Written by Carver Bain, age sixteen, on the reflection of the death of his sister ten years ago.
Deaf Five-Year-Old Ears
At the age of five, I had a two-year-old sister and another sibling on the way; as I recall I was not pleased when I discovered that the incoming child was to be another girl. Everything was normal and good. I was as content with my life as any five-year-old could claim to be content with anything. I cannot speak for my parents, for adults tend to put on masks in front of children, but it can’t be too much of a stretch to say they were happy, preparing for the arrival of their new daughter.
Why is that always when things go terribly awry?
It started the day I awoke to my best friend and his mother. I asked Angie, Will’s mother, where my parents were. I cannot remember how blunt she was about the malign shroud that had enveloped our house the previous night, but I at least gleaned from her that my mother was in the hospital, and my father had gone with her; I don’t know whether I knew it was because of the baby.
Whether this news was particularly jarring to my five-year-old ears or not, I do not remember.
Regardless of how I felt, it wasn’t long before I went to visit my parents in the hospital.
My mother lay in her bed, draped in hospital sheets; my father sat beside her, eyes weighed down by exhaustion, worry, and desperation. As with all hospitals, there was a thick film that permeated the room, dampening the fluorescent lights and wilting the plastic flowers outside the door, and everything was gray.
I won’t ennoble death by giving it any sort of magnificent description or detail.
She died on May 29th. She was born on June 1st.
People seem to cluster death and black together, but I think gray is a far more fitting candidate.
They gathered like flies to a light, the family and friends, with their “I’m sorrys,” and, “I understands.” These empty comforts slammed into my parents like a waterfall, and dripped off them like tar.
I did little to support my parents through the stillbirth, as I don’t think I fully understood what had happened. I waited in rooms with televisions. I visited my mother. The adults adorned their masks and reassured me everything was fine. Someone gave me a Batmobile. That was exciting. I’m pretty sure I knew what was going on in a very basic way, but the implications and the impact of the event fell on deaf ears. Deaf five-year-old ears.
I remember being there when she was born, the sister I would never learn to begrudgingly love, or inspire with my older-sibling-perfection, or see with flush, rosy, life-filled cheeks. I just wanted to see her. They asked if I wanted to hold her. I did.
I said no.
“We named her Grace,” my dad told me outside the hospital while we waited for my mother to come out. Grace Susie Bain, he said. As we sat there, freezing in June, I imagine you could see the ripples of cold steam rising off of us, under the hot sun. My dad hugged me closer, warming me, or perhaps I was warming him.
The toll this event took on my parents is at a level I hope I won’t ever fully understand. When they didn’t think I could hear them, they would take off their masks and be sad and cry and even yell. I could sense a heavy sheet, stitched with iron that had drifted down to enfold our household, and the walls slowly beginning to crack.
It went like this for some time. But as time tends to want to do, it kept on, rolling through days, then weeks, then months, then years. But despite the dullness that time brings with it, ten years later Grace never left. Though strange it might seem, being that she never arrived, she is still here.
My mother would tell me that it was a gift. That God works in strange ways. (This God I keep hearing about does seem to work in the most—eccentric—ways.) She would say that if it had not been for Grace’s preemptive tip of the hat and slam of the door, our lives would be very different. My now seven-year-old brother probably would never have been born, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to feed another mouth at that time, and maybe if she hadn’t died my mother would have. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
All this can be boiled down to, we just don’t know and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so quit your blubbering and move on. But humanity demands a little blubbering, which is just fine.
I will never know Grace. Of course this still saddens me, even more so than it did ten years ago, but if I were to walk around my house right now and talk with my parents and my sister, I wouldn’t see any negative consequences. What I would see is my little brother, and my dad cracking a joke, and my mom rolling her eyes, and all because—and in spite of—Grace’s death. Good and bad are far too black and white for something like this, and Grace found life in that gray area.