, one haunted by painful memories, with as much love and beauty as we can. We feel the wordless warmth of her love in return, across the temporary divide into the next life. The prayers and kind messages of friends take the sharp edge off this poignant day.
Josephine’s birthday is also Orange Shirt day, the special day assigned to commemorate the suffering of First Nations children separated from their families and put in residential schools. Having lost a child myself, I feel a stab of sympathy when I think of these families who had their children torn away from them. They had the additional torture of anxiety for their children’s happiness and well-being, knowing these were being violated. So from the heart of a mother which has been broken by grief, I send all my deepest wishes for healing and hope to all who have suffered in this way.
I was touched by the slogan below when my sister sent me this poster:
Every child matters.
No qualifying statements: no ‘if/then clauses’ like if they’re wealthy, they matter; if they’re white, they matter; if they’re wanted, they matter, if they’re old enough, they matter. No.
EVERY CHILD MATTERS.
When I saw a petition for equal health care for Inuit babies, I was a bit naively shocked….what do you mean, some babies in Canada often don’t receive equal care?? It seems that in their more extreme climate, many Inuit babies suffer seriously from RSV (respiratory virus syndrome), and some even succumb to it, despite the existence of a preventative antibody that is normally given to at-risk babies. It is not standardly given to them. I’m at a loss to know why. Cost, perhaps? Since when have we put a price tag on human life? Moreover, why is that price tag different depending whose child you are? Every child matters.
To say that some babies matter more than others is to commodify human beings, that is, to turn them into objects of variable worth…mere things whose value is determined by other frail human beings. This makes no sense. Either all babies matter, or none do.
Canada is such a gift. A beautiful country which is filled with so many diverse peoples. Let us please work towards making it a place where it is truly clear that every child matters, no matter what.
so beautiful and terrible,
so full of horror and sunsets,
of crushing sadness,
kissable babies toes,
and mellow evening skies through the treetops.
This world of ours,
pulsing with life,
yet ever falling into death.
What is is life, Lord, without you,
who holds all things in being,
from inexpressible richness
to indescribable pain,
from grandmother’s smiles
You stretch our caterpillar spirits,
–too often content
to curl up comfortably at home
in our protective layer of fur–
until we become as expansive as butterflies,
wings dancing across the entire sky,
exposed to the sun and wind and starlight,
and intimately close to you–
face to face,
I look with longing up the hill
to where my little sweetie lies.
A strip of tall, green trees topped with crimson
stand at attention along the oft-walked road
like a line of fire
through the graveyard
and up the hill where my baby ever sleeps.
Glorious fall silently saluting the fallen–
my heart shouting without sound
as the bus rumbles by and whisks me away too soon.
Beautiful the face of a mother,
who suffers and who loves,
endlessly giving her all,
her very self, day and night.
Beautiful the face of a father,
whose word of love has become flesh,
and brought him joy,
and the necessity to serve,
Beautiful the hearts of husband and wife,
who give up pieces of themselves,
and let them to walk around outside their bodies,
tugging on their heartstrings
until they break.
Beautiful the sorrow of those who trust in God,
while they ache inside and long for the gift
that was briefly theirs,
but has flown to Heaven.
Beautiful the “Amen’s” that cost us the most,
the letting go,
the giving up what we only loved,
but never owned.
Beautiful the hearts that don’t lose faith,
when all seems cold and incomprehensible.
Beautiful the love that is stronger than death,
that stretches into eternity,
and bursts into God’s light with joyous triumph
on that day of reunion
which is to come.
I have footprints on my heart. Don’t think that because they were left there four years ago they have faded. The impact of those tiny feet on my heart is irrevocable. I will be forever changed by losing a baby at birth. Besides a tiny curl of dark hair, all I physically have of her is a little plaster cast of her feet. Of course it is unspeakably precious to me. I have it nestled in a piece of the same fleecy soft blanket she is buried in. This is much more than many poor women who lose babies through miscarriage get.
Those of you who are close to me or have been following my blog for some time will know that I lost my baby Josephine just before she was born, due to a cord accident. She was my sixth and I was so ready for her to come…the bassinet set up, newborn diapers on the shelf, the house stocked with groceries…I even had her Christmas present already: a wind-up musical swan with her baby on her back.
She was fine at our last checkup, and then, that night in the hospital…no heartbeat. Just silence. Of course it broke my heart. My family and friends, sweet husband and kids helped hold it together.
She would have been four years old this Sunday, September 30th.
Four years and two healthy babies later, I am much more ok than I was at her first anniversary, or even her second, but sometimes things catch me off guard. I was trying to plan her birthday…maybe lots of us could go to the graveyard and bring tons of flowers…and then I thought, four year olds don’t want flowers! They want toys, and cake and balloons…music and mess and the chaos of 20 kids running through the house dressed as fairies and princesses. It hurts that I can’t give her those things, even though she doesn’t need them. Even though she’s up with the stars and her heart is brimming with love, utterly safe, totally loved, in the peaceful presence of God. I still want to do these simple, silly things for her.
So, we do what we can. The kids and I have made it a birthday week. The other day when we ordered groceries from Save-On, we got chocolate cake. We put on candles and sang. We celebrate her because we love her. We are proud she’s part of our family.
We ordered ice-cream, too and had it the next day. Ben and Jerry’s “If I had a Million Flavours.” We made blueberry crisp, too. We will have mini-cereal boxes on her birthday, as we do for the other kids on their birthdays, because they need her to be just another one of them. She’s in Heaven, but she’s still their sister.
On Sunday after Mass and pancakes we will go to the graveyard and bring flowers. We will spend a little time near her praying, and the little ones will likely run about on the grass and read the names of the people who’ve gone before us: young soldiers from the bicycle squad, grandmas and grandpas from the old country, mothers, fathers, babies who never took a breath outside the womb. All the people who await us in Heaven.
Then, because it’s nice to not be alone on this bittersweet day, we will pick up some of our favourite Indian take-out and go to have dinner at a friend’s place. Surrounded by love, just like our daughter Josephine.
Next week we will plant fall flower bulbs to bloom next spring, just like we did last year: Josephine’s flowers. Hiding under the earth and snow, but secretly full of life. Like the promise of eternal life…always making this life more beautiful.
We want her to be remembered. We are proud to be her family. Sharing her story helps us to honour her and to heal, and to know we are not alone.
Do you have footprints on your heart?
Share your story with #IHaveFootprintsOnMyHeart.
It’s been so long since I’ve written on my blog! I miss the way I can untangle all the thoughts in my head by letting them out onto the page. When I don’t write for a long time, my head feels ready to burst. I also miss all of you!
So what’s been keeping me so busy? A few extra writing assignments, decluttering my house (ha, I know, again/still!), prepping for homeschool, organizing fall activities for the kids, and generally trying to get anything done while holding my giant, jolly baby!
After a super busy Saturday, we settled down to watch an inspiring movie, based on a true story, called “We Bought a Zoo.” After losing his wife to illness, a man (played by Matt Damon) moves with his two children to the countryside to start over. The catch: the beautiful property they want to buy is a zoo and must be kept a zoo. So with great effort and a ton of work, they get it up and running again. They find the courage to keep viewing life as a adventure after loss. It’s a real testament to the power of hope.
I liked the message was that adventures await you “if you can only have 20 seconds of real courage.” Sometimes it just takes a moment of bravery and openness to new possibilities to make great things happen. And this fits well with my homeschool theme for the year, which is to explore without fear. It’s too easy to get stalled by overanalyzing everything and worrying about what might go wrong. What about what might go right?
I loved this saying which I saw on a ballet bracelet at the Dance Box store:
But Mother, what if I fall?
Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?
So in the spirit of adventure, two of my daughters are trying ballet and another one just had her first horseback riding lesson! They are all very happy. I’m so glad we decided to try new things in a spirit of hope, rather than holding back out of fear. Hope opens the door to possibility. As the hobbit says, you never know what adventure awaits you when you step outside your door.
how my heart is bursting
with the beauteous warmth of you,
your cuddly down-softness
snuggling in my arms,
fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.
And yet in all this glory
a bittersweet strain of music
tugs at my heart,
because you are so much like her,
your big sister who was born asleep,
eyes closed forever,
and here you are
I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow
when you squeak and grumble like a little bear
because your sister was so silent.
And when I smell the milky scent on your neck
because your sister never tasted milk.
I was left bursting but alone…
my arms like edges of an empty cradle
with only myself to rock.
I get choked up by your little hands
which look exactly like hers–
long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.
They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head
in the abandon of sleep,
yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger
instead is still, pale, and cold.
In this bittersweet place
I love you both
and want to give you everything:
all the affection and tenderness
I wished to give her
but also want to give you for yourself.
I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.
How life and death are woven together
in this strange tapestry where all the shadows
make the colours brighter.
What is painful
and what is precious
have become inseparable
and love runs through it all.
Have you ever pondered
that the heart carved out
by torrents of sorrow
can also run deeper
with springs of joy?
October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Like a tiny baby, this holiday that is a bit mysterious and new. How can one honour this day well, and support family and friends who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss? Here are some tips from one who sadly knows what it’s like to lose a little one in labour. If my experience can help others, I will be glad!
Thoughtful gift ideas:
When words fail, as they really do on this case, a simple “I’m thinking of you with a lot of love today” accompanied by a sweet gift can go a long way. Kind notes and the assurance of heartfelt prayers on hard anniversaries have helped them go a lot better for me. Here are some ideas:
None of these gifts are meant to ‘fix’ anything…so you don’t have to feel awkward or like they are not enough. They are simply acknowledging that your friend or family member has suffered a tremendous loss, and that their little one’s brief life is not forgotten. This means so much! And don’t forget the infant’s father has lost his child, too, and make sure he is remembered. Even if he perhaps doesn’t express his grief as verbally, he feels it deeply and should be equally honoured and supported. Does anyone have any more good gift ideas for bereaved fathers? Please share!