On Coming Alive

Yesterday, I attended a workshop for bereaved parents. I knew that it would be hard. I knew that anticipation would likely make it difficult to even walk into the building, and that after I would likely feel like I had been hit by a bus. But I forced myself to go because I belong to the community of bereaved parents. This is my tribe.

Nothing presented was fresh or new for me. I have heard the messages of feeling changed, of “before” and “after”, of trying to find joy. The only new aspect of the experience was hearing new stories from other parents. Sharing the pain of a few other people who know, and allowing us to say the names of our children out loud.

A woman at my table was talking about the funeral of her her son – who died at just a few weeks old – and how they had 500 photos of him put together in a display. I inwardly cringed, and looked down at the photograph that I brought. All parents were encouraged to bring a photo, and I had no photos of my babies. Her husband leaned over and gently asked me about the photo that I had brought to the workshop. Instead, I brought a photo of their framed footprints to the workshop, beneath the picture of the sheltering oak where their ashes are scattered. It meant the world to me that he took a moment to ask me about my picture, when I lacked the knowledge images of what my daughters looked like.

At the end of the workshop, we were to take candles from the middle of the table, light them, and say our babies’ names aloud. Our table was not full, so I took one of the extra candles, so that I could have one for each of my girls. One of the moderators came around and asked if she could take one of my candles, because some of the other tables did not have enough. In my exhausted, emotional state, I could think of nothing else to say, except “But – I have two babies.” She replied that some other parents did not have candles at all, but in that moment, giving up one of the candles was like not recognizing that I had two babies. I froze and could not respond. They found extra candles elsewhere. When the lighter was passed to me, my hands were shaking so badly that I could not fumble my way to lighting my candles and had to ask for help.

I came home with an emotional hangover and now want to take a nap for a hundred years. Or drink an entire bottle of wine. For the duration of the drive, I kept placing sunglasses over my eyes, even though dusk was rapidly approaching. It was like I wanted to block sunlight from my face. I greeted my children after being gone for three hours in the afternoon. Stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. My eyes looked like they belonged to someone else. They were not my eyes. These eyes had no life; only sadness. Swollen beyond recognition from crying. I took a hot bath and put a clay mask on my face, in an attempt to soothe my raw skin. The name of one of Isabel Allende’s short stories flew through my mind: “And of Clay We Are Created.” To myself, I finished this with “And to the Clay of Earth We Shall Return.”

I wrote down the names of all of the children lost at our table, as we said them out loud. Lowell, Jr. Isla. Jonathan. Nelle. Iris.