29 September 2008

Thoughts on a conference--body, mind and soul

Where can a person put four days of grieving with bereaved families? Where can a person put the grief for a child killed in a car accident, shot in the desert, dying in the arms of his mother, left in a car, born dead from his mother's body? There are far too many to name, far too many for anyone here to have to read.

But what I can tell you is this--

When you sit in a room full of 200 bereaved parents, there is an energy, there is alot of pain, and there is also the possibility for so much growth, so much transformation, so much awe, that I sit here thinking about my return, thinking about my homecoming and I am amazed at the resiliency, the love and the power of grief. And I know that there are families today who are aching for the MISS conference, aching for their child, aching for the understanding that is inherent in a conference like this. And I can tell these same families that I know what this is like, I know what can happen in a conference like this and how, with time, there really will come a new kind of energy, a new sense of purpose, and sometimes that purpose is as simple as getting out of bed, pouring a bowl of cereal for a living child, walking out the door to collect the mail.

Sometimes it is enough to know that someone else across the country, in another city, is sitting and thinking of you, thinking of your child, saying a prayer, sending a wish for a moment of breathing, one single smile in a day, a humingbird finding some nectar.

And never forget that all of this began, this energy, this work, this conference because 14 years ago, a small child, living in her mother's belly stopped breathing, and as she took that last breath, she created a kind of ripple effect unknown at the time to her mother, unknown to her family, unknown to the world. But with her last breath came a lasting breath, a breath that each of us feels as we return each year to Phoenix to share our stories, to share our hearts. A warm breath that becomes larger than any of us can imagine, most of all, I'm sure, her mother.

And with Cheyenne's last breath, she created new life in more ways than anyone could ever quantify or understand because really, there is no understanding in a child's death, no understanding.

But let me say to everyone who can listen, I understand. I understand that your child is your world and your life and your love.

I am here.

22 September 2008

Figments of imagination

I first discovered this book in Oprah magazine, excerpted as an essay and what struck me besides the absolute beauty and starkness of the language was the understanding, the grace, the simplicity of the words and the complexity of the words all at the same time.

I will just quote Elizabeth here at the beginning of her memoir:

"A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son."

And that, my friends, is the beginning of a book that takes your breath away with sadness, with laughter, with hope, and with the ultimate faith in life.

Is it a book for parents whose children have died? I don't know. I am reading it. I put it down several times a day. I will read it. My husband may not. He doesn't like sad books anymore. He doesn't like books or stories where babies die. He doesn't find comfort in that. I somehow still do.

And because I first discovered Elizabeth in The Giant's House, a novel that sings, I know that I cannot be disappointed in her writing. And because Ann Patchett and Alice Sebold love McCracken's writing, well then, that also says a great deal. And because I think, Elizabeth's first love is of the literary genre, it too is evidenced here.

But of course there is a paradox because the book, however lovely, is here because her son is not. And that will always be the real tragedy.

Do I have any disappointments about the book? Only one. When I picked it up, it was lighter than I expected, and I realized in that moment, that I wanted it to weigh a healthy eight pounds. I wanted to hold it in my arms and rock it. And that perhaps is all that is left to be said except for this:

Go and buy the book!

17 September 2008

Gracie girl....

Once in a while, I find myself walking along through life doing just fine. And then something happens and bam, I'm struck back down on my knees! Just like that.

A couple of days ago that happened to me. I was just going along with my day, with my life and this song started playing, "Gracie" by Ben Folds. I'd never heard it before, and just like that, I was there with tears streaming down my face, completely taken by surprise, off-guard and what was lost was right there in front of me. A life with Grace. A baby, a toddler, a child, all of those years just wiped away and the song, so haunting, so lovely, so simple just undid me.

Two days later, I think, the puffiness in my eyes is decreasing, and I am starting to return to this world again but not without this song playing in my head over and over again.

"You can't fool me, I saw you when you came out....and there is always gonna be a part of me nobody else is gonna see but you and me..."

And sometimes you just have to be prepared for when life catches you off guard.

12 September 2008

Traveling Mercies

A friend emailed me last week while reading Anne Lamott's book, 'Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on Faith' and sent me this quote:

"... (Grace) is unearned love -- the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrased and eventually as grateful as you are to be there."

And that seems to sum it up best. Anne Lamott seems most times to find the words to express the emotion when it fails others.

Grace is the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. And in this way, Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place...

I remember shortly after she died being afraid to be alone. I didn't want to be left alone in any room by myself nor did I want to be in the presence of others. It was a difficult place to be wishing for isolation and fearing loneliness when of course, both of those things co-existed whether or not someone was in the room with me or not.

I was afraid to be alone because the silence was overwhelming, the emptiness, the hunger, the aching was too great, too large, too cumbersome.

Sometimes, someone would come and sit with me and ask questions when I didn't want questions to be asked and other times, there was the rare person who just came and sat and that was grace. That was the grace I was looking for, the simple presence of another person without questions, without an agenda, without fear.

Most people who came to visit me were afraid--afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to not say anything at all, afraid to get too close to me as if I could rub off on them, as if I was bad luck, voodoo, a black cat walking under a ladder. And I don't blame them. Occasionally someone asked me if they could get something for me, and I would look at them blankly. Grace, you can get me Grace. Can you do that? Because unless you can, there is nothing else I want.

The times when I felt most comfortable was when I could lie in bed with the shades drawn and the blankets drawn up around me. But once in a while, I could hear my heart beating in that space, literally, I could feel it beating against my chest. And literally, I could trace a crack through my heart, a tear, a hole, an irreparable crevice that when I breathed in, I could feel the air racing through that hole and the shortness of breath.

And somewhere along the way, there was a kind of mercy that descended, a kind of grace that eventually allowed me to stand up again, to crawl out of my cave--a light, an electricity, a breeze that pushed me along back into the sunshine, out into the world, where Grace could find me and I could find her.

A place where Sawyer could fall from the sky to land in my lap. A place where my arms could open wide enough to catch him.

02 September 2008

Imagine if we could be more like Gana...

What if when your baby died, you could hold her until you were ready to let go? What if you could keep her up against your chest? What if you could share your meals with her? What if you got to be the one who decided when you were ready to let go?

What if you could roam in the wilderness, through fields, across valleys, and feel her against your chest, feel her body close to you, up against you, until finally after hours or days, when you were ready to let go, not really let go, but when you decided that it was time to give her back into the natural world, to place her body in the ground, that only then was it time to give her up?

Well, Gana the gorilla in a zoo got to do that with her baby. Turns out the zookeepers get it and they let Gana carry around her dead baby until she was ready to give it up. And people came to mourn and leave flowers and share Gana's grief.

What if at the hospital they let us hold our babies until we were ready to let go. What if it didn't matter whether your baby was born on a Monday or a Sunday? What if it didn't matter if the funeral home was only open for 4 hours on Sunday? What if they had told me, you call us when you are ready to give her up?

We're getting there aren't we? Are we there yet? Have we advanced to the point that Gana has? When will we get there? When?

It can't be soon enough.