Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Five Years

Today, five years ago. I sat in my living room, trying to eat some lunch my friend kindly made me, waiting for 6 p.m., waiting to return to the hospital I'd only just left, to deliver my first son. Preparing--as if you could ever prepare--to come home without him.

The poem below doesn't relate to stillborn babies, but the last line slides through my mind from time to time, as it has done for the last 15 years or so, since I first heard of (and briefly met), the poet, Seamus Heaney. He's Irish and has a way with words I envy. This poem gripped me the first time I read it, wrapped a hand around my heart and squeezed. I couldn't imagine, then, the loss of which it spoke.

Last night, before sleep, I thought of a friend of mine, E., dead for nearly 18 years now, whose youngest son was killed at the age of 16 in a car accident, in the week between Christmas and New Year. His name was Thomas, which was--is--Ben's middle name. I had a crush on Tommy, harbored secret dreams of marrying him when we grew up. People have pointed out to me that maybe that first angel, Tommy, led me to give my own angel, Ben, his second name. I don't know. But the timing...of their deaths, and those memories. I don't know. But last night, I thought of his mother, who I loved dearly, and pictured me, now, going back through the years to her, hugging her, both of us crying, and telling her, "Now. Now I understand."

I'm rambling, I know, full of thoughts I can't complete. Today, I remember, like every day. And long for what I'll never have.

Watch out for the poem's last line - I think it will grab your heart, too, and clench it with a mighty fist.

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close,
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

--Seamus Heaney


Katey Coffing, Ph.D. said...

*HUGS* Thinking about you, m'dear.

And yes, that last line does pack a hell of a punch.

c. said...

Gosh, Virginia, to think I have a lifetime of anniversaries ahead of me. I think I've bought into the belief that there is an end to this heartache, an end to the longing and wanting and hurting. And yet, I read blogs of women such as you who are a bit farther along in the journey and I see that there is no end. There will never be an end to this. We will always be broken, even if we manage to get fixed.

I'm sorry that you are marking yet another anniversary. I'm sorry Ben is not here. XO.

Monica H said...

Thinking of you and Ben and wishing he were here. I'm so sorry this is the kind of anniversary you have to remember.

Debbie said...

Thinking of you & Ben, Virginia.

The last line really does grab your heart, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing that poem.

jaded said...

i'm so sorry.
I was just thinking last night...where will be with my grief in 5 years? and you've just answered it. I hope never to forget my daughters, but at the same time i hope to have living children to put my arms around...