today

Joseph, my little boy, my firstborn, I miss you so much. Thinking of this love poem I wrote for you, hoping to keep you close in my heart today and every day.

 

 

I sang to you every morning.

 

I

rubbed circles of lotion into my belly,

caressed my belly,

held it,

hugged it,

rested my hands on it,

gazed at it,

watched my profile in the mirror

growing.

 

I showed you off even though you weren’t even born.

 

I

fed you

cheese quesadillas,

keifer,

yogurt,

ice cream,

peanut butter and jelly,

Philly cheese steaks,

rotisserie chickens and

potatoes—

mashed potatoes,

baked potatoes,

roasted potatoes.

 

I measured you against a list of fruits and vegetables of increasing size.

 

I

talked to you

in Spanish,

hugged you,

held you,

poked you,

pressed your

bottom or

feet or

head,

waited for you to

kick and

wiggle and

turn and

try to escape from my belly,

pushing out sideways up near my ribs.

 

I cradled you in one arm at night as I fell asleep.

 

And I sang to you every morning.

 

© Burning Eye

Gifts

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My sister sent us a gift for Joseph’s birthday. That she thought of this is such a deep and wondrous surprise to me. I didn’t expect any gifts for him. The idea that he or we could receive gifts for his birthday like anyone else’s birthday. Her gift is perfect–five little metal and enamel flowers. A bright spot for our garden; blossoms that never fade. My heart stretches and fills with love and gratitude for my sister.

And a friend made us a quilt square for Joseph’s birthday, too. She embroidered all of our names on it, mine, A’s, Joseph’s, and Baby. It was the first time I realized we are a family of four. I cried. I am so touched that she made this for us. I’ve draped it over the glider–Joseph’s glider, the new baby’s glider, the glider we have sat and rocked in through our grief. The diamond eye and the quilted rays shine out into the room.

We’ve received the gift of cards, too. Christmas cards that acknowledge the complexity of this time of year for us–those are the best. The generic ones that wish us Merry Christmas I barely glance at.

This year we made little Joseph-ornaments for our family to hang on their Christmas trees. The way you might hang a handprint or school photo or play-doh gingerbread cookie your little one makes. We made one for ourselves, too.

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It is Christmas today. 31 years of happy holiday memories and traditions mix with one night of hell. We constantly check in with ourselves, with each other, tentatively putting one toe forward, testing the emotional ground of this day. It feels so strangely normal. Something must be different this year. Something besides the absence of our firstborn. What are we supposed to be doing differently?

Or maybe, we just sit by fires and Christmas trees with family, eat cookies and sweet breads, and survive this day. Like A said the other day, we can let go of the pain. The pain is not Joseph. Just because today is the day he died doesn’t mean I have to relive it.

Friday–the 27th–his first birthday, can be Joseph’s special day. The day we remember him and hold him in love and Light. Maybe someday, I hope, we will even feel like celebrating.

© Burning Eye

the first year

When Joseph died at the end of 2012, we couldn’t say that 2012 had been the worst year of our lives. It was the year we conceived our baby, the year he grew in my belly, the year we fell in love and felt such hope. It was only the last few days that were a nightmare.

We looked ahead to a bleak year. A do-over. A dark year of grief, disoriented to find ourselves plopped back down in the life we had before Joseph, empty-armed. We thought, “2013 is going to be the worst year of our lives.”

To soften this, we tore strips of pastel papers, decorated a jar, and labeled it “2013: The Year of Growing Things.” All year, we have written on the papers and put them in the jar. Visiting the butterfly house on Joseph’s due date. Planting his camellia. Visiting our friends-turned-family (“frambly” we say) in California. Buying Joseph’s bench. Conceiving our second child.

I can look back on 2013 through this lens. The good things. The small accomplishments. A hug on a bad day. The hope and promise that planting represents.

It isn’t the lens I always see through. It has been a truly hard year. But A. comes home from a Winter Solstice yoga class talking about survival (among other things). She says, “We’ve survived.” And I know this to be true in the deepest part of myself. It’s what we started off saying, when we emerged from our cocoon of winter grief to walk about in the world again, when people asked us, “How are you?” we often replied, “We’re surviving.”

We have survived this year, and we continue to survive. As soon as Anne said it, I heard it as a refrain in my head, saw it written out between moments and memories of this past year. I wrote a poem, and you can read it here on Glow in the Woods.

 

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© Burning Eye

An album for Joseph’s first stillbirthday

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A friend in France lit this candle for Joseph and took a photo of it. Such a simple gesture means so much, to know that she was thinking of us and our little boy.

For Joseph’s first stillbirthday, December 27th, 2013, we are going to make a photo album in his memory. We have asked friends and family to join us this month in remembering our son by lighting a candle or writing his name, taking a digital photo of it, and emailing it to us. We plan to collect these photos into an album, in order to create another tangible trace of Joseph in our lives.

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If you have some connection to our family, we invite you to join us. The photo can be as simple as a lit candle, or Joseph’s name written on a plain card in your handwriting. Or, as we sometimes have done, you could leave his name someplace you visit this month—in the sand, or spelled out with leaves or petals or stones. We’ve seen other parents color or paint or collage their baby’s name.  Thank you for helping us to honor Joseph’s life and memory, a year after he died.

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Please email us the photo you take by the New Year. thethingsimmadeof at gmail dot com

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Advent

A. turns to me in bed and asks, “How do you explain nostalgia to a child?” I wait to see where she’s going with this. “Like, how are we going to explain to our children why we have so many crèche scenes? Neither of us is exactly religious.”

I wonder in the darkness if I should quibble with her characterization of me. Am I religious now? I certainly used to be. I decide not to derail the conversation and turn it towards my idle curiosity about my own faith since Joseph died.

We have just put up our Christmas tree, strung lights, unwrapped some of our ornaments—there are two new ones this year for Joseph—and found places for the four manger scenes around the living room. The beautiful pop-up crèche advent calendar that A’s dad gave us this year already sits on the coffee table.

A reminds me every year or two that her mother used to put their Wise Men figurines far away from the stable, and move them closer every day. They had several crèche scenes, as did my family. We each bring different childhood traditions to our Christmases together, but this is one thing we have in common.

My parents had a little crèche from Latin America when I was little. Its doors opened and closed on paper hinges. A lover of all things miniature, I was drawn to the ornament and played with it each year, opening and closing the stable doors on the colorful little family.

We also had a larger crèche of hard wax figurines that got unpacked out of a rickety wooden stable year after year. They were old, my grandmother’s, and some of the detailed coloring was scratched off. One of the shepherds was continually losing its head, which I tried multiple times to melt back on. The one angel that ultimately remained was missing her feet and wouldn’t stand. But still, I loved it. I played with it like a dollhouse, arranging and rearranging, strewing dried pine needles across the stable floor for authenticity.

“Well,” I say to A. I don’t really have to think about it, but I am surprised I already know the answer. “It’s about family. A new mother and father, a baby born. Christmas is about family. ”

 

I have always loved the Christmas story. Though from year to year, my relationship to it has changed—I cycle through folktale, pagan origins, Biblical scholarship, fervent religious belief in the birth of a great Light in our world, which I’ve sometimes called Christ. I am drawn to Mary, a young mother pregnant for the first time, afraid, tired, unsure of this burden God has given her. I feel tenderness toward Joseph, the man who has taken Mary and all her controversy into his house to care for her and protect her and be a father to this prophetic child. I admire the incredible faith they both had.

When I found out I was pregnant with our son, I dug out the journal I had been saving for this occasion since I was 18 and turned to the inside flap where I wrote out the Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord. I felt blessed. I was so happy. My journal from those months, when I wrote, was full of God. I was full of God, full of love, full of faith. Being pregnant felt like the star on top of the tree, the final piece of my life’s dreams falling into place.

I was pregnant through Advent. Like Mary, expecting a baby. Christmas was exciting. We bought our first real Christmas tree, and dreamed about how this would be our last Christmas without children. Maybe next year we wouldn’t travel, we’d make our family come to us. After all, having a little baby entitles you to certain privileges.

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When we decorated gingerbread cookies with my dad, I did myself as Mary, in her typical blue robe and blue veil. I added a little icing baby floating in my belly. (Decorating elaborate cookies is one of my favorite family tradition.)

 

How different I feel this December, pregnant again a year later. I am tentative, protective of the little sparks of hope I sometimes feel. Nowhere in my journal or my letters to this new baby do I talk about God.

It is painful to think of Christmas as the birth of anything good in the world. My first baby died on Christmas day. It is hard to think about Mary, her joyful song to God, awaiting the birth of her own baby, year after year throughout history. And yet, I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Remembering that she, too, lost her son. The baby she carried and birthed and raised. Something in this knowledge softens me towards her. Something in this tragedy makes Christmas a little more sorrowful.

 

This year, we buy another real Christmas tree, hang a wreath and stockings. I listen to Christmas music all day. I play my flute for the first time in months, drawn to Advent songs in the Methodist hymnal I grew up with. This nostalgia for the Christmas season is powerful. We are both surprised by how these parts of Christmas come so naturally, so easily.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how to think of Christmas right now. I am afraid of it. I am afraid it will pass like any other Christmas, that I will unintentionally shut down emotionally just so I can hold it together. I am afraid I will be an emotional wreck, that nothing we do to honor Joseph will feel right, that I’ll get angry, I’ll be inconsolable. I am afraid to feel relief when this first stillbirthday passes. I am afraid to remember, afraid I will forget.

 

And in the midst of all this, I wonder what this Christmas means for this new baby who thumps and rolls in my belly. I dare to hope that this time will be different. That the earth will turn again and Light will be reborn in our lives.

© Burning Eye