Enough Love For the Moment

My words have been failing me lately. I haven’t been giving voice to the complexity of this experience of living after child loss. The world is pretending that nothing ever happened, and some days it’s easier to play along than to stare reality in the face. The weight of my grief is too heavy to carry with me daily in its entirety. Fully feeling it leaves me incapacitated, and I have to function. Carrying on isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. I can tell you that it’s hard. I’ll spare you the details for now.

I visit him weekly, his physical body I mean, in the cemetery where we buried him three days after his spirit flew away. Did I tell you that his daddy carried his little casket from the family visitation room to the van, and from the van to the gravesite, by himself? No other pallbearers, just the father that had stood guard at his bedside in the NICU while his momma was recovering from the physical process of delivering him. I had carried him for 37 weeks and 2 days, had brought him with me to work, to the dance studio, to the beach, on camping trips, out on a lake, above the clouds on airplanes, through the woods and over creek beds, to concerts, to his brothers’ school and sports events, so many places. But for these last few steps, from the curb, over the grass to the spot behind the tree that would shade him and filter the light of the stars gently down to his resting eyes at night, the physical weight of him was borne by my husband. The emotional weight will forever belong to all of us.

I bring him flowers. He always has flowers on his grave, and since his passing, since that week when our house was filled with enough flowers sent by friends and family to fill a funeral home, I’ve always kept fresh flowers in our house. They sit right by the door where we enter and exit our home, a reminder that although he isn’t physically alive and in our arms, his spirit and love live on, and we can carry it with us and let it inform our interactions with each other and with everyone we encounter. We have known pure love. We have known the pain of loss. We have no idea what someone else may be suffering through. We can choose to be kind and to offer empathy. He can live on through us.

Today I bought a dozen red roses with the intention of sprinkling the petals on his grave. I bought several other bunches of flowers to arrange into bouquets for him and for our home. The total came to over $50. Roses don’t usually cost that much at Kroger but it’s almost Valentine’s Day so they are marked up. I bought them anyway. Today was the day I’d planned to decorate his spot, and roses were part of the plan. When you’ve lost a baby, what’s an extra $10?

The cashier commented that I looked like I had some flower arranging ahead of me, and asked what all of the flowers were for. “Mostly for the cemetery,” I answered honestly. This is my new reality. It’s sad, yes, but I’d rather try and make something beautiful out of it that be ashamed or hide it for someone else’s comfort. She quickly said “oh,” her smile disappeared, her eyes dropped and she busied herself grabbing my receipt. I kept my head up, smiled at her and said “yes, well, I keep some at home too.” My eyes said, “it’s ok to talk about this. We all bury someone we love, if we love in this life.” I thanked her, smiled again, gathered my bundle of pink and red and headed home to do my arranging, considering what may have gone through her head when I said that I was taking this expensive, delicate collection to the great, bitterly cold outdoors instead of to my dining room table to be enjoyed by dinner guests safe within my warm home.

The basket of blooming flowers probably seemed like a ridiculous thing to be taking to the cemetery on a freezing February morning. Ice coats every branch above his grave. In a day, all of the flowers will be dead and wilted, frozen to death even as some are at their peak bloom, and others haven’t even fully opened yet. Is it wasteful to spend money on something that will only be seen by myself and the few other parents or walkers who will pass by the infant section of Spring Grove, and be seen for only a moment before we return to the rest of our lives? Is it pointless to invest my time, money and energy in creating this sweet little scene for a baby who stopped breathing almost 18 months ago?

Is it foolish to pour out love on something that won’t last? On someone that won’t last? Was it too much to go through, the damage too lasting and far-reaching, to justify having and loving him earthside for only a few hours? Was the cost to my family, my marriage, my other children, too great? Would it have been better if this hadn’t happened, if Gavin hadn’t happened? Would I have continued living in the safe space above the knowledge that I now possess of just how deep the pit can be? Have we lost time that we can never get back, way more time than we actually had with him here in our arms, time spent waiting while Mom grieves and drowns and struggles to want to still be alive? Could all of this pain have been avoided?

The flowers won’t last, but they are beautiful for the moment, and they are a feeble attempt to tangibly display my love for my child. As I drop petals on the earth that covers his body, I feel the intensity of my love for all of my boys burn through the frozen parts of my heart and soak them with the fuel that will give me the strength and purpose that I’ll need to leave this place and continue to seek joy and give the best of myself to a world desperately in need of compassion, hope, and love. The flowers will die, indeed begin to die the moment they are cut from the earth, but my love for this little boy will not fade.

We all die. We are all born with a fatal condition called being human, and we all carry a terminal diagnosis of mortality. We don’t like to think about it, but none of us will escape this fate. While we are here, we live and love as fully as we can. So if it’s foolish to spread rose petals on my son’s grave, let me be foolish. Let me love the love of a fool willing to invest everything in someone fragile and destined to begin wilting the moment he was brought out into the world, but who holds within himself the ability to inspire in me a love so pure that I’d go through hell to have the chance to touch him. He was worth it.

And when these flowers have died, I will bring new ones. However foolish, I will continue to pour love into this little soul, and to others like him, other imperfect, fragile souls, because of what his life has grown in me.

As I drive away, leaving the little petal-strewn plot containing the sweetest little boy to have ever lived for only 6 hours behind in my rear-view mirror and reenter a world that desperately needs the kind of love that I gave Gavin, I know it was worth it. The willingness that exists in so many other families like mine, willingness to bring forth something fragile but beautiful and precious, however irrational, is evidence that great love still exists. And maybe it’s true that small things done with great love really can change the world.

This is how we win: not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.”

Rose, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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