Death and the Woman

Once there was a woman who was good friends with God. They spent time together and talked daily. But Death came for the woman’s firstborn and after that God didn’t come around anymore. And really, who could blame God for staying away while Death was there? The woman didn’t much feel like talking to anyone, anyway.

But soon Death went away, and the woman was alone in her grief. Every now and then, the woman would say God’s name quietly, just to see if she would get an answer. But there was none.

Time passed and soon the woman was pregnant again. She thought surely her old friend would come to visit when the new baby came, so she prepared herself. She thought of what she would say to God, what stories she would tell, and all the other things she’d saved up.

So the days passed and the woman gave birth to a baby girl. And God didn’t come. Not even a phone call or card. The woman was hurt. Angry, even.

“God, where are you?” she called out. “I thought you would be here.”

The woman listened expectantly, rocking her daughter gently in the rocking chair, but she got no answer. She looked out the window and saw Death coming down the road. Bolting out of the chair, her new baby clutched to her chest, she barred the door and locked the windows.

“Get away from here!” she yelled out at Death. “Don’t you come again to this house!”

The woman counted a hundred rapid heartbeats, then, hearing nothing, she peeked back through the window. Death had gone.

A few months went by and the woman delighted in her motherhood, but sometimes things were hard and she felt very lonely. One sleepless night, she called out to God again, irritated, “It sure would be nice to have some help from you!”

A little while later in the early dawn, there was a knock on the door. The woman put down the sleeping baby and peered through the peephole. And there was Death on the porch.

Terrified, the woman threw herself against the door to barricade it. “Go away!” she yelled. “You already took my firstborn. Leave us alone!”

She counted a hundred heartbeats before she slowly put her eye back to the peephole. Death had gone.

By and by, the woman had grown used to God’s absence and didn’t think much about her old friend. But one day she got to missing God again, and she called out, “God, come and visit me! Let’s talk. It’s been so long.”

The woman looked out the window and again she saw Death coming down the road. She ran and barred the door and locked all the windows. “Why do you keep coming by here?” she yelled out as Death came up on the porch. “I already told you, you’re not wanted here!”

This time Death spoke, sounding a little annoyed. “You keep calling me.”

“I didn’t call you,” the woman said. “I was calling for my friend God.”

“Well, here I am!” Death said.

“No,” the woman said firmly. “You’re Death.”

“Ahh,” Death said then. “Open the door. We need to talk.” Death tapped on the door.

“No way,” the woman said, glancing nervously over her shoulder at her baby playing quietly with her toys.

But Death was persistent, and said she had something to explain that could only be understood by showing the woman. Death’s voice was so gentle, there was something almost familiar about it. So, hesitantly, the woman relented and lifted the latch on the door, and opened it.

Death stepped over the threshold and held out her hands, as if to say, “See? I’m not going to hurt you.” Then she waved one hand slowly in front of her face, and suddenly, instead of the old, hollow face of Death, there was the radiant and loving face of God.

“Oh, God, it’s you!’ the woman said, stepping forward to embrace her friend. But the hand dropped and once again the face of Death peered out at the woman from under the dark hood.

“I… I don’t understand,” said the woman, falling back a step.

“I have many faces,” Death said. “And many names.”

The woman still didn’t understand, so Death lifted one hand up and pulled back the hood.

The woman gasped. On Death’s head were three faces, looking in different directions so the other two had been hidden by the hood. One was the face of Death, and one was the face of God. The third she had only a vague recollection of, as if from a long-ago dream. As understanding settled in, she began to feel a bit ill and closed her eyes. Death pulled the hood back up.

“But if you are also my friend God,” the woman asked, “why do I only see you as Death?”

“Once you have seen the face of Death, it’s very hard to forget,” Death said sadly.

“Will it always be this way?” the woman asked. She met Death’s eyes.

“Some have learned to see my other faces again, with time,” Death said.

The woman looked away and down at the floor. “I think I need some time,” she said softly.

Death sighed. “I understand.”

At that moment, the woman’s daughter looked up as if noticing for the first time they had a visitor. She smiled broadly at Death and reached her hand up to give a pudgy wave. Death smiled back, and for a moment, the woman could almost make out the features of the third face.

“Well, I should be going,” Death said, heading towards the door.

“Yes, yes,” the woman mumbled, and went to show Death out.

Death hesitated on the doorstep a moment. “I hope you will call again.”

“I hope so, too,” the woman said.

Death turned to go, and the woman pushed the door gently but firmly shut.

 

I wrote this parable almost a year ago. Some days I think I still need more time. Other days I’m perfectly happy to keep that door shut tight.

© Burning Eye

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heavy

The news comes in the morning:

We lost him.

They did an emergency c-section.

 

It is pouring outside and I

Am nursing our baby

who shared his due date.

She, 8 days early,

Alive.

He, 2 days late,

Dead.

 

Their nightmare opens wide before me

A ton of bricks falling in slow motion, all day,

Piece by piece

On my bruised, heavy heart.

 

Over and over

I relive our own shock,

Our own early days.

Hearts, breasts, eyelids swollen from weeping.

I hear the echo of myself wailing.

 

As if, in reliving,

I could save them from the pain.

 

I go to sleep and wake again.

He is still dead.

 

I nurse our daughter again, alive.

He is still dead.

 

This world is wholly unfair.

One dead, one alive.

 

They will wake each day to the loss of him.

Each day a new insult:

The box of Enfamil samples on the front porch,

The coupon in the mailbox for nursing bras,

The email discounts on their baby registry.

 

I’m sorry, I whisper to each of them in the dark.

Because there is nothing else I can do.

 

© Burning Eye

 

she looks like you

Joseph, your new baby sister E is here. Safe and sound, born alive, still breathing these twelve days later. I wrote this poem for her, for you.

 

 

In the dark she looks like you.

Lips parted, mouth open

Tiny chin sunken.

Asleep

Or dead.

Afraid, I lean closer,

Waiting for a breath,

Peering at swollen newborn eyelids.

They are cracked,

Seeing—what? -–in the dark.

 

My mother tells me of this vision as I go into labor:

An angel bringing her to me.

I am shaken.

I hang up the phone as quickly as I can and try to banish it from my mind,

Thinking only of my father battling Death,

His vivid dream

As you lay dying inside me.

 

She meant well, my mother.

She saw it as cheerful, and safe.

But I do not think of angels this way.

 

I say a swift prayer

cross my fingers

make a sign to ward off the evil eye

 

No, I do none of these things.

I do not see the world this way.

 

I only hold your mother’s hand.

She is my comfort.

 

Maybe it is Joseph, bringing her to us,

Your mother says,

Tears in both our eyes.

I shake my head slightly.

How would I know, if it were you?

 

I search for you in the shadows of your new sister’s eyes and mouth.

I hold her thin body close,

Lips against her forehead.

I never kissed you.

 

How would I know, if she were you?

 

© Burning Eye

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…

page 1.JPG

Death, when it comes, cracks everything open.

page 2.JPG

There is a sharp divide: Before. After.

page 3.jpg

All life becomes fragile.

page 4.JPG

Grief covers everything in thick waves.

page 5.JPG

It has many colors.

page 6.JPG

Sometimes it feels like drowning.

page 7.JPG

There is loneliness. The absence of you.

page 8.JPG

 

page 9.jpg

 

Love remains.

© Burning Eye

two and a half (the loss of you)

Walking through the house claiming rooms. Touching this, touching that. Standing on tiptoes to see over. Crouching down to peer under.

Your chubby legs, in shorts for the summer, lengthening. Able to climb onto the sofa without a stool, then onto the bed. Sitting at the table sometimes instead of your high chair.

Your babbles. Your first words. Complete sentences.

Coming around the corner into the room where I stand, calling my name.

Singing songs with vague words, rushing the parts you don’t quite know. Wonderbwidges falling down, f-a-l-l-i-n-g d-o-w-n. Patting your head, clapping your hands, stomping your feet.

Building cities of blocks and Duplos. Towers, houses, cars. Engineering bridges, airports and train stations, roads to and from. Refusing to clean up so your city stays sprawled on the living room rug for weeks.

Jumping on the bed. Throwing yourself backwards, flopping, rolling. Tickle fights. Hearing you laugh. Your giggle.

Resting your head on my shoulder when you are sleepy, or hurt, or sad. Your hair against my nose. Head hot and sweaty.

The weight of you in my arms, heavy.

*            *            *

Joseph was two and a half yesterday.

Joseph never would have been two and a half yesterday.

I still get caught in these subtleties of tense and mood. Are we speaking hypothetically? I ask myself. Possible? or probable?

This grief gets lighter, I think, but more specific.

*            *            *

There are still a handful of people, outside of the family, who remember. Someone remembers to acknowledge my first pregnancy. Joseph’s name spoken here and there. A friend who texts me now and then. I know Joseph is held in the hearts of other babylost friends, even if they don’t say it. Because I am this way, too. Remembering, quietly.

© Burning Eye

heavy, hollow

Most of the time, I do not think of you in specifics. I do not actively grieve or miss you. You are just there–not there–in the world around me. Your candle on the dining table. Your altar in our bedroom. Your portrait on M’s bureau. Your existence–that you do not exist–is infused into my waking and sleeping, in my veins, pumped eighty times a minute through my heart.

But sometimes, your absence hits me like a punch in the gut, and I feel you, heavy and hollow beneath my ribs, my ghost belly. I want to curve around you protectively and weep and weep for all that we have lost.

this time of year

I’m having a particularly hard day today.

Trying not to think back to those days leading up to Christmas, when I knew something was wrong but didn’t know I knew. Trying not to think about which day was which, what I did on the 22nd, or the 23rd, or the 24th. It’s enough knowing that on the 25th I felt my little boy’s last movements. It’s enough knowing that on the 25th we learned he was dead. Enough knowing it’s been two years now.

No, it’s not “enough.” It’s too much. Some days it’s just too much.

I have a poem up on Glow this week. A small thing. A quiet thing. I have so much to say, but it’s all jammed up in my head. Beginnings of sentences. Middles of tirades. Ends of sobs. None of it feels new. And I am reminded that this is what trauma is–a wound that may heal but leaves a scar that aches on rainy days. And that there are triggers that take me right back there. To the grief. To the loneliness. The isolation. The touch of death in my womb. The fear that I could spread it.

Being there–here–is so familiar.

I guess some days I feel like I’ve really reached a place people call the “new normal.” Our little family is doing well, me and A and baby M and our absent little boy. But “normal” implies somewhat like everyone else, and days like today I remember that we are not like everyone else. We are apart, the babylost. Forever changed.

© Burning Eye

pieces

I think about you every day.

The day you died. That last time I felt you move. My sister’s house, the shirt I was wearing, the wheelchair ride up to the maternity ward.

The day you were born. Crying, crying, crying. Holding the featherlight bundle that was you.

Every day I remember these things. Every day.

Every night I glance up to your portrait on M’s wardrobe. I kiss her cheek three times. Mama te quiere. Mommy te quiere. Y Baby Joseph te quiere.

I may not write much, but I think about you every day.

 

Today, I have a piece up on Glow.

 

© Burning Eye

quiet

Friday afternoon.

I look up and realize the building is quiet. Lights are off, doors are closed. So familiar we are with each other that we no longer say goodbye, have a nice weekend, see you Monday.

Just, suddenly, I am one of the only ones left.

It is this way with the babylost community, it seems. Blogs go down, mothers stop updating. A baby is born, the announcement a final post. Time passes and grief’s screams quiet to whispers, the occasional sob. The words trickle away.

It is not quite two years since Joseph died and those who have walked this timeline with me have fallen away.

I have fallen away.

I remember when Joseph first died I read hungrily. I went back over and over and over to the same writers who helped me find my way through grief, and I was so angry when they stopped writing. Because I needed them, I didn’t understand that they no longer needed those like me. The lost. The babylost.

I rarely visit the community anymore. It is too hard to read the new stories of loss. I scroll through blogrolls and comments and I don’t recognize the names anymore. My cohort has come and gone. Most without saying goodbye.

It’s not intentional, this quiet. It just is.

Sometimes, when I have a moment, I indulge the sadness. I take a walk. I sit at the computer on a rare solitary evening and open my heart, check the tender places, whisper Joseph’s name.

And Finn. And Little Sun. And Peregrine, and Anja, and others.

I remember.

© Burning Eye