I’ve mentioned here before a family for whom I used to babysit, and from whom I have since become estranged. They’ve been occupying a lot of space in my mind and heart this week, and that space has weighed heavily because it has brought to light connection with more recent events… I’ve mentioned before their daughters, Deona and Gem (previously referred to as the Pigchild). But there was a third daughter, Cara, for whose birth I was so excited because I loved babies and this time I would be old enough to be trusted with her as an infant. I loved the family of which she was a member, so of course I loved her from the moment I knew she was coming.
But she came and went in the same breath in the middle of an early August night. I was fourteen years old. I knew about miscarriages but not about stillbirths, at least not as anything other than a general concept. When my mom told me that Matria was in the hospital, I thought the baby was just early, she told me that Cara had died before she was born. Very little else was said about it. There was a grieving period that, to me, seemed very short. 18 months later, my sparkling Gem (who would in a few short years become the Pigchild, but she seems to have outgrown the moniker and has now circled back to being Gem) was born.
I remember being angry that no one talked about Cara, especially once Gem came along. Gem was wonderful, and I was trusted even more with her, being 16 rather than 14 at her birth. I would sometimes wonder what it would have been like with Cara (as Gem and Deona could not have ben more different), and I couldn’t understand how her life, albeit short, could just be swept away as irrelevant or inconsequential. What is more likely is that I was 14 and lived an hour away, and the grieving just happened when I wasn’t there, and that if there were conversations, they didn’t include me becasue I was a kid. My parents never talked about it with me either. So in my head, my grief for Cara was my own and wasn’t something to be talked about because everyone else had moved on. It wasn’t constant, but it was there. And to be honest, given another focus, I thought about her less and less, until there was only the occasional thought flitting across my mind, especially once I severed the ties with her family.
Fast forward nearly twenty years. A woman I was just beginning to know online lost her son in similar manner. I felt terrible for her, said if there was anything I could do, to let me know- although really, is there anything you can to at a time like that? If there had been I would have done it gladly. She spoke a lot about it on her blog- of her grief, of her hope, of how supportive people have been, of how his tiny life has managed to touch so many. And, to be perfectly honest, after a little while, it bugged me. “Enough already”, I said to myself. “Aren’t we done with this yet?”, I asked no one but the air in the room. (I would never, ever have said this to her at the time) This woman is now well on her way to becoming a dear friend, and I have guilt that I felt the way I did. I almost feel like I owe her an apology, even though she had no idea I felt that way. Because if I’ve learned anything in the last few days, it’s that this isn’t something you get over. It’s something you learn to live with perhaps, but it doesn’t go away. And how selfish was I to want to control someone else’s grief because it was affecting me? Holy crap it’s a wonder I have any friends at all.
It has become more clear to me in the past few days, I think, why I reacted the way I did to my online friend. It is because the only frame of reference I have for something like this is through the memories of a fourteen year old girl. It went away then, it should go away now. I think I wanted it to go away for her the way it seemed to with Cara because I liked her, and because I cannot fathom that level of pain, so I wanted it closed off so it didn’t hurt her anymore. But I’m not fourteen. I am an adult, and I have to see the world as an adult and not as a child, and know that it doesn’t work that way.
I have also learned that Cara was never forgotten, in fact she was about the farthest thing from forgotten that there is. I discovered that her father writes a post to his blog every year at her birthday (and to an online bulletin board in the years before blogs)- this past Monday would have been her 18th. Her mother wears a pin every day, of the rose that is Cara’s symbol. Also I have discovered through her own words that Deona, having been only five at the time, was still irrevocably changed. The baby sister she waited and hoped for was lost, and the one she got two years later was not the same, could never be the same. I knew Deona almost like she was my own child and I never knew that she even really had a concept of what was lost when Cara died. They all still miss her almost daily, and it’s been 18 years.
I’ve seen people mention how my friend’s little boy has touched them, or how his little spirit has helped them, but other than the thought that every life is precious and that his was taken too soon, I just wasn’t affected in that way, and I felt almost guilty about that. But maybe this new understanding, this small bit of mental healing that I needed, is the gift he has given me, and I just needed some time before I could gain the perspective.
(P.S. I mentioned that Cara’s symbol is a rose. My friend’s son’s is a butterfly. When I left work, right after I emailed this to his mom, there was a butterfly sitting on my antenna ball, and it didn’t get scared away when I burst into tears…)