I was 30 years old when my sister found out she was pregnant. The picture of us that day shows my uncontainable joy and my sister’s discomfort at the morning sickness and unexpected timing. We sat on her living room sofa, she heavy with nausea, me light with anticipation, and talked. She said she wasn’t sure she was ready to be a mom. At her words I felt a huge chorus – like thousands of fans doing the wave at a Timbers game – shout “I’M READY!”
It surprised me to realize how much I wanted to be a mom. I was single, still sore from the painful end of a decade-long relationship that had been a struggle at its best and abusive at its worst. I had a job but not much else. Yet here I was jumping out of my chair with desire to be a mom. It had happened: that biological tick-tock that friends had warned me about.
The longing for motherhood, for any child, isn’t the same as the loss of a specific one.
My sister rode the wave of morning sickness through the first trimester and into the second. She and her loving and lovable husband made quick plans: moving into a house, gathering gear from enthusiastic neighbors, assembling a nursery. By the third trimester they were feeling “ready,” i.e. terrified and ecstatic. The pictures from my sister’s last trimester show her glow, her whole-body embrace of her soon-to-be-daughter. On many nights her husband strummed the guitar and sang to her belly with the name they had chosen: Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn was due in late November, just before Thanksgiving. She was born one day before her due date in an emergency c-section. She died three days later. It took forever for the doctors to assemble some sort of explanation. All we knew was that everything had been fine (the words at each checkup were “perfect”…”she’s perfect”), and then they were not.
Losing Gwen shattered us. It broke us into a thousand-thousand pieces. Here we are now, seven-and-a-half years later. I am finally a mom. My sister has three amazing, incredible children, none of whom are Gwen. We have swept and gathered those pieces, but I don’t think any of us are whole.
The house with Gwen’s garden
Last night my sister called because they got an offer on the house – the house with Gwen’s memorial garden in the front yard, the house with the nursery that was to be hers. Even though it is, as everyone says, important to “move on,” it still hurts to let that house go. Oh but it hurts.
This morning I wonder if maybe some parts of grief just don’t heal. All the many good, truly good, new things in life don’t take away the one heavy loss.
I think of all the stupid things people say to moms and dads and aunts who are grieving: about the time it “should” take, about not living in the past, blah blah blah. You can’t schedule grief. Some days you can barely contain it.
This morning all I can do is bless it.
Bless my sister, my heart. Bless Gwendolyn. Bless these tears. Bless this ache.
Bless the morning sun flooding the living room where my baby girl plays with her toys. Bless the house where my sister rises, red-eyed but still moving, mothering among school backpacks, lego sets and sippy cups.
Bless sisterhood. Bless memory. Bless going on. Bless looking back. Bless now: bless this day.