Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You are not alone in this

Saturday evening I received a call from my father, telling me that my sister, who moved to Baton Rouge last year, had lost her daughter. She was 34 weeks pregnant with baby Harper, and was planning on a home birth. She had had a previously successful birth, no history of pregnancy troubles and things were going well. When out of the blue the baby stopped moving. When she delivered her daughter's corpse yesterday, the cord was wrapped around her neck 4 times, around her back and shoulders and then tied in a knot. It was too much. Her body was 3 lbs 14 oz, and at this stage of pregnancy could have lived had she been born alive. But she wasn't.

My grief is for my sister, for how can I really grieve for a child I never met? I had trouble sleeping on Saturday night. I cried for hours for the pain they faced ahead. Labor and delivery are just about the most frightening and painful trials a woman will face in life, and the strength to bear it comes from the fact that there is a prize at the end. Your child. Who gets to come home with you and be a part of your family. How would she bear this? Find the strength for it? This is something only a mother understands. Men may bristle at that statement, but aren't there things about the male experience women can't know? It isn't meant as an insult or a dismissal. Ask a mother what she would think of that lifelessness inside of her. A baby shaped shell, when she almost held her prize-child in her arms. So close to the end. So so close. It is horrific. There are no words to explain it, save for that. And how would she find the strength to do it? She would. And how will they find the strength to go on...to hope again? They will. You just do.

I lay up tormented by painful vignettes. Leaving the hospital empty armed. Baskets of folded diapers and bibs that will never be worn. Her sibling saying her name and asking after the one you worked so hard to teach him about. I dreamt tortured dreams - alone with my heavily pregnant sister in dark places, dim moss covered woods filled with bats and inhuman noises- waiting for the labor to begin. I cried myself to sleep and I cried myself awake.

Speaking to her that night on the phone I didn't know what to say. My mouth was useless. Words were meaningless. Yet I offered to pray, somehow. And I recalled what Job said after his riches, his land, his home, and his children had all been stolen away: "Naked I came into this world. Naked will I depart. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be His name." It is the only response to any tragedy really, because there is never ever ever a "why" that is good enough. You can choose not to accept it. You can choose to be angry. But that changes none of the facts. Later on I opened to those first few chapters of Job, a book I have read repeatedly over the years for comfort. After Job's wife recommended that he "curse God and die", his three friends from far away hear of his predicament and go to him. When they find him, his house blown down, his body covered in sores, everything he worked for and loved taken away - they are stunned. Then they cover their heads in dust, sit down in the ashes and don't attempt to speak to him for a week.

And for the first time, in a life that has had a minimal to average amount of suffering, I understood the Isrealite tradition of rending their clothes, throwing dust in their hair, refraining from eating and speaking, when faced with tremendous grief. It described perfectly what I wanted to do. To share her suffering somehow, by suffering even a small bit myself.

Harper's funeral is Thursday morning. I, a friend from far away, will go to her and Steve, proverbial dust in my hair. Because the worst part for my family is being far away - with only words to bridge the divide, when words are stupid and useless and vulgar right now.  To share their grief, and show them that they are not alone.

Just watch:

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