A week ago Sunday, as I was making black raspberry cobbler for your 12th birthday, I realized something. I thought back to the day of your birth, and your first and second birthdays, and how impossible it felt to “celebrate” the day back then. I could not conceive of making cake or blowing up balloons or decorating in any way.
This time, came upon me that I could – almost, kind of, a little bit – celebrate you this year. Also that maybe I should.
That evening, I took a long walk. It was a perfect summer moment; golden light, mild air, bright flowers. I thought about you and what I can celebrate about your life. My mind automatically went to gratitude, which I guess is the form of celebration that takes place more in our souls and less in our kitchens and backyards. For me, gratitude is easy to access. On your birthday, I’m going to call it celebration.
As I’ve been reading some of my blog posts from the earlier days, I came upon this comment from ten years ago, from your Auntie Beth:
“My wish for you is that one day your memories of him will just pop out sometimes when you see joyous, lemony beams of sunlight, the not too hot ones, ones that don’t stick or make you grumpy… the kind that make you feel happy and close to your angel, and glad for the time you got to spend carrying him. I know it’s important to have twilighty, weepy, sink-into-it times. I know. But I want to believe that, even though what happened was unbearable at the time, one day, the right way to honour this little family member’s memory will be with a smile. I bet it seems not very possible. But babies always deserve smiles from their parents, don’t they?”
She’s right. You do deserve smiles.
Here are some things I can celebrate:
* You, a being who is only and always love. Of course there is grief that the love couldn’t be based on actual knowledge of you – the pride and wonder and revelations that go with having a live baby. But I think it’s also a gift to experience love, undiluted, all by itself.
*The fact that the brevity of your sweet life was a blacklight, proving to us the luminous caring of our friends and family. The darkness defines where the light is.
*The vibrancy of the lives of your siblings, and the enormous thankfulness I feel for them, since their mortality is always real to me. Mostly, I manage not to fixate on the fragility of life… But it helps me treat their foibles a bit more fondly, and love their uniqueness fiercely.
*All the ways in which I still experience you. As Auntie Beth hoped, I do feel you in nature – in gorgeous summer skies, in tiny wild creatures found unexpectedly, in the juicy scent of berries. There are dreams I have where you are there, in our family. That clear sign was a source of deep-down solace. And sometimes, when I sit in a certain position, I can still feel the tender spot where your head pressed into the side of my abdomen for so long. (Sorry about all the times I pushed on you in my belly, trying to convince you to move.) It makes me smile to think of your stubborn sideways attitude.
*A most quiet and innocent introduction to true grief. Profound sadness that had no anger, blame, horror, or bitterness. I understand a lot more about sorrow than I did before you. Now, with my twelve years of perspective, I can see that this understanding has made life richer, and better equipped me for many things. I am still afraid of the next deep grief I will experience, but at least I’ve trod one mourning path, and might recognize some landmarks next time.
*The way that you are like a little burrow into my self. It’s well-disguised, and only we know for sure how to get in, but it is a direct passage to the most tender part of me. Sometimes people leave things at the entrance to this place, like our dear friend E, who gave us fresh berries from her garden for you (and us). Once in a while, someone will chance upon this place, like when my dance teacher unexpectedly acknowledged you and your little-but-big heart, at a conversational moment when I assumed only your mama was thinking of you.
When those moments happen and that burrow is breached by someone who cares, or when I decide to make the journey in on my own, for a few moments everything is open. All my soft, teary humanity is right on the surface for a while, and it allows me to see more beauty than usual, to accept love more readily, and to give compassion the most freely. That’s a really special gift to celebrate.
I need to start sharing you a bit more with your siblings. I’ve been so protective of that burrow, and also of my living kids’ feelings, but I can see that I shouldn’t be keeping this to myself.
The other day, AB had a friend over who saw the plaque we made for you. This friend asked, “Who’s Sebastian?” I heard AB pause as she tried to explain without awkwardness (which, if it’s tricky for me, must be extra difficult for her). After a few beats, she replied, “Just my mom’s miscarriage.”
I suddenly realized that I have not equipped her to feel her own feelings about you, or think about how she relates to you or how she would like to speak about you, if she does. I don’t even know whether she has a full understanding of what happened to us. Maybe neither of your siblings does. It’s time for me to talk about our experience together with your brother and sister, so that they can have access to the gifts you might have for them.
I hope you had a beautiful heavenly birthday, sweet boy. It’s now been 4,388 days since I held you for the only time, but I still remember how you felt in my arms. That’s cause for a little bit of celebration too.