Tears for the fallen
Gather like crystal dew drops
Painful yet precious
Adventures in Parenting
Tears for the fallen
Gather like crystal dew drops
Painful yet precious
someone you love has just died
but there is no time for tears.
You ought to be eating ice cream on the kitchen floor,
surrounded by crunched up Kleenex,
but you’re swimming in a sea of papers instead.
someone you love has just died—
now call strangers, the government, charities
and tell them so.
Accept scores of condolences
from people with calm voices.
Thank them politely
and get on with business.
someone you love has just died.
Pay the bills,
plan the funeral
plan the burial
plan the epitaph.
Capture in two lines
the life of someone you love
who has just died.
where are your tears?
Just when the weight
and I no longer knew what to do
to make anything better at all,
and the pain was becoming too much
for you to bear
and me to see,
Just when words failed me
and I was running out of songs to sing you
while I massaged your aching back
or gently washed your face,
a comforter came
who spoke such words of consolation
that he drew from your own aching heart
words of hope.
Just when I cried out that I could not carry on,
could no longer bear
these birth pangs of your transition
into a new and deeper life,
the pain ceased—
a gentle day came
and you slipped out of this world
sweetly, like a baby in sleep.
Just when I felt so inadequate
to bring you any closer to peace,
everyone’s prayers kicked in
and suddenly lifted you,
as I’d promised,
straight up to Heaven
in a hot air balloon
filled with love.
Sometimes in the busyness of the day
I forget for a few minutes
and don’t feel the ache,
but when I first wake up
from the dream of sleep
to the nightmare of real life,
it is there
—the axe in my chest—
the cleaving pain
my beloved father is dying
and all I can do is sing to him,
tenderly stroke his head,
pray and cry,
and hold his sweet hands
Yesterday my sister sent me a rather devastating article about one of my childhood, and adulthood really, heroines, Lucy Maud Montgomery , the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, and many other books. I learned that she and her husband suffered from an ongoing addiction to medical drugs they were initially given for anxiety. These bromides and barbiturates turned out to be highly addictive and draining, and greatly altered their lives for the worse.
I felt cut to the heart by this news…not in the sense of now despising a former hero, because I believe like Dr. Gabor Maté that drug addiction is the attempt to heal persistent wounds, and not a sign of being lazy or evil. He writes:
[…A]ddiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. In short, it is a forlorn attempt to solve the problem of human pain. Hence my mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”
Learning of Montgomery’s destructive addiction, I was upset, rather, the way I would be if I discovered that my own grandma had secretly suffered deeply and didn’t have the support she needed to heal in a healthy way. Montgomery suffered so much…losing her mother at a very young age, being abandoned by her father to live with old relatives, being taken lightly as a writer simply because she was a woman and having to take one of her publishers to court for years to receive her proper royalties, losing her best friend Freda to death, having a difficult marriage with a very depressed and at times physically abusive husband, and losing a child to stillbirth, like me.
Unlike me, she did not have the vast amounts of affection, support, spiritual and psychological help it takes to heal from such blows. I wish she could have had professional counselling (which is worth every penny!), a loving group of baby-loss moms to help her through it all, so she would know it was ok to talk about her beloved baby, instead of keeping silent, and a spiritual advisor who could have helped her escape when her husband became violent, instead of thinking it was her duty to stay.
Reading about her pain, I wanted to transport through time and wrap Montgomery in my arms, and tell her that despite all her suffering, she had made the world, my world, incredibly more beautiful. That I, and many others, couldn’t imagine life without her.
I had to think of Henri Nouen’s book The Wounded Healer, in which he describes the transformative power of suffering, and the surprising degree to which the wounded person can be a source of healing for others. Maybe it is that through patient suffering, while continuing to find the beautiful in life, that we give others hope. It is such a high price! Certainly the writings of Montgomery have always brought me hope, and a renewed sense of awe at the fragile preciousness of life and love, the importance of beauty, friendship and imagination.
So, sorrowful as I am, I take some solace in praying for Montgomery, and hoping with all my heart that she is now at peace, and finding Heaven just as thrillingly rich and beautiful as her great heart and mind imagined it would be.
In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of “faëry lands forlorn,” where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart’s Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but things that are unseen are eternal.” L.M. Montgomery
Sadness take my heart
and crush it
Squeeze all the water out
till I lay like a limp rag on the floor
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.
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!