Today is the seventh anniversary of the birth and death of my first child. There was a time when I thought it would get easier each year. Now I think, it doesn’t.
First comes a frantic stemming of the tide. But it comes anyway—a massive tidal wave of grief. I cry for days. I mean, really, why not?
One of the most challenging aspects of this whole affair (yes, there are many) has been the inherent loneliness that comes with being the bearer of something so miserable that most people won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. From the get-go, the edges and depths of this experience were something only a few of my contemporaries even tried to comprehend, let alone address. I can count on one-and-a-half hands those who have really gone there with me in seven years, and several of them are bound to me by blood, married to me, or I had to pay.
Perhaps the death of a baby is just one of those life-situations irrevocably fraught with peril. I’ve always known that everyone did what they were able. But that didn’t make it any less lonely.
One silver lining of this whole affair (yes, there are many) is my chickens. Not just their blessed existence, of course, but their reaction to this day. I always intended for our family history to be something that was out in the open for them—not overly dramatic, but truthful. So once a year we go to the cemetery to visit the brother they never knew. And each year, I am surprised and delighted by the ways that Noodle and Little transform the experience for us all.
Last weekend, Chicken Noodle began the planning. “What will we bring to him? Ooo—candy,” she moaned, like it was crack cocaine.
“How about a bouquet?” said Chicken Little, who is three and prides herself on her growing vocabulary.
“Candy,” sighed Noodle, still lost in an imaginary-sugar-induced fantasy.
“Candy,” agreed Little with a reverent whisper.
“No, I know,” said Noodle, who is five and has to have the last word, even if it means trumping her own idea. “We’ll bake him a cake. But we’ll eat it! At his cemetery! And we’ll leave him one piece right there by his name. And we’ll put heart candles on it! And we’ll sing”—she broke into a warbling tune—“’Happy birthday, lovey boy!’”
All I’ve wanted was for someone to validate his existence, honor my pain, love me there, and make me laugh. I could never have guessed that it would be my own children who would do this the very best of all.
Off to bake a cake…