I forgot to put music on. That was the first thing that popped into my mind after everyone was gone and I took off my shoes. I wrote little tags with ingredients for the food, placed miniature pumpkins in strategically festive spots, displayed the travel journal, bought two different kinds of plastic spoon, but I forgot to put on music for ambiance.
There was a hum, a collective chorus of love running through the day, maybe I didn't hear the silence before everyone left. There was shrieking and laughing and playing. I hadn't expected so many children, though I had a little sheet of paper with hash marks of the number of children. I knew technically how many children there would be, but then to see them run through the house dressed as princesses and kitty cats, painting and drawing and skipping and...
the house flickered.
I bought a box of yahrzeit candles with a plate of milagros and put a little sign next to it.
Feel free to light a candle in memory of your little one(s).
Pick a milagro, an origami crane or stickers for your candle (if you are moved to do so.)
I didn't want the day to be maudlin. There is a joy here. A joy in this community that people outside of this community don't understand. I mentioned the Open House to a friend. I didn't call it a party.
Perhaps I should have called it a party, but I suppose even I fear that we
come across as too glib calling this thing a party. "You
can stop by," I said. "There will be lots of food and really
interesting, amazing people." And then I mentioned how I met everyone. She said she didn't think they could make it. I wanted
We don't cry. Well, nearly never. Almost rarely. We don't
even really talk about death, or how it came to be that we gathered
together facing a box of yahrzeit candles and a plate of milagros on a chilly day in October. Okay, sometimes we do, but it really isn't as sad as you think.
There is a joy here. It is a kind of gratitude-joy current. It runs through everything, like electricity, like power. I can't explain it. It is like coming home after being held a prisoner of war for a long time. "You," I want to say, "thank You. You are amazing." It is the simple act of you existing that make me thankful. I hold on to people a little too long, a little too tightly. I say thank you again and again. I ask if they are okay again and again. Not even, thank you for being here in my home for this open house, but just thank you for existing. Thank you for being normal and beautiful and kind and even-handed and just and noble and open. Even though I hate it. I hate that other people, I hate that You, suffer the way we suffered, and yet, I am so grateful for you. To not feel alone, to have you as part of my extended family, to help us feel normal, to come to my house and thank me. And so I hold on to these women. I want to whisper, "Don't leave. Stay. Live here, if you want. We have room and don't stink (much). We can start a commune. We can light candles every day. We can sing."
With the joy, we don't speak of our grief, the debilitating days that don't come nearly as often as they used to, but maybe still come. I don't know, we didn't speak of it. In the early days, I found it to be so comforting that we didn't even need to speak of the birth and death, the day-to-day hardship. But when we did, it didn't kill conversation. There was no uncomfortable silence. No explanation. No disclaimers. No apologies for tears, or laughs, or not knowing what the hell to say. No wondering if this all was too fatiguing for a normal person. No nothing. Just part of our life. And so the candles became a way to speak of it without speaking of it.
Let us light a candle to remember the ones that aren't here, but who brought us together. Let us light a candle because if we do not speak our children's names tonight, they will still be heard. Let us light a candle because that is what we do now, light candles. Let us start music without sound.
The house hummed. I don't know the song, but it was joyful.
I was self-conscious at the amount of children running and playing. I don't know why. I think it is that moment of ache we all have, even those who have living children, when we see children hugging and playing and being good and picked up and parented. It aches. Each of these children, they are like my children. It hit me that they share something so powerful and important, that though we are all fumbling through this parenting after loss thing, perhaps we are doing something right by bringing the kids together too. It reminded me of a few months ago. Janel and I hung out at her home with our girls. Janel's second daughter, Beatrice, was stillborn at 37 weeks. I had never met another Beatrice, and to meet one in this way, it seemed providence, something drawing us together. But it occurred to me that she might not feel the same way. I asked her if she minded her name being spoken to my daughter, and she said no. When our girls played, her two girls seemed to say Beezus' name before every sentence.
Beatrice, come to my room.
Beatrice, let's run.
Beatrice, watch this.
Beatrice, let's be lions.
And Janel said, "I think they like to say it to a living girl." And it broke me open and filled me with gratitude that I have met such amazing, compassionate parents in my life. We teach each other how to get through this. That day, when we sat together for lunch, Janel's four year old daughter asked Beezus if she had a sister. Beezus looked at me, and I said yes for her. And then I said, "Beezus' sister died." Janel and I had spoken about how we navigate parenting the siblings of our dead daughters. We have talked about how we speak of death, so I knew that her daughters expected the truth from me, not platitudes, or mysterious words about lost children and passing sisters. And she asked, "How did she die?" And I said, "She was stillborn." And this look came across her face, like she was both amazed and excited. Then she screamed, "WE HAVE A STILLBORN BABY TOO!"
There is a joy here. There is a joy in the collective space between us, even if it is borne of grief. There is a kind of joy in screaming in excitement, "I HAVE A STILLBORN BABY TOO!" We eat and talk about jobs and families and sickness. The kids run through the room and cry and ask for more food. Even Thor cried when Sarah's son left, then again with Janel's son had to leave. His baby friends are going home. He pointed and cried. "Boo hoo, and they have stillborn siblings too."
The candles were a living thing even though they represented the dead. They sang the song behind our day. They warmed the space, they warmed our party. After most everyone left, except TracyOC and family (T. and C.) we sat in the living room with the candles talking and laughing. The light and warmth was so beautiful, even more beautiful that I thought they would be. A powerful unspoken presence in the house. I didn't see one person light a candle, not all day, and yet there were ten lit at the end of the night. It seemed magical. As we sat, talking about the ritual of it, T. said each candle would be a child
running around the house. Ten extra children, where would they go? Would we have had room? It stopped me. It sounds strange to say, but
sometimes I forget that she would be two and a half, almost three now. And that two and a half, almost three, has a depth and a breadth and a weight and a height and a personality.
I miss a being who would be running and playing princess kitty cat. I miss Lucy. It gets so abstract in my writing, a moment in time and space where everything changed, yet stayed exactly the same. But she was a person with a smile and a light.
I light a candle and the candle is a warmth that feels like her. And all those candles together were kind of joy here. The joy is like a song without words. The hymn of community, I
think, or maybe that is too simple. Maybe it is just a feeling without a
descriptive. A current that is the most beautiful silent opera in the world.
A special thank you to everyone who came to my home and made the Open House to see the still life 365 travel journal and share in food and friendship. I want to shout out to everyone and just declare my undying love. But you know, already, right? RIGHT?!?!?! And all that didn't. We missed you (and talked shit about you the whole day [I'm just joking.])