Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I've been thinking of memory's trap doors recently. Yesterday I was at Trader Joe's, with four-month-old Matilda in the Baby Bjorn. I was staring at some slightly smashed raspberries when something crashed behind us, and I turned to see a shopping cart upended, with a now-screaming toddler beneath it: he'd been sitting in the kid seat at the front. His mother could not instantly figure out how to pull him free, couldn't see if he'd been hurt; a bunch of people, including employees, rushed to help her. In seconds he was in her arms, and then she was hugging her other child tight, too. "But why were you angry with me," she was asking the sobbing older child, who was probably four. As far as I could tell, he's the one who pulled the cart over. It was upsetting and dramatic as such things can be, but for me, no more than that.

Then I remembered another day in another store, about two years ago. Edward and I were at Ikea. I was pregnant enough with Gus that we were looking at cribs though not so cocky we'd seriously consider buying one. A young couple had wedged the bucket part of a car seat in that kid seat in front, and then, while I was watching--but while the mother wasn't--the seat somehow flipped over and dumped the baby--a little girl, about one, gold earrings in her little ears--into the big basket behind it. Silence, and then screaming, and suddenly I was suffused with panic, and sadness, and 1,000 grades of emotion I have no words for. Suffused? Infused? Soaking wet with it, anyhow. It hadn't been a year since my first child had died: I was still thinking, every day, "A year ago I was dumb and happy." The baby at Ikea was fine, though her parents weren't, and I wasn't.

And here's the thing: at Trader Joe's, I was no longer remembering the day in Ikea. It wasn't that I was reminded of how I felt. I felt it. I was there. We had to leave, my sweet third baby and me.

When I told Edward about it, I described the Trader Joe's incident, and then I said, "And it reminded me of Ikea--" and I didn't have to say anything else.

All of which is to say: the third anniversary of my first child's death is coming up. I've been pregnant the past two, and we haven't done anything to mark it except remember it. So if anybody is reading this who has advice, I'd love to hear it.


Sheryl said...

When I lost my first child (miscarriage), I was obsessed with trees. I panicked that my baby would be forgotten by everyone but us. I had this horribly silly urge to plant a tree in memory - trees last hundreds of years right? No one would forget a big oak whose leaves clog up the gutter every year. Then we had to move and I couldn't bear the thought that the only tangible evidence of our child on this earth would be peed on by the neighbor's yappy dog.

Years after our loss and immediately after a failed IVF transfer, a New Age quack told me that she believed children chose their parents. So now on the anniversary of the loss of my child, I sit quietly and think about how much I love him and wanted him. How much I miss him in my bones. How old he would be. If "he" would even be a "he" or a "she". Even though he was alive for such a fraction of a life, I celebrate every microsecond I had with him. People can go their whole lives without much love so maybe he was a person uncompromising and would only belong to someone who would love him fiercely and unconditionally. So I sit and think about him and the awful "what ifs", then I pick myself up and hug my young children to remind myself of my reality. And it is a good reality.

Jacinta said...

Hello Elizabeth, since learning that it is the third anniversary of Pudding, you haven't been far from my thoughts. My little boy, William Francis, would have been 3 this year in July. I was pregnant on the first anniversary and felt totally confronted and not grounded on the second as I had my daughter Alice who was then about 6 months. I'd been freaking out the whole of her life, worrying that something bad was going to happen to her too. She's now 14 months and I can say I've relaxed a fraction.

William was stillborn the day after my birthday. This has changed things. I can no longer ever have my birthday without having William's birthday and so doing something on his anniversary and for my birthday completely perplexes most people in my life - until I decided that for the rest of my life I will cook William a birthday cake and I will also cook myself one.

The last two years I have cooked a Parkin cake. Lots of golden syrup, treacle, brown sugar and butter. It's meant to be made 4 days before the day you want to eat it. This means that I get to completely immerse myself in doing something for William in the lead up to his special day.

I find the lead up the worst. On the day he was born, my memory is a lot about seeing my beautiful baby for the first time and being amazed at the enormity of my love for him even though he was dead. I feel this now and of course I feel the terrible tragedy and the despair.

And the cake requires me to wrap it in foil and then gladwrap and look after it for four days. I like having it in the fridge, looking at it, knowing that I am doing something completely for my first child. Some people in my life find this really hard and so only get to eat the chocolate cake I make for myself. On William's special day, my close friends - only the ones who can do William's day and my day - eat with me, drink with me, toast my first child, and eat the Parkin cake.

I think the honouring is hard. We honour our lost little love, and we honour the relationship we have and the relationship we don't get to have. I like my birthday cake for William and I like that I have started this tradition for him and for my family.

All the best to you and your family on Pudding's special day of being 3.

Elizabeth McCracken said...

Sheryl & Jacincta--thank you so much. Sheryl: I've been a bit fixated on a tree. Someone I met recently had planted one, and it just sounded lovely. But at the moment we're renting in one city, and then we're going to England in the summer, and then to another place just for the fall, and then we're finally moving some place we hope to be for a long time. In a strange way I've felt like a failure--I can't even give the kid a tree! But I had never thought of what it would mean to then leave the tree behind to rotten dogs.

Jacincta--the cake idea sounds lovely. I'd heard of birthday cakes for dead children and was unsure--I don't think I could do the whole frosted cake, singing happy birthday--oh my lord, just typing that, I know I couldn't. Happy birthday! But the four day cake, and having that taste that you associate with your lost child. It sounds lovely.

The one thing I've decided as far as my living kids go is that we'll mark his birthday, not the day he died. I really want them to grow up casually knowing about their brother--I want them to understand their own way, the best they can.

sarah said...

Write something to mark the day? Write about him? Write to him? Could he be a character?

I'm still angry after my loss. I'm going to Burning Man to burn something. They build a special temple of remembrance. You put artifacts/messages in the temple and then they burn it down. My diorama will include a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting." I can't wait to see that burn.

heathers243 said...

Dear Elizabeth,

Your post struck a chord with me, as I also lost a son to stillbirth nearly three years ago, also gave birth to a healthy baby just over a year later, also struggle with how to mark my first son's life/death with my family.

So far, I've spent a few quiet moments on my son's birthday going through a small box of mementos and just remembering. They are small things--a card attached to Mother's Day flowers my husband sent while I was pregnant, photos of our "babymoon," footprints taken at the hospital--but it feels good to devote that time solely to him and my memories. I think someday I will include my living child in this practice, sharing my thoughts and memories with him.

I also have a lovely children's book entitled, "Before There Was You." Simply worded and beautifully illustrated, I think it will be a helpful tool for teaching my living son about his older brother.

I began reading your memoir today and already have felt healed by your words. I think many parents will find comfort simply in recognizing their feelings in your journey.

I wish you peace and healing in the upcoming days. Hugs to you!

Elizabeth McCracken said...

Sarah & Heather--I clearly am not in Blogging mode--I forgot to look for any more comments.

Has Burning Man already happened? Burning is GOOD.

& Heather, if you're reading this--who wrote "Before There Was You?" I'd love to find a copy, and couldn't shake it out of the internet.

heathers243 said...

Oh my! Shame on me. You couldn't find it because I got the title a bit wrong. The book is actually called, "Someone Came Before You" and the author is Pat Schwiebert. Sorry!

lokitracy said...

I started reading your memoir last night and could not put it down until I finish reading it. I also had stillborn twins... Tristen and Theodore... As I was reading your book I felt as though I knew you and when you talked about instantly "loving" someone who has also been though the same awesomely horrific story as you I feel the same way. What my husband and I have done the past two years is to attend a memorial service where the boys' are buried and then to come home and celebrate. It gives us a chance to remember. We don't spend the day talking about them, we just set it aside as their day and we drink wine, eat food, and enjoy our friends and family. I kind of think about it being a little like a mini-thanksgiving. We are grateful for their existence because they changed us... It was awful but because of them I am different and I like who I am and it is because of them. I also loved saying their names and I try to find a way to say them. Maybe I am a bit like the lady in Florida but I wouldn't have it any other way!!! Thank you for your words and thank you for writing this book.

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