Thursday, December 30, 2010

Anne's House of Dreams

So I've used the new Kindle to reread all of the Anne of Green Gables books.  I was deliberately reading my way to Anne's House of Dreams because of the baby that dies.  I am sure I cried the first time I read it because I was always crying over books and movies.

What luxury to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives. 

Those are lines in a poem by Lisel Mueller.  I read an article about her in the Kansas City paper and then ordered her book called Alive Together.  I remember reading that poem and reflecting on how true that was for me.  I was so happy that I could sob my way through Steel Magnolias or Love Story and then get up and go about my day.  It seems so silly and self-indulgent now.  In fact, my whole life seems awfully silly and self-indulgent.

Dammit, I really miss being silly and self-indulgent.

Anyway, back to Anne.  I read about Anne and her little baby Joyce this week and this time I cried for both of us.  All of us.  Anne and Joyce and Eliza and me.

I was somewhat astonished that little Joyce gets a chapter, and several other mentions, but the novel does not dwell on this loss exclusively.  How was this possible?  How did the death of her first child not completely blight Anne's entire life?

Is it also possible that Eliza's death could be a defining moment in our lives without being the defining moment?

I am not sure how I feel about that.  It holds equal measures of hope and dread.

As I mentioned on this blog before, Lucy Maud Montgomery also had a baby who lived only a few hours.  So when she writes about Anne, I think it feels utterly believable.  I'd always imagined as a little girl that Anne Shirley and I would have been kindred spirits.  I never expected that we'd share a tragedy like this.  I never would have dreamed that we would both know what it's like to be afraid of life.

* * *

This is an excerpt from Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery.  In this scene, Anne's first child, a baby girl named Joyce, has just died.  Anne is having a conversation with Marilla, the woman who adopted her when she was eleven years old.

"Oh Marilla, I don't see how I can ever be happy again--everything will hurt me all the rest of my life."

"Time will help you," said Marilla, who was racked with sympathy but could never learn to express it in other than age-worn formulas.

"It doesn't seem fair," said Anne rebelliously.  "Babies are born and live where they are not wanted--where they will be neglected--where they will have no chance.  I would have loved my baby so--and cared for it so tenderly--and tried to give her every chance for good.  And yet I wasn't allowed to keep her."

"It was God's will, Anne," said Marilla, helpless before the riddle of the universe--the why of undeserved pain.  "And little Joyce is better off."

"I can't believe that," cried Anne bitterly.  Then, seeing Marilla looked shocked, she added passionately, "Why should she be born at all--why should anyone be born at all--if she's better off dead?  I don't believe it is better for a child to die at birth than to live its life out--and love and be loved--and enjoy and suffer--and do its work--and develop a character that would give it a personality in eternity.  And how do you know it was God's will?  Perhaps it was just a thwarting of His purpose by the Power of Evil.  We can't be expected to be resigned to that."

"Oh, Anne, don't talk so," said Marilla, genuinely alarmed lest Anne were drifting into deep and dangerous waters.  "We can't understand--but we must have faith--we must believe that all is for the best.  I know you find it hard to think so, just now.  But try to be brave, for Gilbert's sake.  He's so worried about you.  You aren't getting strong as fast as you should."

"Oh, I know I've been very selfish," sighed Anne.  "I love Gilbert more than ever--and I want to live for his sake.  But it seems as if a part of me was buried over there in that little harbour graveyard--and it hurts so much that I'm afraid of life."

"It won't hurt so much always, Anne."

"The thought that it may stop hurting sometimes hurts me worse than all else, Marilla."

* * *

At the very end of that chapter, Anne adds, "Oh, everybody has been so dear and good and lovely to me, Marilla.  I'm not ungrateful--and perhaps--when this horrible ache grows a little less--I'll find that I can go on living."

And the next chapter opens,

"Anne found that she could go on living; the day came when she even smiled again over one of Miss Cornelia's speeches.  But there was something in the smile that had never been in Anne's smile before and would never be absent from it again."

* * *

When I read that the first time, I remember thinking it was such a shame that Anne would have to be a little bit sad forever, that her smile would be forever changed by this experience.

Now I know what it means to be hurting so desperately I want to escape from it and at the same time dreading the moment when it won't hurt quite so much.  And I wonder if my smile will be different, too.


  1. I remember I struggled with not wanting to move away from the grief as it felt at times like that is all I had to tie me to my son. The thought of laughing and finding happiness again was foreign to me - how could I when my baby was dead? I don't have any advice on how you get from one place to another, but someday, you will smile again and it will be different. Remembering Eliza with you and wishing she were here.

  2. Everytime I smile, I'm thinking of you and David and Eliza. I'm thinking of the same when I cry. We are changing with you, friend. In that way, she will live within each of us.

  3. Eliza was part of all of our lives. She meant something different to each of us. We celebrated her new life with you and now we grieve with you. I believe that you will eventually hurt less, but Eliza will always always be a part of your life, part of our lives. I look forward to the day when we'll be able to speak and remember her with more joy than sadness.

  4. Everything does become a little different, in both good and bad ways.

    And I know what you mean about not sure about wanting it to be better. I was so mad at my OB for doing such a good job on my c-section, a random hospital resident that was checking the incision told me it probably wouldn't even leave a scar (it barely did.) I wanted a big ugly incision down my entire body that would last forever. The hurt and grief though, it doesn't ever go away. You just get more comfortable with it, learn to live again around it, the heavy load of losing your first baby is always there with you, you will just find new ways to live with it. The first several months it's so heavy it's all you can do to make it through a day, but after awhile you just get used to it, I guess. It's not really that the pain is any less, you just become more comfortable with it, I think.

  5. I remember reading that book like it was yesterday-- I LOVED the Anne of Green Gables books (and the pretty terrible movies-- I even developed an unfortunate Megan Follows fixation for awhile) like nothing else, and I remember that line about her smile because it stuck with me for years. I think it was something beautiful in her smile that had never been there before, as well as something sad-- something wise and graceful, a memory, if that makes any sense at all. I also really love Lisel Mueller but haven't thought of her in quite awhile-- a really beautiful post.

  6. you can tell she experienced it, and the stupid things that people say.

    my loss doesn't hurt so much any more these days, and i hate that. i truly do. i wanted it to hurt that badly forever and it seems wrong that it doesn't. but i guess that's just the way it is for me. it's different for different people, though.

    sending love xx

  7. I wanted the pain, and the tears to never leave, because they were all I had of Ben. I clung to them for a long time until I found I didn't need them as much anymore. I have often wondered if I look different to others, for I can see it on my face now, the grief, the sorrow, even when I am happy. I am not the same.

    I don't know about it being a defining moment as opposed to the defining moment. Still, 7 years on--7 years today since I held him and told him goodbye--it is certainly the biggest thing to ever happen in my life, and I hope nothing so big happens ever again.

  8. Huge Anne/Montgomery fan here... I think there is a brief reference to Joyce again in "Rilla of Ingleside" (probably my favourite of the Anne books, although it's more about her youngest daughter, Rilla) -- as Anne & Gilbert are watching their sons go off to war, they think of the little grave in the cemetery across the harbour.

    Ironically, for all her writing about not believing this was God's will, Montgomery was a minister's wife!

  9. Loribeth--I just finished reading Rilla of Ingleside today. You're absolutely right about the reference to Joyce. When the boys sign up for war, Anne looks at Gilbert with a look of anguish that he hadn't seen on her face since Joyce died. There are a couple more references to her in that book, though, including one when Anne thinks about how Joyce would be grown up by now... I feel silly holding on to Anne of Green Gables as a kind of life line, but she has helped me immensely.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this. I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks this summer, and the very first thing I did when I got home from the doctor was pick up my old, worn copy of Anne's House of Dreams. I reread it quickly, both anticipating and dreading the chapter about Joyce's death. I firmly believe that there is an Anne book for all phases of my life, and right now, this book is it.

    I know I am commenting on an old post, but my sister just found your blog and told me about this post. It's been hard to smile for the past few months, but I'm looking forward to it.

  11. I haven't thought about Anne since I was little, but you just prompted me to order the box set of the Anne series and I can't wait to read them. I had no idea she lost a child.