I read this poem recently and loved the imagery and sensory details, the full sense of spring and life and death.
This line stuck with me:
New life heals lost life
Does it? I could argue both ways.
I could tell you about how having a baby one year after my first baby died broke me open to joy again. Or how the everyday life things—diapers and feeding and soothing—took the place of life and death issues. How even as I continued to grieve deeply and fully and actively, I had to focus on life, the new little life that needed me.
I could tell you that now, almost eight years since I became a mother, seven and a half since I became a grieving one, that I am healed—and not.
Here’s the thing: there is great joy in my life. I love my girls fully and deeply. And I miss their brother. I wonder who he would have been. I wonder who I would have been as his mother if he were here. I’m not stuck in what would have been, but sometimes something within me is stuck. And then I break open again. Things move. Life happens.
New life heals lost life.
This line at another time would have filled me with anger. One life does not replace another. But new life does bring its own wonder and joy and energy. It doesn’t replace, but yes, maybe it heals.
This time of year is full of new life: the yellow spills down the forsythia bush, the hops and rhubarb expand daily, my garlic has turned from single small spikes to little green v’s. I water where I’ve laid down seeds and count the days until I cut spinach and lettuce for a salad. Its a time of growth. It’s a time of possibility and potential.
This time of year, I mark the growth—the violet plants greening my garden, the tulips swelling before bloom, the little girl who once chatted with me in the garden today a teenager, the baby I brought to story hour at the library in her car seat now walking there with her preschool class—and hold the potential of the seeds and once baby turned preschooler with time racing her toward teenager.
Late April, early May I am so aware of the potential around me and I remember the potential that was in me. Even having that potential cut short, I believe in life. I believe that the seeds I sow will sprout and grow. I believe that the baby turned preschooler will grow to be a teenager like the one I walked down the driveway to say happy birthday to this morning. I believe that they will keep going, keep growing.
This time of potential, this time of new life, this time of hope. It keeps coming, keeps growing, and I watch it unfold. I keep growing and hoping and opening to that potential.
New life heals lost life. What do you think?
They sorted through the bags looking for the tags, checking the numbers. This year they can read the numbers on our Advent calendar themselves.
22 . . . 19 . . . 18 . . .12 . . .9 . . . 11 . . . 8 . . . 6
Even before the book is out of the cloth bag, jolly with gingerbread men, they start exclaiming, the little one peering over the big one’s shoulder.
“Oh, I LOVE that book!”
“Me too! I luv it”
And then “Can we read it now?”
I sit on the couch and snuggle in on either side of me, a red head resting on one side, the a blond one on the other. I melt into that middle.
“On Christmas eve, many years ago,” I begin.
My big girl half shivers next to me, anticipating the rest of the story, and leans in a little closer. I smile and keep reading.
I heard the bell for many years, but then nothing. I worried that I’d never hear it again, that Christmas would be quiet and dim in our house.
Even though this month is still full of shadows, light has returned—the gentle glow of the Christmas tree, the warming light of the fire, the dancing excitement in my girls’ eyes.
They run around the house sometimes singing “Jingle Bells” and shaking the bracelets they made with tiny bells pipe cleaners. It’s a tinny sound, but in that enthusiasm, I can almost hear the richer, magical tones of that other bell.
When I’m done reading, we sit for a minute in the warmth and light and quiet before, I prompt them, “Time to get ready.”
The sky, and with it the room, has brightened. The bus will be here soon. In the bright kitchen, I stir oatmeal and call out to the girls to get dressed, but throughout the day there is that moment of peace and warm light and maybe a little magic.
Do you hear the bell at Christmas?
In the comments, share something that gives you comfort or joy this time of year.
Three kids went home sick from my daughter’s class yesterday. One threw up at school. I’m obsessively washing my hands, reminding the kids to wash theirs, and trying to remember not to eat scraps off their plate.
Still, this morning, my stomach felt off. I don’t know if I’m on the verge of something or if I’m just fearful of getting a stomach bug.
I’ve been thinking about fear and the trepidation with which I approach December every year, and wondering if some of that is just habit.
December pulls me hard between dark and light, joy and sorrow, birth and death. All year I hold these things together, but in December, the tension is strong.
Next week I will celebrate my older daughter’s birthday. A few days later, her little sister will blow out her own candles.
And on the 17th, we mark the day Henry died.
I still feel trepidation when this month rolls around. My body tenses as we move into December, wrapping tighter as we move closer to that day.I feel the pressure of birthdays and holidays on either side of Henry’s day. I feel that weight sinking in the center between them.
I have slowly reclaimed this month. I moved from having no tree to putting up a mini tree to telling my girls the stories of the ornaments as we hang them together on a big tree. I’ve slowly reintroduced traditions like baking cookies and making ornaments. I’ve added new traditions like our Christmas story advent calendar.
Along the way, I’ve found light again and joy. My girls have helped a lot with that, their enthusiasm and excitement lighting my way. I want to follow their light, bask in it’s glow.
I want to let go of the trepidation this month brings.The weight, the darkness, the sorrow may come—surely will—but I don’t want to give it extra time.
The past few Decembers have been about building—adding in traditions and celebrations. This year, I want to start to let go of anxiety and anticipation, so even more light can come in.
What can you let go of this December? What can you make room for?
Maybe you’ll let go of a tradition you never liked or an event you grumble about every year to make room for a new tradition that brings you peace or joy.
Maybe you’ll let go of getting “perfect” gift and enjoy spending time with loved ones instead.
Maybe you’ll cull your Christmas card list and write a note to a few friends.
Maybe you’ll throw out the to do list and sit by the fire and sip your eggnog.
Not sure? Try journaling about what you love most about the holidays.
Whatever you do, I hope you find more joy and peace and light in this season.
Share in the comments what you want to make room for this month and one thing you can let go of to get there.
The summer after my son died, I got a massage. I was naked on the table ready to begin and Courtney asked me to do a brief visualization before we got started.
“Imagine all your fears and worries and sadness are a bunch of balloons. Put the balloons outside the door. Tie them up. They’ll be right there when you come out, but leave them out there for now.”
I began to cry lightly. I’m not sure why. Was I afraid to let go of the fears and sadness? Was I relieved to put them down for a while? Did it feel that strange to even try to leave them briefly?
I knew grief was a long, convoluted process, but it took me a while to learn that letting go is a multi-step process too.
I let go of my expectations.
I let go of Henry’s spirit and then his body.
I let go of stuff he used and stuff he never did.
I let of the need to remind people that I’m sad and hurting.
And I learned that sometimes letting go is really just loosening your grip a little.
When Courtney is done with the massage, I moved slowly. I felt lighter and looser, but drained. And when we stepped out the door, she was right, my fears and sorrows were right there waiting for me.
I thought how good it would feel to take them outside and let go of the string, watch them float up into the sky away from me. Hard to imagine they float at all. But I held tight to the string, not ready to loosen my grasp, somehow reluctant to release the anxiety fully, afraid of losing the joy and the love that might be tangled up in it.
Since that day, I’ve loosened my grasp, let go of more, found that what I want to hold onto isn’t so easily lost. Still, I see those balloons hovering ahead of me in the darkness of mid-December and I wonder what else I can let go of.
What have you let go of? What would you like to let go of? What stops you?
Like my son Henry, Empty Arms was born in May 2007. Since then Carol McMurrich has expanded the reach and offerings of Empty Arms Bereavement Services. I am so grateful for this organization and Carol’s friendship.
This November, the group’s blog features stories from community members. I believe that telling our stories can help us heal—and can help others too. Certainly the stories of other parents whose baby had died helped me get through the early years of my grief.
Today, I’m sharing a piece of my story—one about an opening somebody made for me to tell about my baby.
What story do you need to tell?