Forgiveness takes one person.
Reconciliation takes two.
Forgiveness takes one person.
Reconciliation takes two.
A repost of a seasonal reminder…
I watched a video called “Take Identical Twins, Give Gum to Just One of Them… and Watch What Happens Next.”
As someone who occasionally stands before an audience to speak, this resonated with me.
It seems chewing gum animates the face, so the person at least looks alive. The blank stare of the other twin was the turn off. Now, if the other twin had been smiling, or responding in some way, results might have been different.
This is a clever ad campaign for the gum company, but let me share a practical application as we come into the Christmas season.
Will you sit in an audience in the coming weeks? Will you watch a quartet sing in the mall? Will you attend a concert at your church, your child’s school, your community?
Please keep in mind, you’re not watching TV. When those who perform look into the audience they need to see animation, a response. Nod your head a little. Let your lips curl up. Move to the beat, just a tiny bit. Let them see you respond to their effort. Let them know they’re reaching you.
They’ve worked hard to give you a gift. Consider your animated response a gift in return.
Have a very Merry Christmas, and share the joy!
Christmas, 2014. It’s been thirty years, now, since our Wendy-baby was born, since our Wendy-baby died.
There was little tangible proof attaching her memory to this life, but in our hearts she’d become a world of existence.
Her birth, a sunrise beyond description.
Followed by a day, containing all a soul requires to qualify as having been born.
And finally a sunset, Mommy and Daddy gazing, not daring to avert our eyes even for a moment, for fear we would miss the setting of her life as she disappeared beneath the horizon of the living, tranquil, it seemed, until her small self had stilled. Only then could we look away, look at each other, and wonder.
Day is done. Gone the sun. Gone our daughter.
I am grateful, even today, to an unnamed mother who told my friend, the one who helped me dress our Wendy-baby for her funeral, that I should save a lock of her hair.
We didn’t tell the funeral home attendant what we were doing. We didn’t know if it might be wrong, and we didn’t want to be told if it was.
So before she was sealed in the small, white coffin, and before the coffin was forever sealed beneath the ground as ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ was pronounced, we stole from her small, newborn, now-still head, a lock of hair.
Once Wendy had been buried, a need to hold her to my breast began to swell, as my milk continued to form, my breasts to ache—to hold her in my arms, to feast my eyes on this child, hoped for, anticipated, dreamed of, for nine wonderful months, but gone before we barely had a chance to make a memory.
That lock of hair was the seed that would begin to fill my need.
Now, thirty years later, I can go to my bookshelf and find, amongst the dusty photo albums, one named, “Wendy’s Book”.
What could there be from a life just thirty-seven hours long that would fill an entire album?
Oh, so much. So much.
First, we find her hospital bracelet, certifying that yes, our Wendy was born, on a recorded date, given a name, and with a doctor in attendance.
Then we see photos of a pregnant mom-to-be, a toddler sister, a beaming father, and the house where she would have lived.
Now we find card after card of congratulations, expressing the joy we too felt at our baby girl’s birth, all popped into the mail before the rest of the drama unfolded.
Next, taped to the page, is her birth certificate, the one that shocked me when it came in the mail. I had ordered the big one, not the wallet-size. Nothing small or insignificant for our little girl! When the document arrived I took it from its envelope, expecting this to be the legal statement proclaiming her life. Instead, there, stamped in large red letters at an angle so it wouldn’t be missed, was the word, DECEASED.
I hadn’t expected that.
But back to Wendy’s Book.
Now you will see the lock of hair, taped to the page, still holding a bit of its curl. Perhaps I could have done something more artistic. No. Her hair is enough. She was alive. She had hair. In life, she had hair.
I breathe deeply, and move on.
Here is a photo, one, just one, taken after the tape and tubes and entanglements were removed from her small self. Swaddled in her pink hospital blanket, she is held in her blue-gowned mother’s arms. Here is the photo I would show people later, to say, “See? This is our Wendy-baby.” Most didn’t realize, and I didn’t offer the fact that the child in the photo was, indeed, dead.
Now we see the next document, the one that, to tell the whole story, had to be included—Wendy’s Certificate of Death.
No need to linger there. We can turn the page quickly, because yes, there is more. Much more.
Over the days and weeks following April 27, 1985 more cards arrived. Condolences, sympathy, drawings by children honouring their cousin whom they would never meet. Stories were written in some of the cards attesting to the unmentioned truth that they, too, had had a baby who died.
I wasn’t prepared for how many such stories there were.
The offerings of other mothers, and sometimes of fathers, remembering their lost little one, re-experiencing their grief in honour of our Wendy, and her own full life; begun, fulfilled, and completed in the blink of an eye.
Each of these memories rounds out her story. This is Wendy’s Book.
2 Samuel 12:22-23
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.
I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’
23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting?
Can I bring him back again?
I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
April 25, 1995
We spent the morning preparing for our special outing. Yes, it was a school day. No, the kids were not going to school.
Outside it drizzled. Inside, I baked a cake. Once it had cooled, I cut off one side to create a number one, and then made the rest into a circle. Together they made a passable number ‘10’.
Andrea, eleven and a half, and Luke, eight years old, slathered icing on the top and edges. Today was a milestone day, marking our Wendy’s tenth year in heaven.
The finished Number Ten cake was left on the kitchen counter to be enjoyed later when Dad got home. Now the kids and I were off to Wendy’s Remembering Place to honour her on this day.
During the drive to town, Andrea decided we needed flowers. Good plan. We stopped at Safeway and found a small bouquet of blossoms, pink with white edges. Then, at Luke’s suggestion, we picked up some pop, Cheesies and ice cream for the party at home.
As we neared the cemetery, Luke found a scribbler in the back seat. I dug a pen out of my purse and handed it back to him. By the time we’d arrived, Luke had drawn a beautiful picture of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, reminiscent of pictures of the baby Jesus. Meticulously, Luke had crafted a border of tiny hearts all around the baby.
Cloverbar Cemetery dates back to the 1800s. Originally located in a quiet field in the country, the little graveyard has been engulfed by industry as Edmonton has expanded.
The site is bordered on the east by a huge lumber yard and on the west by a concrete factory. Enormous evergreens, over a hundred years old, protect the memories of Edmontonians who’ve passed on, affording visitors and mourners a sense of privacy, separate from the larger, unappealing setting. Along the front, a service road runs parallel to the busy Yellowhead Highway. The trees are so tall, though, that most driving by remain unaware of the presence of this sedate graveyard.
I pulled up to the wrought-iron gate that spanned the lane running down the middle of the two-acre site. The gate was locked, as it usually is, unless there’s a funeral. We could have driven along the side and around to the back entrance, but instead we parked in front, climbing the stone wall, helping each other, and passing our gifts over the top.
By skipping school, we were already feeling radical. Climbing the wall fit the occasion; nothing would prevent us from accomplishing our mission. It felt good, appropriately rebellious, because a ten-year-old Wendy would have been rebellious too, or so we imagined.
The drizzle of the morning had passed. The sun struggled to shine through an overcast sky.
Luke knew where he was going. We’d been here several times before. Carefully holding his picture, he first ran, then slowed, and finally stood reverently before the pink granite pillow stone, his head bowed. After a moment he bent down and laid his picture on the damp grass covering Wendy’s grave. Before he could rise, though, a breeze tickled his gift, threatening to whisk it away. He quickly found a stone and placed it on the edge of his artwork to hold it firmly in place.
Andrea now stepped forward, holding the bouquet. “We have to leave some here,” she explained, and divided the stems. “The rest have to come back home so we have a bouquet for our party.”
I rested in this rare opportunity that afforded such freedom in carrying out our private memorial service. There were no rules, so nothing could be wrong.
I glanced longingly at Luke’s picture, wanting to scoop it up to take home and preserve, but it wasn’t mine. It was Wendy’s. The picture remained.
Next, we explored the cemetery, zig-zagging among grave stones, old and new.
As we walked, I paused now and again, pointing out various graves and telling the children some of the stories I’d noted on previous visits.
Here was a family: mother, father, and twin daughters who had died at nine years of age, all showing the same final date of life. Under the parents’ names, on their headstones that flanked the two little girls’, Luke read out loud, “We had no chance” … “to say good-bye”.
Andrea’s imagination filled in the blanks. “It must have been a car accident, Mom. Or maybe a fire. It had to be a tragedy that killed them all at once.”
In an older section near the front we found a baby’s grave marked by just the surname, “Summers”. Dates told us that Baby Summers had died after just three weeks, and was buried in 1913. An identical headstone stood beside it, attesting to another Baby Summers, born 1914, buried 1915.
We found the grave of a man who had died when he was 100 years old.
The children were fascinated.
Finally we left. The overcast sky had prevailed and it was becoming too chilly. I turned the car heater on as we made our way back.
At home, we first took out a gift that a family friend had given me the day before.
“This is for your party tomorrow,” Lorna had told me, presenting me with a straw bonnet adorned with a pastel ribbon, and flowers around the band. “This is to honour Wendy’s tenth birthday.”
We set out the cake, pop, Cheesies and ice-cream. The bonnet set carefully on a napkin became a table centre-piece. Rick arrived home and quickly cleaned up from work. Then we took our places around the table. It was time for Wendy’s birthday party.
Luke decided we should place our hands together in prayer as we sang “Happy Birthday” so Wendy would be sure to hear.
Andrea arranged the remaining white-and-pink flowers in a vase and set it prominently in the middle of the table, alongside the bonnet.
I noted there were buds dotting the flower stems.
“Remember what it said on Wendy’s headstone?” I asked. Rick knew.
“Budded on earth to bloom in heaven.”
Andrea pulled the vase close and counted the buds. There were ten. Next she counted the flowers on the stems. There were ten flowers as well.
“Little miracles,” we told each other. “Little miracles.”
We felt Wendy was with us, and Jesus was honouring our day
Watch this site for the launch of the hard-copy of When the Bough Breaks – planned for mid-November, 2016.
People want to help … lessen the pain, ease the burden, give encouragement, make things better. Always well intentioned, their efforts may be inept, even tactless.
I found that for me, some people did just the right thing. Maybe for another mom, their actions wouldn’t have been helpful. Still, I will catalogue here those gestures I found supportive.
My brother sent me a cassette tape, We Are the World, a song that had just been released. His note read:
Dear Bobbi and Rick,
Perhaps it was just the coincidence of timing, but for me, this has become “Wendy’s song”. She has taught me grief as I had never envisioned it before and whenever I hear this song, Wendy is as vivid and real as today is “now”.
Grief is a very tough thing to handle, probably best done in small pieces that we can manage. This may help in dissolving that grief.
With much love to the both of you and to Andrea and to Wendy Lorraine,
One day there was a knock at the door. A young woman from church, in her early twenties, stood there holding a brown paper bag. “I don’t know what to say,” she told me, clearly uncomfortable. “But I wanted to give you this. Is that alright?” I took the loaf of warm-from-the-oven bread and we hugged before she left. Yes, this was alright.
Wendy was born in April. May brought with it the first Mother’s Day after her death. That Sunday morning I found two cards on the kitchen counter. One was from Andrea. Rick had helped her colour crayon markings inside, outside, and all over the back to create a riotous jumble of Crayola.
Beside Andrea’s card, was a second envelope. A cartoon drawing of a little girl angel graced the front. Inside, Rick had written:
I just wanted to give you a little something special on this special day, after all the wonderful things you’ve done for me. You carried me, supported me, comforted me, gave birth to me, loved me, and most of all you gave me my body.
So I thought for once in my short but wonderful life I will do something for you. I will give you a card on Mother’s Day. (With the help of my Dad.)
I love you Mom and thank you.
No matter how great the tragedy, time insists on passing. People’s busy lives overtake the drama of the moment and gradually the sorrow of the grieving family slips out of sight. We didn’t forget, though. Sorrow holds fast to the heart, even when you appear to be back in the thick of living.
Special occasions are the hardest when dealing with a loss. A friend once told me, “You have to go through all four seasons before you can begin to move on.”
As that first year progressed, I began to understand what she meant. Each special date on the calendar was one more reminder that the one we loved was not there to share it with us. How to cope? We found that being proactive and planning a way to honour Wendy’s memory on each occasion helped prevent a sense of being blindsided, and gave us a modicum of control.
Christmas could not be ignored. The year before, I’d been five months pregnant with Wendy. I liked to sew. I’d made new Christmas stockings for our family, so of course I’d made one for the baby to come.
December 1985 would have been her first Christmas. I knew we had to acknowledge it somehow. As a few relatives gathered at our home, we each wrote a memory about Wendy and put the papers into her stocking, letting it hang with the rest, including a new stocking made just for the baby I was carrying. Andrea drew a scribble, which we tucked inside as well. At the end of the Christmas season, Wendy’s stocking was stored away with the rest of the decorations.
April 25, 1986 was Wendy’s first birthday. The mind can play strange games with memory. I was seven months pregnant with Luke, and driving to choir practice one Tuesday evening. A thought drifted through my head that next week was the anniversary of Wendy’s birth and death.
Suddenly, literally like a board smashing into my brain, I had a physical realization. It wasn’t next week! It was this week—this day, in fact. Today was April 25th, and Wendy had been born exactly one year ago. My conscious mind forgot Wendy’s birthdate but my body had it recorded and now brought it to the surface. We’ve been created to be so much more complex than we tend to realize.
I had to pull to the side of the road to catch my breath. A few tears, and I was okay again.
That same week a special card came in the mail. Soft grey, with a pink rose embossed on the front, inside it read, “In memory of our baby, Wendy. From her Grandma, 1986”. My mother had remembered as well.
December 1986 found our new baby Luke beginning to crawl about, and Andrea, at three, a proud big sister. As I unpacked the decorations I found Wendy’s stocking. It was a special moment, made more special when, on Christmas Eve, Rick and I pulled out the memory messages and read them to each other.
This worked for us.
It’s important to remember, though, that what is meaningful for one, may not be for another. One friend offered our Christmas stocking story to a relative who had lost a loved one some weeks before.
The woman responded, “Was that supposed to be helpful? Because it wasn’t.”
I wondered, as I heard the woman’s response, if those who are grieving might be expected to see beyond themselves a little bit and at least appreciate the efforts of others who try to help. Sorrow isn’t a reason to discredit another’s good intentions. Such responses can result in alienating those who care from the one who mourns. How do friends continue to reach out when they’re afraid of making the person’s suffering worse?
There are no easy answers. Maybe some mourners just can’t move outside themselves to that extent. I do hope I didn’t unwittingly crush someone’s efforts to be supportive.
The next few anniversaries were sad, but unremarkable, until year five, and again year ten. I can’t explain why it is, but somehow our spirits seem to be linked to the five digits on our hands, and the earth’s cycle around the sun.
Gravity functioned from the beginning of time. It existed before it had a name, before it was identified, studied and measured, before it became a known and tangible force. In the same way, I believe we are influenced by other as yet unnamed aspects of our physical world.
First, fifth and tenth anniversaries are to be approached consciously, with planning. In the ensuing years, I’ve watched others who suffered such a loss. For them as well, years one, five and ten were especially difficult.
So much in this life remains a mystery.
“How many children do you have?”
How many children? How could I answer this question?
If I said, “Three”, they might ask for names, ages, and I’d have to tell Wendy’s story. If I said, “Two”, I felt disloyal, as though I was discounting our middle child.
I told a friend my struggle. A practical individual, she gave me a simple way to decide.
“What’s your relationship with the one who’s asking? If it’s someone who deserves to know about Wendy, then say three. If you’re not likely to get to know them, or you just don’t feel like telling them, then say two.”
I liked that, and it worked.