Category Archives: Book Review

Bearing the Unbearable

I have two friends whose children died today. Terry’s daughter Holly died on November 27 of cystic fibrosis. Miko’s son Josh was killed in a car wreck that same day in another year. These deaths were many years ago, yet my friends still grieve their children. Dear Reader, do you still miss your loved ones who are gone from this life? Do you cry alone because people want you to be over your losses? Please don’t. Please don’t hide your love. Let’s give each other permission to grieve and love and cry and laugh, because we are living, and our love keeps growing.

Last week I sat in church next to a young woman Corrina whose father Timothy passed away suddenly. What do those of us who know deep suffering do when we are in the face of death and sadness? I hugged Corrina and wept into her shoulder as she cried on mine. I never met her father, who is a veteran. I don’t know Corrina well. Yet.

I told Corrina about Joanne Cacciatore’s book Bearing the Unbearable. It is such an important book because it gives us permission to grieve. Cacciatore, who is a therapist, writes this book 25 years after her baby died. She shares stories of many who need to grieve, but don’t know how to do so in our anti-death culture. Some of her clients initially went to her for therapy to “get over” the grief of a loved one. Thankfully, Cacciatore corrects this expectation of popular culture in her much-needed book.

Cacciatore tells us

When others call into question our grief, defy our perennial relationship with those we love who have died, treat us as anathema and avoid us, and push us toward healing before we are ready, they simply redouble our burden.

It almost seems that the only way to eradicate our grief would be to relinquish the love that we feel–to disassemble our loved one’s place in our lives. But checking in with the wisdom of our heart, we see that is impossible.

Grief and love occur in tandem (12).

I have been shunned because my newborn died. I know that I remind women that their children can die. But I walk the truth of my life. When people ask me how many children I have, I always mention my living son and my daughter, Mary Rose, who lived one hour. People are uncomfortable, but why? Why exactly do we fear and ignore the very death that awaits each of our bodies?

After her own newborn daughter Cheyenne’s death Cacciatore says “I didn’t know how to cope in a world that would acknowledge neither my grief nor my love for my daughter (40).” Acknowledgement is so important to each of us on our grief journey. Grief does change over time. However, it does not magically go away one day. This summer was the four-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and death, and I was surprised at how much I grieved and cried and hid in my garden.

Cacciatore boldly writes

We have earned this grief, paying for it with love and steadfast devotion. We own this pain, even on days when we wish it weren’t so. We needn’t give it away or allow anything, or anyone, to pilfer it.

Through the grief and the love we can hold our heads high –even in tears, even shattered.

What’s ours is ours–and rightfully (31).

I cried when I read this passage. Of course I still grieve my daughter and my aunt and my friend and so many others who have passed away. These words of acknowledgement of the life of grief can heal many of us who teeter around socially in a world that prefers not to hear us speak our beloveds’ names. And grief can be a holy path. It unites us to each other. It allows us to comfort each other and share our love. Grief can be a path of salvation and purpose when it is transmuted into light and love.

I offer these words to my friends Terry and Miko on a difficult anniversary day. I give them to Corrina who is about to bury her beloved father. You are not alone. You are loved. And may the memory of Holly, Josh and Timothy be eternal!

Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go by Amy Wright Glenn

When Amy Wright Glenn asked me to endorse her new book Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go, I agreed readily. Amy works as a doula and a chaplain, and though we might think that these two vocations are different, in fact they both await the breath. The first breath. The last breath.  Amy founded the Institute of Birth Breath and Death, and I am honored to be a member. This month Amy is offering 10 discounted spots on her advanced training on holding space for pregnancy loss. She has asked me to join her in an interview on April 11th to discuss the reality of the path we walk when we experience miscarriage and infant loss.

Amy’s book is a beautiful compilation of gentle, soulful stories of her clients and work, including her own early miscarriages and reflections of her upbringing and spiritual practices. This book is a resource offering care practices for pregnancy loss support as well. Amy writes “We can still be compassionately and mindfully present to what is, even if ‘what is’ is something that we would never wish to know. It is often terribly difficult to be open to grief and the transformation it ushers forth. However, in the process of acknowledging, integrating and honoring our losses, we may discover that we are grateful for the grief that reconfigures our very being” (53).

I am still surprised by the intensity of grief as I walk through the fourth year without my daughter. To say that it has reconfigured my life is an understatement. If, through trainings and books and education, we can soften the way our culture addresses death (or ignores it) especially when it is the death of the very young, then we can create stronger support systems to grieve and find joy together.

Amy Wright Glenn is offering ten spots in her advanced training on holding space for pregnancy loss this April at a fee of only $50 from $125. She is interviewing me on April 11th at 7 PM Eastern Time and a recording will be available to participants. Please contact Amy and mention this blog post for the discounted fee. The link for training is here:

http://www.birthbreathanddeath.com/advanced-5-hour-training-holding-space-for-pregnancy-loss/

I have also been invited to join Lynda Cheldelin Fell of Grief Diaries on Facebook Live on May 14th, 6 PM Seattle time.

On June 10th, I will be speaking with Mary Rose’s midwife at a midwifery conference here in Colorado. https://www.midwiferyclassroom.com/2018-winter-park-midwifery-conferen

Please share Amy’s book with those who can use her insight and support, and thank you for continuing to read my blog.

Life’s Little Equations, in memory of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

On March 13, 2017 the beloved writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal died. I don’t know how many times we have read Little Pea, Little Oink, Cookies: Bite Sized Life Lessons, and her many other books that lift us up and help us be better people. You can watch Amy’s videos and see how delighted she was with this world on her website. Amy shines, and in doing small acts with great kindness she teaches us that we can light this world up too. I love the image of the tree where she hung one dollar bills and waited to see who found them. She left notes on ATM machines, according to one article. Her book for grown-ups, Textbook, is an interactive book where I texted her number and received a few different gifts. My most favorite was music for her closing pages. Through that book’s interactive feature I met two of her readers who live in different parts of the country. Her life and actions brought people together, and still do.

After I heard that Amy was dying through her viral Modern Love essay published earlier this month, I requested her books from the library again. It’s been an Amy Krouse Rosenthal festival in our house. I told my five-year old son that this writer was dying. We talked about why her books are so good. We talked about death. We talked about how people can make this planet a better place through their work, especially in community.

On the night that Amy died, my son and I were snuggled in his bed reading this plus that: Life’s Little Equations and her poetry book, The Wonder Book. I wonder if Amy can see all the people who are reading her books tonight, I whispered to my smiling son.

In this plus that she offers us some life equations:

yes + no = maybe

somersaults + somersaults + somersaults = dizzy

anything + sprinkles = better

chores + everyone = family

cozy + smell of pancakes – alarm clock = weekend

 

I recently learned of two stillbirths, both first children. People tell me these stories because they know that I understand pregnancy and infant loss. I offer a copy of my book. I pray. I hope that these families will be okay in the aftermath of their great grief. I write about grief and love and life more since my newborn daughter died, but grief was always there. Amy’s equations have me thinking. Could life be likened to a big pot of soup? If love is broth, what flavor is loss? Sausage or onion? Every life equation includes loss, but after great grief and loss, we can live and love more. Amy loved the word more. Who doesn’t appreciate the living more after one of our beloveds dies? Who doesn’t hold her breath, then breathe in the sweat and smell and noise and texture of the child who lives?

I’m writing my own equations these days:

love + loss + more love = grief

grief + sunlight through trees = joy

5 minutes of rain + first green grass in high desert = spring

breathing + holding hands + missing you every day = my life.

What is your equation? What makes your heart sing?

I leave you with one more equation from Amy’s picture book.

(every star in the sky + the sun + the moon) x my heart = love you to the infinite power.

 

The Art of Grieving

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When I came across the grief workbook co-created by Mary Burgess and Shiloh Sophia McCloud called Mending Invisible Wings: Healing From the Loss of Your Baby (MIW), it became an important part of my initial grief processing during the postpartum period after my newborn daughter died of trisomy 18. Burgess and McCloud put together this book in order to create a way for others to cope with miscarriage and infant loss. MIW is beautiful from the cover image to the thick, blank pages inviting us to become artists and writers in our grief. The exercises include writing and drawing prompts, rituals, meditation, affirmation, breathing exercises and guided visualizations.

I created paintings and drawings, (one of which became the cover for my book), and wrote about specific aspects of my experience that were helpful. I wrote about the birth scene, my feelings during the pregnancy knowing that my baby would die and, through the exercises some beauty was created from my pain and grief. The exercises gave me the space to acknowledge my journey, while processing my experience.

MIW’s exercises gave me different lenses with which to view my experience with Mary Rose. I didn’t think that I could survive my pregnancy, but I did. I recommend the process of these exercises, but you don’t have to buy the book and go through it step by step (though a link to the book is in the Resources page of my blog). You can also create your own exercises to remember and process your experience.

Suggested Exercises and Tools to Heal Grief

Journal Writing: Get a blank notebook or journal. I like books with no lines so that I can sketch and write. You can decorate the cover of the book with stickers, ribbons, buttons, magazine photos or your own pictures. Record your feelings of grief periodically or daily. I often wrote a few lines, or drew an angel with a heart in her center.

Poetry or Creative Nonfiction: Take a poem that you love and find a line that resonates with you. You can use Jane Kenyon’s poem “Let Evening Come.” Use the same title and write your own poem. Another way to write through grief is to start a longer nonfiction essay by writing separate sections. Brenda Miller’s essays are good examples. You can write about the moment of diagnosis in one section, or the shock of the death in another. Write about the funeral or memorial service, or how there was none. You can build a much longer work through fragments and reflections.

Painting: Get a blank sketch book with thicker paper so that you can use watercolors, if you choose. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Think about your baby and your pregnancy. Think about your womb and your breasts. What images come up? Draw them. Paint them. Write about them. Create a mixed media work and dialogue with your body and your broken heart.

Collage: I made a collage of the sympathy cards that I received on a memory box for my daughter’s few belongings. However, a collage can be a poster, a canvas, a journal. I cut up cards, used color copies of artwork of Mother Mary, cloth butterflies and flowers, stickers and acrylic paint.

Yoga and Meditation Music: The yoga stretches accompanied by meditation music such as Wah!’s music allow the breath to change the moment. A yoga practice can be very helpful in the intensity of grief.

Dance and Movement: Belly dancing or other movement through classes offered in your community can be very beneficial. Getting back into the body after the trauma of miscarriage or infant death and postpartum hormones is a good way to heal the trauma. Yoga, belly dance, walking meditation and walking by a lake weekly. The repetition of the movement, the moments away from the daily routine and the actual physical work help us to reset our thought process.

Drumming: The rhythm of a drumbeat can be a very soothing meditation that can lead to healing. In many cultures the drum is used to transcend the reality of this realm and help the suffering person work towards healing. The drumbeat sounds like a heartbeat and connects us to each other, Earth and our ancestors. Shamanic healing includes drumming, and Sandra Ingerman has a few CDs and meditations that are helpful to walk through grief into a place of peace.

Chanting and Praying: Qi Gong and yoga chants have been very helpful for me to process some of the intense grief and weeping into new energy. The sounds of the Qigong or Sanskrit mantra carry higher vibrations as does the Orthodox prayer Lord Jesus have mercy on me repeated over and over. I pray Hail Mary again and again. The repetition is helpful in shifting from extreme grief into a space of quiet meditation or contemplation.

Garden: Create a memorial garden for your loved one. I have a tiny fairy sculpture in a container with a small fairy rosebush. You don’t need a lot of space or an elaborate garden to honor the life of your child.

 

This essay is adapted from Section IV “The Art of Grieving” from my book Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death available at amazon.com. Eight copies of my book are available through a giveaway on goodreads.com this August 2016.

 

 

Grief Diaries: Get Your Grief On

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Grief comes in so many forms, both visible and invisible . . . . Until now, there was no book series dedicated to sharing and embracing all the various life struggles. By publishing our stories, we help others who share our journey feel less alone. In turn, our stories help raise awareness and educate, which paves the way for better support.       Lynda Cheldelin Fell

I came to Grief Diaries through Mary Potter Kenyon. Mary was one of the first readers of my book, and kindly supported my work. Her own book on grief, Refined by Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace, was good for my soul after my newborn died of trisomy 18. I reached out to Mary and we connected through love and loss. She messaged me one day telling me that she was working with Lynda Cheldelin Fell on a book of poetry and prose for Grief Diaries. Would I submit some of my poetry? I agreed, and then wrote to Lynda. After hearing about Mary Rose, she asked if I would write for a new anthology called Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy. Mary Rose’s story, or rather my grief journey, is in this book, as well as Grief Diaries: Loss of an Infant.

Lynda’s daughter, Ally, was killed in a car crash at age 15. Two years before Lynda had a dream that her daughter died in a car accident. In the dream an open book appeared where Ally’s body was. Last summer Lynda began collecting stories of bereaved people whom she met at a convention. In one year Grief Diaries has published several books with many more titles on the way. Lynda says that “the individual stories highlight the spirit of human resiliency.” Her focus is on telling the stories of our grief. “When we share stories, our written words become a portable support group for others,” she says.

Lynda has created a community of bereaved who are writing to help others. Grief Diaries books address various losses such as the loss of a child, spouse, loved one by suicide, and many more. She has published My Grief Diary: A Workbook through Grief, A Companion Guide & Confidante through the Aftermath of Heartbreaking Loss with writing prompts to help a grieving person start to make sense of great loss. I like the list of what not to say in the book How to Help the Bereaved. I wish that we could pass out cards of “A toolbox of what not to say . . . and why.”

Grief Diaries read as diaries do. The writers answer questions about their experiences, so each chapter focuses on one question or aspect of the loss. The entries are not essays, but rather a record of what we went through and how we coped. There is rawness. There is love and beauty. Every page in the book Surviving the Loss of A Pregnancy is about loss, and it is a tough read. It would be most appropriate for someone who is in the midst of grief, someone who will be comforted by other people’s suffering. For those trying to become pregnant and move forward from pregnancy or infant loss, I would advise waiting to reading this collection. I would not want this book on grief to discourage a woman who is pregnant, who has hope that everything will be fine. In the midst of our grief we might forget that most pregnancies have good outcomes, and that most babies thrive.

In my introduction to Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy, I write “I hope that this book will shift that aloneness [of pregnancy and infant loss] as we build bridges that connect our grief. Instead of one more lonely and depressing birthday, anniversary of the due date or holiday, I hope that Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy will offer a way for us to connect with each other, and the spirits of our babies . . . .” As I continue to write about my own experience I meet people who are dealing with the unsayable. Another miscarriage, another fatal diagnosis, another death. It is important that we create a web of light (as Sandra Ingerman instructs us in her Transmutation News website) to catch the bereaved as they fall down, to connect to other humans who are suffering. We are more similar than we are different. In the awakening that comes after such depths of darkness, we notice the sunshine and the birds singing. They were there urging us on all along.

 

To read my introduction and more of my story and purchase Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy CLICK HERE

To purchase Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of an Infant CLICK HERE

Grief Diary books are available on amazon.com. To find out more about Lynda Cheldelin Fell, her website is www.lyndafell.com. To submit to forthcoming Grief Diaries anthologies visit www.griefdiaries.com.

 

Navigating Through the Holiday Season After Infant Death: A Meditation on Joy, Interrupted

blog IMG_0163‘Tis the Season. For those of us who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death, how do we walk through the holiday cheer? It is the season for Christmas cards and sparkly cookies, parties and gifts. It is also the time of year when somehow the fact that the world keeps spinning without slowing down to acknowledge Mary Rose makes my heart feel a little more tender. This second year of holidays after my daughter’s death from trisomy 18 hurts. After two early miscarriages in July and October, the holidays feel raw and holy. I walk this path gently.

­My friend, Daniela, recently sent me the book Joy, Interrupted edited by Melissa Miles McCarter. I love the title: Joy, Interrupted. Even in the midst of my pregnancy with Mary Rose when I knew that she would die, there were moments of joy. Snuggles and kisses. Loving conversations. Moments of grace when those who love me did stand by me. A bit of community. Hugs. I continue to find joy even though it is interrupted by grief and longing.

In McCarter’s book she collects works of various genres including artwork. The stories of heartbreak and hope are poignant. I love the titles of the five main sections: No, Furies, Plea, Longing, Acceptance.  The editor’s own daughter, Maddie, died at six weeks of SIDS. She then experienced secondary infertility. McCarter’s pregnancy was not easy and it ends for her in the death of her baby. She put together this anthology to heal and offer healing to others. The book has a range of topics including infertility and death of the mother, as well as miscarriage, abortion, adoption, stillbirth, infant and child death. The essays by Gabriella Burman about her daughter, Michaela, who died suddenly at five years old, 12 days after her youngest sister was born, brought tears to my eyes. Michaela who had many challenges and delays is a beautiful girl and her eyes cut to my own heart. (There are a few photos in the back of the book remembering those whom the writers honor.) One essay by Gail Marlene Schwartz about her pregnancy with twins was also particularly touching. One of the twins has Down’s Syndrome. Instead of aborting Benjamin, who does not fit into his parents’ family, he is given up for adoption to a willing and waiting family. That which one does not want is another person’s miracle.

Reading this collection during Advent makes sense to me, because I keep pausing as I check in with my heart and inner knowing. I don’t want to be swept up into the insanity of this season without remembering my family in its entirety. Last December I was in a foggy daze, but I wanted to create a good holiday for my living son, so through my tears and heartache, I decorated a tree, took a family photo, sent out cards, and baked. But it hurt each step of the rocky, craggy path. It hurt and now I am here again. People say that time makes this pain better. I can say that I am not quite as shocked as I was last year. I can also say that I don’t cry hysterically as often, but my eyes tear up frequently as I open my heart again and again. With each opportunity to love another I open my heart to being broken again. I cannot build a fortress around my heart. As Marie Howe writes in her beautiful poem “What the Living Do,” “I am living. I remember you.”

Last year when I worked on our family Christmas card I included Mary Rose’s name on the card after my son’s name. The Armentrout family includes Mary Rose. Every time I sign a card with our family names without hers my heart aches. Perhaps I will change the wording this year to say something like “and Mary Rose, in our hearts” or “and our intercessor, Mary Rose.” I hope that for parents struggling with their footing on how to be a family with part of their heart in the heavenworlds that there is space to acknowledge all of the children, if that feels right, even if our family and friends do not speak their names any longer.

Our friend Annie made us our Christmas stockings last year. She knitted these huge, beautiful, homemade stockings and she knitted an angel on the back of each stocking to remember Mary Rose.  Mary Rose whose only Christmas on earth was that first year when I was newly pregnant with her. Isaiah’s Promise sent a handmade pink stocking with Mary Rose’s name on it and a small angel pin. This year I am thinking of putting something from Mary Rose to the other children in that stocking. If she is with us continuously and constantly, then what would be an appropriate gift to her brother and cousins? Chocolate? A sweet treat? Perhaps this will be a new tradition for me to keep her in the family, to weave her short life here into our longer lives on this earth.

Two years ago I bought a Christmas ornament from Brian Andreas and StoryPeople. It says “I carry you with me/into the world,/into the smell of rain/& the words/that dance/between/people/& for me/it will always/be this way,/walking/in the light,/remembering/being alive/together.” When I bought it I knew that my aunt would not live much longer. I unpacked the ornament last December after the year that changed everything. I wept because of the truth that now my daughter, that spark of life the previous December in my first-trimester was now somewhere else, not posing for photos under the tree, not growing, not here on this earth.

Last year my sister and her family made a donation to Isaiah’s Promise for Christmas in memory of Mary Rose. This meant so much. Perhaps this holiday season for those readers who know of a family who has experienced a baby death, a small donation and a card with the name of the baby could be offered. It is the speaking of the name, the acknowledgment of the life that we mothers seek. The comfort is in coming together as a community to celebrate our living and our dead, as we are intricately woven together, those still living on the earth and the ancestors of different generations here in their other-worldly presence.

As for the parties and the celebrations, I go to a few but give myself space to leave if I want to, to cry if that feels right. I was at a meeting this week and a tiny newborn girl with Mary Rose’s coloring was right behind me fussing and being a baby. I wanted to get up and leave, but I decided that I could make it through the two hours to be with my friends. Other times I just don’t face the world because I can’t. Cubby didn’t go near babies for two years after her beloved newborn, Francis, died. I navigate the best I can and hope that each of you readers has good support, warm tea, and the space to rest and grieve in your own time. It is so important to take the steps to rejoin the spinning world around us, but it is good to know one’s own limitations too.

This year as I prepare for Christmas, I am in a different space. I think of the Christ child whom we remember this Christmas. I think of Mary and how all mothers await their babies. I remember my anticipation waiting for Mary Rose.  A child is coming who promises peace and love to our broken world. Even in grief, the light settles in each day and a gerbera daisy blooms in December in my garden. Sister Evelyn of Mount St. Mary’s Abbey told me once, when my aunt was suffering from atypical meningioma, to look for the small miracles that surround the difficult situation. Around my aunt’s hospital bed many gathered. We shared chocolate. My son brought joy to her long days. She made us laugh until her very end. Indeed the miracles abound, but Sr. Evelyn tells us to look for them. It’s okay if our joy is interrupted by our grief, as long as we allow joy to come back again and again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving, Gratitude, Grief & a Book Review

free-clipart-thanksgiving-jixEMo9iEIn Sunday’s New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks’ op-ed “Choose to be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier” cites research about gratitude and “greater life satisfaction.”  Gratitude stimulates the brain. He writes “Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things.” This is something that most Americans agree with, but where do grieving mothers fit in? Is remembering our children who are no longer here a sign of ingratitude? Last night I read Angela Miller’s post “Grateful and Grieving” from her blog A Bed for My Heart. She eloquently discusses her grief and how grieving is not a sign that we are not grateful.  Miller writes “It’s not one or the other. Yes I’m still grieving because I love and miss my son with every molecule in my body, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also deeply thankful for my blessings.”

Recently my mother went to a family gathering and an aunt asked her “Is Dianna still sad?” The answer is yes. Dianna is still sad. Others offer my mother advice for me. “It is time for Dianna to find closure.” “She needs to move on.” “She has a son.” One woman told me that I have to look at what I do have, not at what I don’t have. I have a living son and a daughter on the other side of the veils.

Two years ago I was newly pregnant at Thanksgiving feeling first-trimester sick. I was not thinking too much about the abstraction of who my baby would be. But I did think This is my second pregnancy. I’m done child-bearing after this. I imagined that I would birth a healthy child. I imagined that all would be fine. Now two years later that assumption no longer exists. This year I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday with a gluten-free America’s Test Kitchen pie crust recipe, and my heart still hurts.

Brooks’ op-ed made me smile because I am so grateful for so many things like this cold New York evening and red leaves almost gone from their tree. I am grateful for my family and for my friends. I am grateful for my readers and this blog and the publisher who is waiting for my completed manuscript. I am grateful for Mary Rose, but can I also be grateful for trisomy 18? Can I be grateful that she had the life that she was given by God to fulfill her mission in this life and the next? Her 42 weeks inside me, and one hour outside.

I was recently asked “How old would she have been?” at my MOPS meeting. My eyes opened wide because I stopped my brain from thinking those thoughts. I do not let myself think about how many months Mary Rose would be or what she would have been doing. In August my husband said “She would have been walking.” And I turned to him and replied “But she would not have been walking.”  I cannot separate my daughter’s body from trisomy 18. But I quickly did some math in my head that Wednesday morning and answered with tear-filled eyes, “She would have been 15 months old.” My friend Terry came for a visit on her daughter’s birthday last week. We spoke about grief and life and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and our children. “Heather would have been 46 today” she said. Angela Miller writes about the empty chair “where my seven year old should be sitting…” And here we are living in this world of juxtapositions and paradoxes. Of reality and imagination. Of our children, who are still our children even though they are now ageless.

In Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, she writes about her first son who was born still at 41 and a half weeks. Her pregnancy was a happy time.  There were no complications until he died in utero. McCracken stays on the practical, tangible side of her grief. She does not believe in God, which does not bother me per se, but when she speaks of her dead son, it is difficult for me to process death without the spiritual dimensions.  However, this book is valuable as an academic’s journey through grief. The writing is good and it is not a sad book. McCracken is honest and talks about her travels, her pregnancy and her expectations for her son. Some of her insights are so true and important, though I cannot relate to her decision not to take a photo of her son, or not to have her husband present at the delivery, or how instead of giving the boy one of the names that they picked out and were considering, they put Pudding on the death certificate, which was his nickname through the pregnancy. I chose a different path, but there is value to McCracken’s book even if she walked her child’s death differently. In truth we each walk this path the best way that we know in the moments of our grief.

In discussing her grief and other people’s sympathy, McCracken writes that “grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving” (80). Is that what this is? I think. The world moves so quickly around me and people want me to stop talking about my daughter who died even though she is still my daughter while I listen to them speak of their many living children. What negates my own daughter’s existence? And yes, my heart is still tender and raw and I do seek comfort. I want to make sense out of this trauma and grief and I cannot do it alone. McCracken speaks about the social aspect of the grieving parent after mentioning her pregnancy or her stillborn son to others. She writes “People changed the subject. They smiled uncomfortably…They didn’t mention it. They did not say, I am so sorry or How are you?” She goes on to discuss how surprised she was when people didn’t mention her son or pregnancy (92).  When I saw my uncle for the first time in over a year he did not mention my pregnancy or my daughter. Chit chat. Small talk. When someone asks how many children I have, I always mention Mary Rose. The person then looks at me in horror. A dead child! How could I speak it?

Later on McCracken beautiful and honestly writes

I’ve done it myself, when meeting the grief-struck…To mention it by name is to conjure it up, not the grief but the experience itself: The mother’s suicide, the brother’s overdose, the multiple miscarriages. The sadder the news, the less likely people are to mention it. The moment I lost my innocence about such things, I saw how careless I’d been myself.

I don’t even know what I would have wanted someone to say. Not: It will be better. Not: You don’t think you’ll live through this, but you will. Maybe: Tomorrow you will spontaneously combust. Tomorrow, finally your misery will turn to wax and heat and you will burn and melt till nothing is left in your chair but a greasy, childless smudge. That might have comforted me (94).

I was speaking to my friend Jenn about this very thing this summer. She says she doesn’t want to bring up the dead baby at work because she does not want to upset the mother. But the mother is never going to forget the baby. We remember our children living and dead, and for Jenn to tell her co-worker that she is thinking of her child is to acknowledge the child’s existence which is all we want.  We don’t get the milestones, the parties, the graduations, the holidays, so can our world give us that one acknowledgement of the existence of our children? This Thanksgiving, can we open our hearts to be grateful for the living and the dead? Can we make space around our tables for the memories of our children and other loved ones who have passed away? We remember the grandparents and parents and aunts, but when it comes to the children we do not want to speak their names. As McCracken says “The dead don’t need anything. The rest of us could use some company” (138).

There is one more thing that McCracken says that strikes a chord with me this holiday season. She speaks of her pregnancy to her second son, Gus, and says “there was nothing in my life that was not bittersweet. Every piece of hope was tinged with sadness; every moment of relief was lit on the edges with worry…. Of course [Gus] does not erase his older brother’s death” (183). So when we gather this holiday season, please don’t chastise a grieving mother or father or sibling for not “getting over it.” Please don’t insist that living children should fill the empty space of where the other child used to be. Let’s offer a smile and some kind words instead. There is no getting over the death of a child. Or anyone else for that matter. As Lucie Brock-Broido writes in her poem “Pyrrhic Victory,” “Some grief is larger than my body is.” Certainly this grief is larger than a month or a year, even when we are so grateful for so much.