The story goes that my dad was so happy on the day I was born (his first three babies were boys) that he left the hospital soon after the doctor came out to the waiting room to announce my birth, and he didn’t return until the next day. He’d gone home to paint my room pink, and buy dresses to hang in my closet.
I was four months old when my father was diagnosed with cancer. My memories of those years are mostly blank, filled with other peoples’ stories of me and my dad.
But I remember this: I was picked up early from kindergarten one day and brought home to a house filled with people I didn’t want to see. The father who thought I was the center of the world was dead.
Grief settled into my bones.
What I craved most in my childhood was to be loved like my father loved me. I still do. Sometimes, I just want someone to buy me dresses and paint my room pink.
I grew up. I found love. I got married, then pregnant, had one and then two babies, a boy and a girl. When I was pregnant with our third child, it struck me that I was 36-years-old, the same age my mother was when her husband, my father, died, and like me, my son was five.
I looked at my son and the reflection of my 36-year-old self in the mirror, and I did what I was taught to do since I could fold my hands. I prayed. I prayed to a complicated God with whom I’ve had a complicated relationship that He protect me from the death of my husband. I prayed every night and went about my days as my belly grew from its second trimester into its third. Though I never said it out loud, I wanted this child to be a girl because I never had a sister, and I wanted to give my two-year-old daughter the sister I could never have. Also, I wanted to paint two rooms pink.
My prayers became fiercer as the due date loomed. Please, God, please keep my husband alive I whispered into the night. Then just like the world does sometimes, it tilted, and I discovered I’d been praying the wrong prayer.
What? I lean in because I can’t understand what the technician is saying as she pulls the Doppler from my belly.
I’m so sorry. Her heart is not beating.
My body goes numb, and a kind of hollowness and sorrow seeps inside unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I search my mind for a roadmap. I reach back 31 years to see if there is anything recognizable in this place of grief.
My five-year-old self cannot help me. The death of my child feels nothing and everything like the death of my father.
On the night that labor is induced, my husband goes home to take care of our two living children because neither one of us can imagine them with anyone else, and while my other labors were short, we’ve been told that forced labor can take days. I lie alone in my hospital bed and put my five-year-old thumb in my mouth, squeeze my eyes shut and rock myself back and forth like a baby to try to stop the world from spinning. I can’t stop the spinning.
The worst part is not the grueling 24-hour labor after they’ve induced me and told me that I have to deliver my dead daughter vaginally. It’s not the falling asleep at night with visions of Grace’s body burning at ungodly temperatures until they eventually return her ashes to me in an urn so small it looks like it’s made for a hummingbird instead of a person.
It’s not the funeral.
The worst part, at least for a while, is that split second upon waking in the days and weeks and months afterwards when I have a joyful moment as I reach a hand toward my belly. But then I remember. And all joy falls away.
Joy is a terrible thing to lose along with your child.
My joy doesn’t disappear forever. It returns 2 ½ years later in the form of a healthy newborn son who spills into my arms on the way to the hospital. Over time I recognize that this joy I feel is larger than anything I’ve ever felt in spite of and because of the sorrow that I carry.
This sorrow becomes my roadmap for love.
And sometimes all it takes is seeing a closet full of dresses or a pink room to remember that this life can change in a moment.
|Me and my dad in the picture|