My baby died. I don’t know where he is. I don’t know why.
I used to consider myself lucky. You know. Blessed. Tapped on the shoulder by some interventionist of happy fate. I am Canadian. That’s lucky. I am a Maritimer. That’s lucky too. I’ve got the recipe for my mom’s spaghetti sauce, the kind that simmers all afternoon and makes the house smell like roasted garlic. I’ve got a little woodstove and a pile of kindling. I’ve got a farmers’ market and handmade quilts and British tea.
Lucky. I used to figure that meant being safe, being fed, being heard, being kept company. Then I had a son, and my son was hurt by birth. He lived for a while, but not peacefully. He got worse. So they took away the ventilator and they put him on my chest, and we waited, and we waited, and he died. I don’t know where he is. I don’t know why.
For years I would think, everywhere I went: Ask me how many children I have. Ask me so I can tell you three, but only two. Then ask me what happened. Then ask me his name. So I can say it. And when I do, don’t look away. Look right here. Right at me. Right at him, while I say his name.
I spent a lot of time asking why me? Why does it have to be me wanting, so badly, to make a button pin to wear on my lapel that says ASK ME ABOUT MY INVISIBLE KID?
Why me. It’s the ultimate unanswerable question. It’s exhausting. It makes you ache. It makes you loathe other people who, all of a sudden, seem to be every kind of lucky. Like I used to be. And I resented them for it, from this side now. The unlucky side. Peering out at them across this void and asking Why my son? Why him? Why me?
But then I woke up one day and realized: it’s not at all an unanswerable question. It’s the easiest question of all to answer. Why not me? Then I took a breath. A very sweet, long breath. Why not?
All of us, no matter how we presume to intellectualize, or talk to a god, or reconcile, or beg, or perform, or strive to be worthy—all of us are the same. Exactly the very same. There’s a chance in the midst of that sameness that doesn’t discriminate. There’s no fault. There’s no lack of wanting. Lack of love. Lack of grace. No blame. There’s none of that. All there is... is why not?
This waking up brought me to a strange sort of humility. Accepting that nobody’s entitled. That we’re all partners in this mystery. This huge unpredictable mess of souls and longing and mistakes and laughter and tears. We’re all the same.
You might say about the rest of the world, They don’t understand. They can’t possibly understand. No. They can’t. Forgive a lack of understanding.
You might say Where are you? Where did you go? Why? There’s no way of knowing. Even though you are mother, father—and you’re supposed to know these things—forgive a lack of knowing.
You might say Why us? Twist. Why not? Forgive this invisible parenthood. Forgive your body. Forgive absence. Forgive your luck.
After a while I got kind of radical. I started to think differently about luck. If I could, would I erase it all? His pregnancy, that birth, those six weeks? No. Never. I pity myself for having had to go through that, for having to bear the memory of what happened to him. I pity my son for having been in pain. For never getting to taste chocolate chip cookies or sail on the ocean or get sand between his toes or fly in a plane across the world or read a book. He is gone, but I still want him. I made him. Just as he was, just as he is. I am Liam’s mother. What an honour.
If I twist that motherhood just a little, in the right light, maybe I gave him all that he needed, as much as I could, to some greater … I don’t want to say purpose. That’s too close to a ‘god’s plan’. That’s platitudes. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is this: there’s just so much that we don’t understand. And who’s to say that in all that we don’t understand, there can’t be something beautiful?
Humility. Setting aside all those parental instincts and entitlements. Quieting all that thrashing around at not having him safe in my house. At not tripping over his shoes. Humility. Being okay with all this lack of knowing. With his absence. To trust in it. To surrender to it. To consider that maybe I was lucky.
I got to be Liam’s mother. I get to stand among all of you and look in your eyes and see that all of you loved a child, or the spark and potential of a child, who is not here with you. I get the company of your eyes, knowing that you know what it’s like to walk through the world with this heart that had to contain so much all at once.
We share that explosive moment during which everything we know in the human experience—love, rage, peace, despair, hope—existed simultaneously, right here. And it's the very same thing as a bleed on the brain. The heart doesn’t heal from being so stretched, so drowned. It can never go back to what it was. To ‘lucky’ as defined on a back of a matchbook.
You’ll never see anything the same way ever again. You'll pause where you didn’t pause before. And it won't always make you cry. Sometimes, with time, it'll make you smile.
—my speech at this year's Walk to Remember in Edmonton, Alberta
Every now and then a moment grabs you by the shoulders and reminds you just how much people love one another. How much they give of time and money and brawn and brain and music and cookies and milk if maybe, just maybe, it might warm the day of someone who needs warmth.
I'm a hopeless cynic. I'm the kind of person that chases cats off my lawn with the hose set to jet not only because they're little punks, but because they poop in my garden. I just put a 'wanted' ad on Kijiji for a gently used potato gun which explains, naturally, why a cat is wrapped around my neck right now, one paw in my ear. His name is Jimmy and he is very large and very grey and I can tell by the way he's purring. He's terrified.
Meanwhile, Jocelyn and Chris turn everything around. They bring beauty and dignity and love to the world. They make me wander around smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. They help me to remember, when the world feels flat, the magic of my son.