my little boy

I look at Joseph’s picture every day for a few days before Christmas. We put two of his photos on the computer, make them black and white to hide some of the discolorations, and send them to an artist who is going to do a pencil portrait of him for us. We meant to delete them right away. Keep them safe and private on the CD the hospital gave us, tucked away in Joseph’s box. And yet we didn’t.

Looking at those pictures, deciding which ones to send the artist, writing out the details of how we want him to look in the portrait, was bizarre. I hadn’t seen Joseph’s pictures in months. Sometimes I thought about them, wondered if I was ready again, but then I wouldn’t get them out. I would look at his footprints, hold his blankie, rub the soft edge of his hat.

This time I felt like I had to be objective somehow, to try and see his features as the artist might, what the contrast in the photos is like, the shape of his nose, his eyelids, his lips.

But all I could think was, That’s my son. That’s what he looks like. That is his nose, and his lips, and his eyelids.


That’s my son.

Now, I look at the photo that has become my favorite and it doesn’t scare me anymore. That’s my little baby, tucked in the yellow blanket the hospital gave us, his head covered in a knit winter hat. That’s my little boy, featherlight, who I held for just a little while one year ago.

Memory is fickle, blurred by the shock and despair and fear. The room is dim. A and I sit side by side on the hospital bed, holding our son, deciding to name him. We look at him and don’t want to look at him, and all we can think is he’s gone, this is not him.

I wish I could hold him again. I wish I could squeeze him gently to my chest, rock him, brush my lips against his forehead. I wish I could see his face again, so that this handful of photos, this portrait we are getting, will not become him.

I wish I could hold onto him.


Not sure at first about getting the portrait, now I wait impatiently for it to arrive. Every few days I ask A if she’s heard from the artist. I check the mail hoping there will be a package. I want to see my little boy, my firstborn. I want to point to his portrait and say to people, “That’s my son.” I want this new baby, his sibling, to grow up recognizing him. To say to him, as A told me she read on another’s blog, “Goodnight, baby Joseph.”

I know some babylost mamas are cautious about fetishizing their baby’s memorial things. They avoid photos and baby blankets, throw away the trinkets from the hospital, holding on only to the memories of knowing their baby and the feeling it move in their womb.

I’ve always had a strong attachment to physical things. I save every condolence card, every record of donation in our baby’s name, every scrap of paper related to his birth. I know all of Joseph’s things are not him. I know photographs and this unseen portrait are no substitute for my little boy. But in Joseph’s absence, I need things to hold. Something tangible, to help keep him present in my memory, my heart, my life.


© Burning Eye


Dear Death,

I wrote this strange little thing last night. Thinking of Death again in a conscious way. I’m not sure what I think of it, but here it is.


Dear Death,

How have you been? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. I wonder, is it that we’ve just missed each other? Are you there in the crowd but I can’t see you over other people’s heads? Have you just left the places I am entering?

I almost saw you a few weeks ago. You were at the house of the son of some friends. But by the time we went to see them, to sit with them in the wake of their grief, you had already left. I recognized the traces of you in their faces, their words, the way they spoke so matter-of-fact about their grown son and arrangements and their other children and the ways to carry on.

I remember those early days. I know it’s strange, but I yearn for them sometimes.

Your absence has left a particular emptiness in the house. I almost miss you. I had gotten so used to having you around, your presence following me in every room. Sitting across the table from me. There was a certain way I felt when you were here, both comforted and disconcerted.

I really feel like I was just getting to know you when you started to fade. You were away for longer and longer periods, and then you were here so rarely that I barely noticed when you had finally gone.

I think of you often, mostly in the middle of the night, when I get up to pee. I lie back down and wait for my baby to kick so I know you haven’t been to visit while I was out of the room. Oh, Death, this baby is going to be beautiful! You would think so, too, if you were here. But I expect you’ll stay away.

To be honest, it makes me nervous when I don’t know where you are. I worry you’ll drop in on me unexpectedly. Maybe try and call before you come next time. Or write.

I know I’ll see you again sometime. I hope it will be a while longer yet.

Take care,

Burning Eye


© Burning Eye