The night before

Tonight
is the night before I lost you, dearest,
two years ago
when you burst from my womb
and were launched straight into Heaven.

Two years ago tonight,
it was Michealmas
and perhaps your passing the next day
was accompanied by him–
this warrior angel
this strong protector—
to carry you on high
in arms safe and loving as your daddy’s.

Great angel,
protect my spirit now
and give me the courage to face the night,
knowing what tomorrow brings.

Help me be brave enough
to feel the pain of loss
yet again,
ever still,
but also to live with the simplicity of my children
who know how to rejoice in each moment
and sing Christmas carols with gusto
no matter what the season.
Sufficient for the day
is the joy thereof.

My first poetry book! “unexpected blossoming: a journey of grief and hope”

My first poetry book just arrived in the mail! It is dedicated in loving memory of my little daughter Josephine, whom I lost in labour almost two years ago. These poems chronicle my first year after her loss, my grief and love for my baby girl and also the hope I have of one day seeing her again.

Writing has been really therapeutic for me, and helped me give expression to the intense emotions that come with losing a little one. I want to share these poems with other families who have lost babies so that they would know that they are not alone…that others have experienced and survived such a loss. 

I first thought of this project when talking to my friend Anne Schweitzer, who makes “Mother Mary Baskets” for bereaved moms. The baskets contain little comforts like bath salts, lip balm, chocolate, a fancy tea cup, etc as well as a few books on healing and hope after miscarriage. There are also special prayer cards, including one to your baby in Heaven. We thought it would be so nice to include some of my poems in the basket. Now I’ve been able to publish them in a little book, the kind you can carry in your purse and pull out to read in those quiet moments when you have time to release some of the sadness welling up inside. 

Because my main goal is comforting other babyloss moms, every time a copy is sold, another will be donated to a bereaved family. I’d like to reach as many people as possible, so that instead of just an impersonal pamphlet from a hospital, bereaved moms could be given something special, something beautiful, something that honours their love and grief. I hope to donate copies to hospital chaplains, midwives, doctor’s offices, etc, as well as giving them to individual moms. It will be a thoughtful gift for people to give loved ones who lose a baby…something for them to give when they don’t know what to say themselves…

I want to thank my dear friend Rachel Lalonde, who really helped move this project along, taking care of all the technical details and keeping me on track. She also did the delicate rose photographs on the front and back covers which wrap my poems in beauty. I couldn’t have accomplished this without her! And also thank you to my brother Monti, who believed in the value of this little book so much he donated $100 towards the project when it was still just an idea. That very bill will soon be used to order copies to donate!

I’ll keep you posted once my book is available online via the publishing site Blurb, and in the mean time, for anyone near me who’d like a copy, be sure to let me know; when I do a bulk order I’ll be able to save you some shipping costs. It will be a joy to hand it to you!

      

Mystery and Loss: International Bereaved Mother’s Day

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,

Awaiting me

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. 

Belly Laugh

I blow on your bare baby belly

and you chuckle those first precious laughs

as you cling to my hair.

My heart aches with bittersweet joy

for the giggles I never heard,

the solemn silence of your big sister,

born still. 

Yet I am so relieved you are here safe—

that you are laughing and alive.

On an impulse,

I lay my ear on your warm little chest and listen:

“Badda -boom, badda-boom, badda-boom!”

Thank God, thank God, thank God! Goes your little drum. 

I fight tears as your pull my hair with your chubby little hands

into your sweet, warm mouth. Thank God, thank God, thank God!
  

  

Holy Saturday

  
Day of silence

Of exhausted aftermath

Of unbelief

Can it really have happened??

The strangeness of life continuing 

Just as it had before

Yet—on the inside— 

Earth-shatteringly different 

Every mother who has lost a child 

Knows this feeling

In the core of her soul

In her hollowed-out heart

In her empty aching arms

The day after death

For most of us

The long wait for reunion

For resurrection

Lasts a lifetime

One long Holy Saturday 

Until death breaks the silence

And we hear our babies laugh

To endure this day

Stay close to the mother of the one they pierced

No sorrow deeper

No love stronger

No patience more graceful

Than that of the one who spent that Holy Saturday

Weeping tears of hope

A Letter to Heaven

  
Dear Little Jo,

Tomorrow is a big day for Mummy. Your little brother is going to be born. We are going to coax him out into the world three weeks early, in hopes that he can be safe. In hopes that things will go differently than last time. He kicks and wiggles hello to you, his big sister in Heaven. 

Know, my dear one, that you are very much in my heart right now, as ever. Your little brother is, as a friend told me today, one of your many gifts to me. So I thank you for constantly making my life richer, deeper and more exquisitely beautiful. How much I love you!

After losing you in labour last time, I am afraid. When I think about how I couldn’t save you, I tremble. I want to cry. I want to hide my head in my blankets and not come out. But I know there is a greater, deeper plan than the one I can understand. I know you are safe and beautiful and loved. That you always will be. 

And I want you to know, my little sweetheart, that no matter how much time passes, you will always be my special baby, even when you have grown wise beyond your brief time on earth by so much time spent in Heaven, that timeless place of Love, where I hope to join you one day. 

Save me a huge hug and so many kisses, and tomorrow shower us with the grace of your perfect little prayers, as your brother makes his epic journey into this world. I know that we are wrapped in the wings of angels, and lifted up by the strength of so many heartfelt prayers. 

I pray that our new little one may, above all, become like his sister, a saint—a sweet beacon of love for the world. 

All my heart’s embraces,

Your Mummy

The Feast of All Saints

Born of Hope

Sweet mother

pray for me

in this time

when more than ever

I need hope.

You know what it is 

to lose a child

without letting your hope be whipped away

by winds of despair.

You know what it is

to love again

to love still

to be courageous enough

to be vulnerable.

We are all

in a way

your rainbow babies.

Born of the sorrow of your heart

on losing Jesus.

Born of the intense burst of love

that broke out of your heart

that day at the foot of the cross

  

when beauty shone through your tears

like sunbeams pouring from a steely sky

making rainbows flicker

in the maternal tenderness

of your eyes.

Help me hope again!

Help me trust again!

May I be a courageous mother like you

brave enough to believe

I will soon hold my little boy

breathing this time

Alive!

in my arms. 

Happy 1st Birthday in Heaven, Josephine!

  
Yesterday, September 30th, we celebrated the one year anniversary of my baby girl’s entrance into Heaven, on the day she was born. I thought it would be better to face the day in a spirit of celebration, as much as possible, rather than letting it pass by us acknowledged, quietly and painfully. 

The kids were totally excited, because a birthday is a birthday, and there will be cake. We had a potluck lunch, after gathering in the graveyard to pray and bring flowers, and my awesome friend Kate made the cake. And Thai Chicken Soup for dinner (so I wouldn’t have to cook), which my kids declared the best soup ever!

My husband James took the morning off so we could go to Mass together…and had the sweet idea of bringing along Josephine’s photo…Daddy’s affectionate heart…I entrusted the day to Our Lady, as I had entrusted her with Josephine, that she could cover her with kisses until I arrive to take over the job. 


A few days before the birthday, my 7 year old daughter was walking home holding hands with her toddler brother when I overheard this:

It’s almost Josephine’s birthday! And you’re invited!

Oh, birthday!

And there will be cake!

Mm, take!

And later, when we all get to Heaven, we will play with Josephine! She’s your little sister, and we will be all together. 

My five year old piped up, “And it’s ok if she is still small, and I’m bigger, because then I’ll be able to hold her better.” 

 

Just as at her funeral Mass and burial, we had many people come, and I think this meant a lot to the kids, to have their little sister honoured like this, and celebrated by people who only ever knew her while she was still kicking in my belly. A few kids made her cards, to go in her memory folder, and one gave a special rock. Never underestimate the value of a special smooth rock, given by a child. Such things are treasures. 

  

Once everyone arrived for lunch, we counted 24 kids at her birthday, not including babies, so it was likely closer to 30. Happily it was a gorgeous fall day, perfect for a picnic lunch outside. My friend Tajsha made the kids’ day by bringing hot chocolate mix and mini-marshmallows. Celebrating in style!

We moms enjoyed coffee and sitting chatting outside by the garden while the kids played. I was very happy for all the company and support of my dear and thoughtful friends in this day. I was surrounded by love, food and prayers, and all these things cushioned my heart so I can honestly say it was a beautiful day. Thank you to everyone who made it special. I’m sure Josephine is happy her family has so many good friends, and will sparkle a little stardust your way, if you ask her. 

Must I tiptoe, Mother?

“Must I tiptoe, Mother, into this world?

Tread so softly I won’t be noticed—

hold in my newborn cries

in a wake of silence

for the one gone before me?

Must I pretend I am not here?”

  

“No, my little love, no,

for we want you and the world needs

your little bright light

as much as any other.

There is no one else 

who could ever be you.”

A Cloak of Starlight

I go outside for a walk in the dark garden,

only two bare feet to hold up my heavy heart,

and after the warmth of the concrete driveway

surrender to the melancholic cool of the evening grass.

In the stillness of dusk

amid the silent flowers,

the sadness for my lost little love 

wraps me about like a cloak of starlight

poignant and piercing.
    
I hurry inside

to capture this poem,

preserve this tear like a crystal jewel 

and offer it to you, Jo,

the one whom I can give nothing

but the pangs of love.