Light, Words, and Gathering

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The only event on my calendar yesterday was a Luminary ceremony hosted by the loss support group of which I am a member.  My nanny’s exclamation of “Cinco de Mayo!” and various photos I saw of the Kentucky Derby reminded me that many people had very different celebrations yesterday.  Whereas for my circle, we gathered to light up the Angel Garden at the hospital and say our babies’ names out loud, in recognition of International Bereaved Mother’s Day.

Very recently, I went back and looked through my own photos from 2015.  I knew that sometime in the beginning of May of that year, I learned that I was pregnant with Nelle.  I had snapped a photo of the positive pregnancy test that I took early in the morning, before anyone else was awake.  I announced the pregnancy to my parents on Mother’s Day of that year, sending my mom an e-card that said “Love Theo, Quentin, and Baby #3 due in January 2016.”  I found the photo of the pregnancy test: it was dated May 5th.  Walking into the Luminary event, I knew that it was exactly three years ago that our world began to shift with that pregnancy.

The SHARE parents gathered in the lobby of the hospital, waiting for darkness outside so that we could take our luminaries into the Angel Garden.  There was a microphone and we were invited to speak to the group.  I stood and used words that were not my own, but words from which I have found meaning.

The first was something I saw on Instagram earlier this week, and that is that “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” (Cheryl Richardson)  SHARE allows the voices of these parents in pain to be heard, in a group that understands.  The outside world often does not hear: we are told to move on, keep it to ourselves, or be done grieving the losses of our children.  SHARE gives us a voice.  I wrote about losing Nelle three days after she was born.  Writing has always been my voice, or sometimes scream, out into the world.  It took me a year to attend my first SHARE meeting, mostly because I felt that no one else could possibly understand my pain.  Even though I knew that other parents existed that had lost babies, I felt that their pain could not possibly be the same as my pain.  While each journey of grief is unique, what I found is that the group did understand, in a way that no one else could.  One of my friends rightfully commented last “I don’t know what I would do without SHARE.”  I am fortunate to have access to such a support group, and I am grateful for it.

The second thing I shared are words that I have repeated in meetings many times: “Some things in life cannot be fixed.  They can only be carried.”  (Megan Devine)  Nothing can fix the loss of our children; we know that.  But we can carry, and with SHARE we can carry each other.

We took our luminaries and candles out into the Angel Garden and formed a large circle.  I stood with the women whom I met nearly a year and a half ago, all coming into the group around the same time.  I wondered how I would say their names out loud, as last year I was choking on tears by the time it got to my turn.  Would I say their first and middle names, Nelle Claudia and Iris Madeline?  Or would I rush through and say “nelleandiris”?  My luminary lit the path next to the luminaries of the women I have come to care for deeply, the tributes to our children lined up together.

Last night, the eve of International Bereaved Mother’s Day, the words were repeated that we often here in our support group: SHARE is our family.  It is so much more than simply a support group.  We have watched and held each other through tears, struggle, pain, tributes, and change.  It is a group I never asked to be a part of, but I’m glad that I found them.

This morning, I went to church and wore a shirt with an open back to display my tattoo of the birthdates of my children.  After sitting in the pew, I kept my coat on, for a bit slinking back into the days of growing up Catholic and expected modesty in church attire.  Eventually, desire to display the tattoo (and temperature) overtook me and I removed my jacket.  There was a trio of women seated behind me, all several decades older than me by their gray/white hair and wrinkles.  I had a feeling that staring directly at my back would likely draw their attention.

After the service, they cornered me.  “We were wondering about the dates on your back,” said the spokesperson of the group.  “They are my children’s birthdays,” I replied.  “Ahhh… we wondered,” said another “We thought that maybe one was your wedding date.  So you have five children?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I have five children.  Three living, and two that we lost.”

“Ohhhh,” said the first.  “So those dates are especially significant.  Very significant.  Well… we won’t bother you anymore.”

“It’s fine,” I assured her.  “That’s why I have the tattoo.  So that people ask questions.”