Friday, December 17, 2010

Lists and Legacies

I have a running list in my head of women who had stillborn babies or women whose babies died shortly after they were born.

Jacqueline Kennedy (a year and a half before Caroline Kennedy was born)
Oprah Winfrey (when she was fourteen years old)
Mary Shelley (right before she wrote Frankenstein)
Anne of Green Gables (in a novel titled Anne's House of Dreams)
Lucy Maude Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables)

I have discovered a community of bereaved parents online, who have reached out of their own darknesses, behind their own computer screens, and have patiently and kindly offered me words of comfort and wisdom.  In the wake of this intense loneliness and emptiness, I have turned in my desperation to strangers, strangers who have struggled through these dark hours and who somehow, sometime, some way, found themselves emerging on the other side.  I need to know that I will get there too.

This has given me an unexpected connection to people I've never met.  It's a strange experience, but one I am thankful for.  It saddens me to see how fast and long this list I've been making could grow.

I appreciate every single sympathy card and letter we have received.  But the ones I return to and read over and over again are from women I know in real life who wrote to tell me that they, too, are on that list. 

I got three of them yesterday.  Three letters from three different women in three different generations.  Each had a baby that died.

These women lost their babies 54 years ago, 26 years ago, 2 years ago.  I am so terribly sorry that someone else I know has felt the way I feel right now.  And I am so grateful that they reached out to me and told me their stories.  I've read them over and over again.  I read them to hear the assurance that my baby will not be forgotten, to hear them say that it's not my fault, to hear them promise that it will get easier.

I have wondered if there is anything to be gained from this loss.  Nothing will ever make up for Eliza, but could it be possible that her loss would bring us something we would not otherwise have had? 

I am doubtful. 

Believing such a thing would be a betrayal.  It would be the equivalent of looking for a silver lining.  There is no silver lining here.  There is nothing but the random, meaningless, arbitrary cruelty of a universe that never promised to be fair, despite all our expectations for justice.

And then I got a letter in the mail that offered a slightly different perspective.  No carefully qualified, "I can't imagine what you're going through."  No euphemistic "sorry about what happened."  This woman had a son who died 26 years ago.  She knows what it's like to go home from the hospital without a baby.  She acknowledges the pain without dismissing it or drowning in it.  And she offers another truth:     

But with the devastation comes unlimited love.  The bond between a husband and wife who go through the loss of a child can grow even stronger than it was before.  This is a time that only the two of you can truly share together.  The raw pain and utter emptiness for each of you will recede with the deep love of the other.  This is a tragic event in both of your lives and only the two of you will ever know the depth of the feelings involved.  That piece of your personal histories will pull you closer together forever.

It is little consolation, but I can't deny the truth in it.  I can already feel the way Eliza has pulled David and me closer together.  It was present and immediate, our mutual need for each other.  Those moments we shared throughout the pregnancy, at the hospital, in the foggy, mudgy hours that followed, and the moments we will share as we try to breathe through the weeks and months to come, these are moments no one else can fully understand.  Not even the family and the friends who help every day when they call and come over and listen and talk.

David and I have seen each other at our most vulnerable and broken.  We're trying to help each other put those pieces together, and we're working to put those pieces together at least enough that we can be there for each other.  We have been to hell together and we're clinging to each other on our way back. 

If Eliza's death means that our love for each other has deepened and widened and grown to an unlimited capacity... well, that's still not enough. 

But it is something.  I can see the good in that.  I might even be able to see God in that.

My daughter died.  And all she left behind was love.

It's not enough.  But it is something.

As legacies go, it's actually something quite remarkable.


  1. Did you know that Jackie Kennedy had another child who died? I think her other child was only a day or so old. My husband and I saw their graves in Arlington when we were there a few years ago.

    You will find more and more that the only people who truly understand, are those who have lost a child. Others may try, but they will fail.

    I hope you and your husband stay close. I hope you have the time to grieve together. Take the time to do so.

    As for goodness ... I love my husband very, very much. But I loved him very much before our children died too.

  2. Ah, her daughter was stillborn, and her son died when he was two days old.

  3. I didn't know about a lot of those women.

    That's very true, about your relationship with your husband, this bonds you together like nothing else ever will. But, keep in mind that it's okay to grieve differently, and at times that can make you feel very far apart and alone, when you are sad and he doesn't seem to be, or you are in a place where you can't deal with being sad at that moment and he's being an emotional wreck. That doesn't mean your relationship isn't strong and it doesn't mean you are alone in this.

  4. Beautifully written and so very true. My husband & I felt closer than we ever have before in the aftermath of losing Lily. In fact initially we went everywhere together and I was scared the first time I had to go somewhere public without him because I felt like somehow having someone else by my side who understood the intense pain I was in made it more bearable to somehow move forward and I needed that because everyone else seemed to be continuing on with the normal lives and our lives were far from normal anymore. I hope you continue to cling to each other.
    It sounds like your daughter truly did leave a beautiful legacy, love is far more than what some who live many years leave behind. Continuing to think of you and send love and hope for strength your way ((hugs))

  5. brooke,
    this is so beautifully written, and so captures so much of my experience with my husband in the wake of our son's death. I was just trying to speak about it at dinner tonight, and I wrote about it a few weeks ago I think; I said something like "Otis is this secret that he and I share, that no one will ever know the way we do." And it has brought us closer, it has stretched my heart open to love more completely and more powerfully.

    I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a living, breathing, crying 3 month old, don't get me wrong. But, as you say, it is something.

    Sending much love.

  6. Eliza Taylor Duckworth
    How Beautiful.
    Brooke, It seems only a few months ago we were sitting in the floor at Grandpa and Grandma’s celebrating another life lived, going thru old family pictures and you writing in the Family bible. I remember finding old names that one day could be passed down to the next generation of little Duckworths. Brooke, you and David are not grieving alone. I have wanted to call you but afraid of not knowing what to say. So now I’ll say what I feel and know for sure.

    I know Eliza lived and continues to live, now in the hearts of those close to you and David. I still feel that I have a niece, and even though I never had the opportunity to hold her, I love her. I believe her story no matter how short it is, it is still something to cherish. Her story is filled with love. She was created with love, had two loving parents and two furry siblings. She was loved by all your friends and family even before we had the chance to meet her, it’s poetically beautiful and tragic but she touched so many lives. That is truly a beautiful story.
    I am so extremely happy that you named her and such a beautiful name for I’m certain a beautiful baby girl. I know you only wish to hold her in your arms, but Brooke you are holding her still, just now in your heart.

    Love Always,
    Erika Duckworth

  7. My mother-in-law was another bereaved mother to add to your list. Shannon's oldest sibling was a sister, who lived for two days. We know little about her, because his parents are both dead, but he and his brothers often remember the sister they never knew. In that way, his parents' love for her has survived her death, and theirs.

    Brooke, I just want you to know that Eliza is loved by a wider community than you can imagine. Like Shannon's sister, I miss her without having met her.


  8. You're right, there is absolutely no silver lining. But it is so true that their legacy is love, so much love. Losing my son undoubtedly brought my partner and I closer together. It showed us who our true friends are and brought out the best in most of our friends and family.

    Love is an incredible legacy to leave to the world.

  9. I have made similar mental lists. I became extremely interested in John and Abigail Adams's story once I learned of their stillborn baby girl and I believe a few other losses.

    I have come to believe that, while I can't see that losing Will could ever be anything but horrific, that the clearing he made in my life is working to tend new love and new passion and new understanding. I would never trade Will for this newness, but I tend to like myself more now than before. Honestly, these tiny babies have great lessons to teach. Eliza will continue to change you and grow you in ways that never may have grown or changed. It is her legacy...and she will reveal as time drains by.