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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i think i know you

There is a woman at the park we recognize. Work? City Arts? Our mutual friends introduce us. We swap names. She works at the university. She of course recognizes A., who is thin and blonde with distinct features. She barely looks at me.

I glance at her son.

I think we were in prenatal yoga together.

I follow M. around the playground, help her up the ladder. I glance at her son. 3 and a half years old.

Yes, we were in prenatal yoga together when I was pregnant with…

I ask our mutual friends how old her son is. Quietly. Apart.

He was born in January 2013.

Yes.

I do not look again at her son. At how big he is, how old. How he is climbing on top of the tunnel, listening to his parents’ conversation with three-year-old understanding. I do not look back at his dark hair.

Yes, we were in prenatal yoga together when I was pregnant with Joseph, I do not say to her. He was my first, I do not explain at her bewildered glance at my two daughters, assessing their ages.

He died.

Today is not a brave day.

 

© Burning Eye

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.

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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.

page 8.JPG

 

page 9.jpg

 

Love remains.

© Burning Eye

one more hour

I held a little baby the other day. A boy, born at 37 weeks, now a week old. He was so tiny. Everything in miniature—eyelids, pointy nose, mouth open in sleep. A little over five pounds, his mother said.

I held this little baby and was so sad, thinking of you. I stared at his face, the only part of him visible in his swaddling. Just like you. I thought of holding you—three weeks younger, 1 ½ pounds lighter. I wished his eyes were your eyes, his nose your nose. I wished I could stroke your cheeks and run my thumb across your lips.

I have been consumed with thoughts of you lately. It is May, after all. The month you were conceived. Three years ago this time, you were just a little seed. An enormous hope. We were so happy.

I say to your mommy tonight, “I’ve been missing Joseph a lot.” And she says, “Me, too. Yesterday was—” Yes, I know. Yesterday was the 27th. 29 months you have been gone. So much time stacked against your short 35 weeks in our lives.

I hold your sister a little closer. Hug her a little tighter. I miss her more when I go to work, and after she goes to sleep at night.

If only I had one more hour with you, I would hold you closer, and hug you tighter. I wouldn’t be so afraid.

 

© 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.

today, 1/31

My sister calls to tell me being an adult sucks. She says, You’d think things like addiction, losing your job, and babies dying were rare events. But they’re not. They happen all the fucking time.

Her dog is dying. Died. Today.

Today, your due date, Little One.

Due date, shmoo date, my brain retorts. It shouldn’t mean anything. This date was always hypothetical. My sentences cycle into the conditional tense of some parallel life that I can barely imagine. Yet I try. You would have been two, if you’d been born today. We would have already experienced these firsts I have with your sister. I would have been a different kind of mother. I might have—maybe, probably—been pregnant again, or you might have even had a brother or sister that could not now possibly exist.

It feels as far away from now as a distant star. Something incomprehensible, like how we see its light even if it died millions of years ago.

Two years ago today we drove ourselves to the butterfly house and stood, fragile creatures that we were, among them and saw your paper kite butterfly for the first time.

This morning as I am getting dressed your sister fingers the black lacy lines of your butterfly tattoo on my shoulder. But it just feels like skin and she quickly turns her attention to the more interesting bumps and moles on my chest.

Your new cousin was born this morning. Another little girl. We get the news at lunch, and a picture. I search her face for you.

I will always be doing this. Looking for you. Wondering. The way expectant parents do, only your gestation has become my whole life.

It could just be a day, A says. I think she is trying to say today doesn’t have to mean anything.

But it’s too late.

Today, already, a birth, a death. When two years ago there was nothing. It was all over by then, your birth, your death. Our lives, already derailed onto those parallel tracks, and us, already hurtling here, away from you.

I realized last night I no longer relive your death every day.

But I do say good morning to you every day, and you and I, we say goodnight to your sister each night. I think of you, not so much as you would have been, but as you were, so briefly.

A faint glimmer of starlight still reaching me.

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

he might have liked trains

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“He might have liked trains,” she said.

And we both teared up, staring at the toy on the bottom shelf.

He might have…

Dear Little One, sweet Joseph, this would have been your birthday present. Two years old.

Instead, this will be your second stillbirthday present, bound for the pediatrics ward at the hospital, for other children to play with.

© Burning Eye