Monthly Archives: September 2016

Stillbirth: Five Months On

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“It’s been a hundred years.

It’s been five minutes.”

That’s what my sixteen year-old said,

sitting at the table yesterday.

Her sister in New York.

(The baby’s ashes in New York.)

I can, without crying, answer

a well-meaning casual friend

who asks about the baby,

“She died.”

 

I just cannot

Stop the wishing

And the wanting.

 

Five minutes.

A hundred years.

 

Of wanting. And wishing.

 

And loss.

 

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Stillness, Knowing–and All These Rocks

14315864_10209432109412388_292133508_oWhen I was a young girl who just wanted to sit and read library books in air conditioned peace, I was forced to go to summer YMCA camp with my younger brother at Laura S. Walker State Park. Nothing there was air conditioned, and no one there was nice. There was a counselor named Rudy who continually folded his eyelids up; I believed the director hated me (I now realize he just wanted A/C); and I had to dress like an Indian and sit on a log, wearing a pillowcase outfit atop my other clothes in the stifling heat. Finally, one day, I drank too much Orange Fanta, threw up like I was a star in the movie The Sandlot, and got sent home forever.

The only bright spot at Laura S. Walker was the spillway: at the time, it was ungated, just a partial green bridge, and we would sneak away from the adults to go stand atop it, the sharp green metal pressing into our feet as we watched the water surge below. (For reasons I still don’t understand, water went under the bridge to a foamy pit on the opposite side of the road.) Sometimes, we would throw sticks and pennies in, but mostly we just delighted in the crashing cacophony. There was chaos beneath us, a frothy mess on the other side of the street, and at eye level, there was a calm lake–placid and beautiful.

As a child, I was far more fascinated by the loud and the messy, but now I long for the calm. I want order; I want things neat and predictable. Instead, I feel like my life is a game of Whack-a-Mole 2.0: Whack-a-Crisis.

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Greg is facing eye surgery on each of the next two Wednesdays. He has cataracts that were caused by the bone marrow transplant’s chemotherapy and radiation regimen; he can no longer read a magazine in a well-lit room or recognize people at a distance.  For him, it is time.

For me, it assuredly not

Years ago, I stood in on his bronchoscopy and then, later, his endoscopy–transfixed byhis pearlescent lungs, the crystalline video imagery. I could’ve stood there all day, chatting with the doctors about GVHD and peering at the screens. Then, Greg’s health was worse, and the outcomes more consequential, but I was calm.

I wish I were now. I haven’t gone with him to any of his doctor’s appointments or even generated a list of questions to ask. I have hidden the kit containing the plastic eye shield and the array of eyedrops. I don’t want to look at it or think about it. Although my rational brain knows that this is a routine outpatient procedure, the rest of my brain would like to never see a hospital again. (Of course, this is a sentiment he echoes.)

But we don’t get to pick and choose–I’ll take the life-saving procedure, but none of the ill side effects; I’ll take the joys and leave out the sorrows. This is no revelation. Any cliche–lemons and lemonade, babies and bathwater, life and chocolates–they all work. We all know this.

What is amazing, though, is how much one person can change, and how quickly, when that one person is you. When after a lifetime of overcoming with God’s grace, your rebuilding talents and reframing initiative both suddenly vanish.  Having survived another shipwreck, you are just ready to sit on the rocks a while.

I’m not going to talk to the surgeon. I’m going to sit on these rocks.

I’m not going to read about cataract removal. Not at all. I’m going to rest on these rocks.

I’m not going to fret or worry or even care much. I am going to sit right here on these rocks.

After all these years, all the striving and the fixing, I am finally at a place where the broken, jagged, awful rocks are actually a place of rest. Not because I want to sit there. Not because they are comfortable.

It’s simple: resting is all I can do.

Our pounded minds feel that is wrong, that we have given up in some way, that failure is ours when all we can do is rest. We live in a “do more, be more, all things” world. We live there–meaning daily, constantly. It’s where we are–a MOVE world.

And you never think that a time will come when you cannot move. When your will is gone. When stasis envelops you for a surprisingly long while. When be still and know that I am God becomes your de facto setting.

I believed stillness and knowing was a special level of Christianity gained after  enlightenment; I didn’t imagine it was attained when your reality became this:  I can do nothing but be still, and I know no certainty but that You are God. 


Yesterday, in Little Wal-Mart, babies were everywhere. One was standing in his shopping cart, his tank-top circled with drool, looking sleepily at us like a small, peaceful cow. One clever girl, almost too tiny to walk, showed us her nose and ears when prompted. There was another, newer baby watching us over his grandfather’s shoulder–alert and tiny, taking in the new world.
His grandfather and I spoke, and I touched the baby without asking, put my finger on his tiny, pale leg, looked into those blue eyes. He was almost exactly the age Stephanie Grace would be, had she lived.
It wasn’t unbearable.
We shed tears, though, Abby and I as we left the store. And in the car later, she said, “With everything else that has happened to me, I have been able to see the good or the potential for good. There is no good in this. No one knows what to say; to them it’s a tragedy; to us it’s a baby. We should have a baby.”
We should. We don’t.
But at least we have rocks upon which we can sit and breathe.
To sit–for a long while, still–and knowing.
And so grateful: for all these rocks.