My nephew was fourteen months old when he died in January. He was born with global brain damage, and though brief, his life touched us all in ways we could never have imagined. It feels strange now that he’s not here, a dream almost. These are the words I read at his memorial on February 7th 2020:
I consider it a great honor to have been the first responder after Ashley and Jack’s experience two weeks ago. With the two brothers (our husbands) at sea in an ancient and archetypal kind of togetherness, unable to return, forced to ponder the expanse of the horizon while the unthinkable was happening back at home, it was very powerful to be show up at Ashley’s side at 1pm on the 25th of January 2020.
We were two mothers alongside five year old Julius and four year old Willow, navigating the landscape of this ephemeral, mysterious, but so very real portal at the end of a life, together.
We were a mother bathing a baby, who had recently taken his last breath in the comfort of the arms and home he knew and loved. We were a mother comforting a daughter and a mother comforting a son. We were a mother driving to the supermarket to pick up as many flowers as we could manage, and arranging them just so around Jack’s so very still and peaceful body.
We were mother’s making snacks, answering questions, making phone calls and doing the dishes. We were mothers and we are mothers. Standing brave and square at the edge of a doorway as we said goodbye to our kin.
The honor that it is to have been able to stand in service to you, my dear sister Ashley, both after your birth, bringing an endless supply of turmeric porridge to the NICU, and during this similar portal, has been one of the great privileges of my life. To stand in the vulnerability of this very real moment together and provide strength, calm and a sense of clarity, made that afternoon, it seemed, somehow a very heartfelt and peaceful one as we did the most difficult thing a mother could ever do.
I have witnessed other women say hello and then goodbye to their babies, and what I have learned from their grief if this. It is holy. It is a holy kind of opening in the fabric of existence – a reminder that what we take so much for granted can change in an instant. That these beings who were with us for but a flicker in time are in fact more ancient than we know. They had brief lives, but they are bigger than those lives now.
They come to teach us, to clear us, to excavate the solid matter in our hearts, minds and spirits and to make us pliable and strong, heart fueled and heart felt, after heart broken.
In the weeks since, I am absolutely astonished at the miracle that life is. I raise my hand and cannot believe that I can do that, and even that I have a hand. That I have a voice, that my brain can think thoughts and express a soul with language Jack’s life showed me how much of a gift existence really is, and also, the gift that death is, too. That we must take nothing – NOTHING – for granted, and use our God given grace with unyielding precision in service of the highest good.
Here is a poem I wrote in the days after Jack’s birth.
On the other side of life
is a door so finite
the angels cannot
walk through it.
You are sewn into
the earth by the
thread of your breath,
and when it unravels
As long as you are living,
choose this life.
Every second is a gift,
precious and irretrievable
as ash that scatters on water.
So tell me this – you angels
still living. What will you miss
at the end of this rift?
And what from the silt
will you sift?