Many of us have the gift of moving through the grief process as we find a way — often after years and years of remaking — to put grief to a restless slumber.
Anne Lamott writes,
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
It only takes something small … maybe a smell, a scent that reminds us of our loved one; or a picture; an activity to cause an overflow of the deep well of tears to burst forth from the depths. Even after years, grief is always at the surface. Tears we had momentarily forgotten about, feelings we had buried with the everyday activities that we’ve used to help us move on, and then it happens. Our buried, bruised soul awakens.
Grief sleeps lightly; ready to be awoken by the slightest touch.
But there’s a grief that doesn’t sleep.
A grief that has no beginning and seemingly no end. A grief that may never heal.
I walked into the hospital, carrying my toolbox-sized brown box by the handle. Dressed in my suit, tie, and dress shoes, I get awkward glances from the observant staff as they process “A man dressed for business … carrying what appears to be a toolbox … in a hospital.”
I walk into medical records, Maria the secretary recognizes me from previous visits and she asks, “Who are you here for?”
“Baby X”, I say.
She tells me to take a seat as she rummages through her files.
After a minute or so she arises from her paperwork, finds what she needs and makes eye contact with me, signaling me to come closer.
“Here’s the release. I’ll call the security guard”, she says.
“Great!” I say cheerfully, thankful that process seems to be going more smoothly than expected.
“One more thing … who’s going to sign the cremation authorization?” I ask. “I was told that the case worker was going to sign it. Is she here?”
After another minute of rummaging and five minutes worth of phone calls, “No, the caseworker’s not here.”
“Here comes the obstacles” I think to myself.
I explain what’s going on, making sure Maria fully understands the situation: “The mother’s in jail, so she terminated her rights to her newborn ….”
Maria interrupts, “I understand the child lived for an hour.”
“ … being that the mother is in jail, with no money and no family who wants to give the child a funeral, we were asked by the mother’s case worker if we’d cremate the child pro bono. We agreed … but I still need a signature for cremation authorization from whoever the rights were given to ….”
“Okay. Let me make some phone calls.”
Ten minutes later I was walking to the morgue carrying my little brown box by the handle, having resolved the situation.
As I entered the morgue, and gently placed the dead infant in my box, I couldn’t help but think about how the mother of this child will process her grief. It will be an apparition. Here and there. Such a short beginning with no closure.
These thoughts have haunted me over the past couple weeks, so I want to do something right here and now, with you present. I want to remember this short life by offering the only act I know to do. I’d like to write an obituary.
Baby X, passed into and out of this world on Sunday, January 8th, 2012 at the Chester County Hospital. He is survived by his mother, who cared for him for nine months, had the chance to name him upon his birth and who has been thinking about him ever since.
Although your time was short on this earth, you have not gone unremembered. Today, I remember you. Today, we remember you. In our silence, we remember.