Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Common losses

Years ago, I was attending the bridal shower of a young woman who had grown up in our church. It was hard to believe that this funny, smart girl who babysat our boys when she was a teenager was old enough to be getting married. I was honored to be included in the event but I also carried into it my own feelings of awkwardness because at that time I had been away from our church home for a few years.

I needn't have worried. The people who had drawn us to that small church family (and would ultimately draw us back again) were still the same. They offered nothing but warmth and happiness in seeing me after so much time apart. They wanted nothing more than to know that I was well, what my family had been up to and to thank me for joining them in this special day. They were grace personified.

One of things that had set us adrift during that time was the loss of our infant twins. Many people find comfort in familiar places in the aftermath of loss but for me my comfort was in solitude. Going back to what had been was all too often a reminder to me of what would never be. So, there were people at this gathering whom I had not spoken to in the time since our loss.

I found myself seated next to one of our elderly matriarchs of the church. A stately, dignified woman not given to showy displays of emotion. She was typical of her generation. She had known and weathered hard things in her life but never wavered in her faithfulness to family, church and community. I admired her but even more so, I liked her.

We talked, catching up on our families and laughing over shared memories in the church choir. Still, in the small talk I felt something deeper, something much heavier than our light, breezy words. She seemed to want to share something. I sensed a story that needed to be told. The words started to bubble up, then she hesitated and I wondered if she would lose her nerve. Eventually, she pressed forward in short, hurried sentences. She told me of her grandson who had been born into this world medically fragile and clinging to life. He died within a few months of his birth. He had been able to go home. He was nursed by his mother, and loved deeply by his family. His was a blessedly full and yet painfully short little life.

I sat close and leaned in wanting to convey my profound sorrow and sympathy without causing undue attention from the rest of the party. I knew this woman would not want to feel as though she had disrupted a festive, happy occasion.

She stiffened then, sniffed and tried to shift back to the moment at hand with some brusque words about how "these things happen" and then looked right at me saying apologetically, "well, you know." She fell silent, stared at her hands in her lap and mumbled, "It happens to so many people."

I sat quietly for a moment. Wondering what words I could offer to this woman who had seen so much more of life than I had. This woman who had known so much more loss in her lifetime than I had.

But I also knew I didn't believe her dismissive words for a minute. I knew she had told me this story for a reason. I knew she carried it with her everyday and that it was a relief to be able to say his name out loud. To tell at least one person that he had been here. That he mattered. That she missed him.

I put my hand on her knee and said gently, "Yes, it does. These things do happen. But that doesn't make it any less sad and it doesn't mean we don't miss those babies."

She didn't look up or meet my eyes. She just squeezed my hand, nodded quickly and said in a whisper, "That's true. That is very, very true."

And then we both turned back to the celebration of life and love in front of us.

We are each of us angels with only one wing. 
And we can only fly embracing each other.
~Luciano De Creschenzo