outside/inside

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This was the first drawing I did after Joseph died. I never published it here. She was too vulnerable, I think.

But she is still with me, and I refer to her in my latest piece on Glow.

© Burning Eye

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grief in pictures

A few months ago, I made a little book of water colors. An abstract children’s book about grief. I picture it as a board book, each page spread a new, bright, glossy watercolor, with a simple line of text below. The color saturation here doesn’t quite do it justice, but here it is…

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Death, when it comes, cracks everything open.

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There is a sharp divide: Before. After.

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All life becomes fragile.

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Grief covers everything in thick waves.

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It has many colors.

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Sometimes it feels like drowning.

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There is loneliness. The absence of you.

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Love remains.

© Burning Eye

on the night you were born

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“On the night you were born,

the moon smiled with such wonder

that the stars peeked in to see you

and the night wind whispered,

‘Life will never be the same.’

Because there had never been anyone like you…

ever in the world.

So enchanted with you were the wind and the rain

that they whispered the sound of your wonderful name.

The sound of your name is a magical one.

Let’s say it out loud before we go on.”

Joseph

“It sailed through the farmland

high on the breeze…

Over the ocean…

And through the trees…

Until everyone heard it

and everyone knew

of the one and only ever you.”

–Nancy Tillman

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

Goodnight, candle.

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Every night we light a candle for you.

 

This is what we have of you:

a ceramic urn, your ashes,

a framed black and white of my belly a few days before you died,

your ink and watercolor butterfly,

a box of cards—sympathy cards, baby shower cards, receipts for donations made in your name,

the yellow blanket they wrapped you in,

a knit cap with a stain of blood (yours or mine?),

a CD of pictures after your birth,

a few ultrasound photos,

your stuffed lamb,

 

and this flame

we hesitate to blow out each night.

 

Goodnight, candle,

we say,

instead of good night to you,

because you burn still in my heart,

a constant light,

warm and small and bright.

 

© Burning Eye

Sometimes grief gets ugly

I tried to draw a picture of me drowning. That same charcoal sea, undulating waves. But no life raft. No bathtub. No one else on the horizon.

But sometimes the sea is so deep it swallows up even the simple curve and smear of charcoal on paper. I can’t draw, I can’t draw, I can’t draw. The paper turns black and muddy. Charcoal dust covers my hands and legs. Words get lost in my brain, some desperate sort of aphasia, and I am reduced to grunts and wails and yelling.

This is what happened to my drawing that I couldn’t draw:

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A therapist many years ago suggested I rip up paper when I feel despair. To slice at it with a razor, ball it up, destroy it.

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Instead of turning this destructive energy on myself, I stab the paper, drag the razor down, opening it up, over and over, shredding it. When the paper is too thin to cut anymore, I tear it into to smaller and smaller pieces.

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A brief catharsis.

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I sit with the wreck of my failure until embarrassment settles in. We are not supposed to fall apart. We are not supposed to wail and gnash our teeth and rend our clothes. We are supposed to go about in a funeral parlor hush, red-rimmed eyes carefully dabbed at with tissues. We are a calm, orderly, stoic culture.

I sweep up the pieces and throw them in the trashcan. I wash my hands, rub the smudges off my calves and feet.

When someone greets me, asks me, “How are you?” I dutifully answer, “Fine, thanks,” and smile.

© Burning Eye

The ground I walk on

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I meant to upload this when I posted my last poem. They don’t really go together, they were done at different times, but they feel similar. This walking on eggshells. It’s pretty abstract, but I see the eggshells as the ground I walk on, and underneath that thin layer of eggshells is darkness. I have to be really careful walking so I don’t fall through.

© Burning Eye