words from a walk to remember
I’m no authority. They’re just as babylost as I am. Maybe more so. What do I say to bring light to an unknown number of grieving parents? For those who believe their babies are with God, and then for those who believe their babies were turned into random dust, all in the same crowd? For those ten days out and ten years out?
I settled on these words, some of them familiar, in case you’d like to see them.
Imagine blinding sun, breeze in leaves of red and gold, chalk-names and grass, cartwheels and tears. And yes, my voice came back just enough to croak through it. No one in the audience was naked, but at least I remembered to zip up my pants.
I’m going to let the voice of another bereaved parent bless this gathering: that of the excellent Shel Silverstein, because his words are magic.
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt grows
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Some of us subscribe to God with a capital G. Or the universe. Or Allah or Buddha or Shakti or Gitche Manitou. Or the random spark of nature, of dust and regrowth free of myth. Then there’s ghosts and angels and spirits and souls and energy and chi and serendipity and karma but really, what does it matter?
We all love, fiercely.
We’re all shell-shocked that we can’t follow them where they’ve gone. Because as mothers and fathers, that’s what we do. It is the right we all assume, our right and our rite of passage.
We follow because we love.
Eventually you run out of tears. You go dry and you breathe again. You blow a fuse and life demands that you let go, at least for a while.
But you might miss the tears for how divine they can be. For how they keep you close. For how they can make the concrete that separates our dimension from theirs fade into a sheet of almost transparent silk.
Before losing Liam I contemplated life and death with the luxury of not really needing to.
Now, I’m walking around with this gaping hole in my chest. But there’s something to be said for leaving it uncovered, if you can get used to the draft. There’s a view to be had when you look straight at it, and through it, and when you don’t turn away.
I don’t think it matters what we believe. All of us need to feel some sense of accompaniment, witness, restoration. What takes some time to see is that we can get all of this from one another, right here.
We are accompanied by the people in our lives who are brave enough to simply love our babies as we do. By people who say This was a baby, or the promise of a baby, who mattered deeply. Who by way of explosion made our hearts so big, so raw, so hungry.
We are witnessed by the people in our lives who say we lift up the parents of this baby. The parents who looked at her and said ‘she is perfect’ or spoke of him ‘look at those toes, long like daddy’s’. We stand with the parents of this baby, and we look, too, and we see more than despair.
We are restored by the people in our lives who say we don’t want to forget. We stitch this child into the quilt of this family, and this community.
We are the mothers and fathers of spiritbabies.
This initiation is painful and dark. All this time we’d been walking the edge of a cliff, sauntering along, totally unaware of the swallowing void at our feet. We lost our babies and the blinders came off and like skittish horses we became frozen, stricken with terror and shock while everyone else just trudged on past, unaware as we once were, and preferring to stay that way.
In the first while, the spectre of babyloss can make us all feel like medusa.
We are walking proof that the void exists. We stir up dread in others, confronting just by existing. Loving my son, remembering him, talking about him often felt like a burden on the world, unpalatable, a mark of dwelling or weakness or ‘not moving on’.
Together, medusas can be authentic and messy. No need for propriety or social grace or censorship. We can speak frankly. We can diffuse the loneliness by saying yes…that’s exactly how it feels.
Most important, we share the sweet of our babies without having to apologize for the bitter. Because among each other we know, above all else, that standing on both sides of this life makes what is sweet that much more vivid.
I've always wondered if I'm just a little bit crazed, inventing magic where none exists. If the presence in the room the day he died was merely the intensity of the moment, then Liam's life was just a hiccup.
Maybe he was an egg and a sperm that divided, and divided again, and grew into one of two babies, and was betrayed by his mother's placenta, born sick and then died. Then turned to ash and set loose on a lake because his parents are sentimental that way, thinking that letting him out of that ceramic jar would make him free to come and go as he pleases. Maybe it was just a handful of ash. Maybe it’s just that simple.
For some of us that notion is at the very root of peace—there can be comfort in trusting that the short straw that we pulled was nothing more than biology or blind misfortune or random chance free of meaning. But a handful of ash… I need more. A handful of ash makes me despair, makes me doubt my own dreams—but then my imagination enters the room in a huff, sleeves rolled up, shoving logic aside.
Stuff it, it says. You don’t belong here right now. It’s my turn.
When I think of him now I think off you go, son. Fly high and fly fast. Be peace, be light, be useful wherever you are. Be all shiny and brand new. Off you go, son, and thank you. Thank you for giving your mama your self, just as you were.
Guilt, doubt, fear, the sensation of having been cast out… none of these are sustainable. They burn too hot and they burn out, replaced with all that’s left of our babies. And that is love—a meadow reclaiming a ruin. I am medusa still, a year and a half passed, but the spectre is mostly gone. My snakes are cherished, beautiful. They’re made of light now. They swirl, sometimes loose and venturing in wonder, sometimes clinging close in memory. They are Liam, my heart outside my body.
My snakes whisper to me. They remind me to watch for the lines of chalk that point the way to where the sidewalk ends, to stay open to glimpses of the world where the grass grows soft and white, and where the sun burns crimson bright. Because us mommies and daddies—we need all the reminding we can get. We’re a bunch of crusty old farts compared to our babies, stubborn and all toughened up with time and ego, convinced of far too much. We’re so sure of what we know to be true. But we forget just how much we don’t know, and how wondrously vast that not-knowing is.
Our babies … they were pure. Grown open, born open, and they left us open. Still connected to their own ancient selves. I’d like to think they knew just where to go, what happens next, why they were here. Because… why not?
We are the mothers and fathers of spiritbabies. We are walking proof of two worlds touching. We were chosen by these souls, these souls that we already knew, and who already knew us.
We are the mothers and fathers of spiritbabies, but we are so much more than the sum of our experiences. Take away all that’s wrapped up in skin and muscle and what’s left? Not our categories: mother, sister, daughter, wife. Not our plot twists. Not all that was done and undone. Take away all that and we are just energy and love, infinite: each and every one of us purposeful, miracle, gift.
It’s almost as hard to end as it was to start, and so again I turn to the words of another.
If what I’m about to read had been written yesterday you might call it trite. But it wasn’t written yesterday. It was written in twelfth-century Persia by a philosopher called Rumi, long before hallmark cards or blogs, long before stuff like this was so commonplace as to be written off for its commonness. This makes it extraordinary.
And so I pass his words on to you because a man eight hundred years gone said it better than I ever could.
The breeze at dawn has things to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. Don't let your throat tighten with fear. Take sips of breath all day and night, before death closes your mouth. The morning wind spreads its fresh smell We must get up and take that in, that wind that lets us live. Breathe before it's gone. Dance when you're broken open. Dance, when you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.