Describe After

Anne Lamott often recounts words that a priest said to her once: “Sometimes Heaven is just a new pair of glasses.” A change in perspective.

How many words and phrases flow easily from the lips of our culture when it comes to death and dying? All of which are fairly presumptuous that those on the receiving end share the beliefs. Words so much more easily given than received. Or comforting only to the giver: a singular perspective.

The word “angel” is prominent in the babyloss community, along with images of wings. The term “angel baby” doesn’t do anything for me. Raised Catholic, the faith teaches that angels are not human souls that died, but rather eternally divine beings. A human cannot “become” an angel, according to the indoctrination of my youth. That is one perspective, but not mine.

The idea of going to “a better place” is one I might otherwise be able to get on board with, but not when the experience of life on earth was missed entirely. That is a comparative term for those who have walked this world before proceeding to the next. A place of “eternal rest” seems best suited for the suffering: those living with incurable disease or have survived war or famine. Being finally at peace might bring comfort to those left behind that the pain has been eased.  Another perspective, but not mine.

“Everything happens for a reason.” The most insulting platitude. Wrapped in undertones of faith in a higher being, it only serves as a brutal lash for those that have experienced loss. Easy to say if you and your loved ones are intact, unbroken. I would love for someone to explain to me the reason that my babies died. I would like for that person to look me in the eyes while justifying that perspective.

The only image of afterlife that has been comforting is thinking that our babies are playing with other babies that have been lost. After losing Iris, Ger said “Now Nelle will always have a sister to play with.” It hurts so much to write and remember those words, but both then and now, it was a beautiful thought. In my support group, the mothers have often said that our babies are playing together, when our babies’ birthdays pass, or other days when it is hard to be on Earth without them. Such a simple, innocent image – one of the joy and carefree nature that children have.

For those of us who have lost, our “new pair of glasses” is whatever brings us comfort. Whatever perspective, symbol, or mantra helps us to cope. “Angel baby” does not work for me, so I keep looking. Other women in my support group have something meaningful to remind them of their babies. Something to collect, or to serve as a sign or reminder. Angels, rainbows, candles, or I know one woman who sees pennies as “pennies from Heaven” for her son. I have a few things that have been meaningful for me, but not one symbol in particular. Trees, tree of life, the tree under which we scattered their ashes. Butterflies, after the garden Butterfly Release earlier this summer. And lately, birds, while I am listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Birds and Butterflies. Things with wings. Still a metaphorical “flying away” or being free from earthly confines.

I still hold back on buying anything for this new baby, but tripped across a print recently that felt right. It is an Emily Dickinson poem, with a beautiful bird. An ode to where we have been and the path along which we are moving.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

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