Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Armor

Now that I am leaving the house on a regular basis, I keep thinking that things should get easier.

In many ways, they have.  To start with, I’m actually leaving the house by myself which, just a few weeks ago, was absolutely impossible.

It takes all my energy to get through the things that used to be the ordinary, automatic parts of my life.  I used to spend a lot of time running errands (a business-like way to say “shopping,” of course).  Now I don’t go anywhere I don’t absolutely have to go, unless I’m going somewhere where there are people who will surround me with love and hug me if I start to cry. 

It’s ridiculous, really, the effort it takes to get up and go.  And I’m not doing it because I’m strong or because I’m ready.  I’m doing it because I simply don’t see the alternative.  Life isn’t very much fun right now, when leaving the house requires a kind of steely determination that results in me being totally depleted by the end of the day, and almost invariably crying by the time I turn down our block to return home. 

But I have found that it is just a little bit easier to walk out the door when I am fully dressed in my armor of jewelry.

On my left hand is my “stayin’ married” ring and wedding band.  It’s no secret that David and I had a rough first year of marriage and I thought for a while maybe we weren’t going to stay married.  This ring is a sparkly reminder that we did.  And we are.  And I love him more now than ever before.

On my right hand is a gorgeous asymmetrical garnet ring that David gave me after Eliza was born, in those dark, silent hours when we got home from hospital before my parents got to town.  For lack of a better term, it was my "push present" (I realize that phrase is problematic for so many reasons).  It was supposed to be her birthstone.  We had (wrongly) assumed that with a due date smack dab in the middle of January, she’d be born that month.  The dark red stone with its uneven shape is a symbol of everything we'd hoped for and all that we lost.  It also reminds me that having Eliza in our lives was a beautiful experience in many ways, though no less painful for that.

On my left wrist is Eliza’s bracelet.  One of those beaded bracelets that spell out her name in silver blocks, flocked on either side by smooth silver beads.  A pearl for remembrance and a small silver heart dangle from it and make a soft clinking sound even when the bracelet is under my sleeve.  I could never forget my baby girl, but I think of this as my visible mourning garb, like a black arm band advertising my love and my loss.

On my right wrist is a bracelet just recently given to me by my girlfriends from college.  It’s a delicate silver chain with a round silver circle in the middle of it.  A tiny silver disk hangs from the clasp and is etched with the word “friends.”  It makes me think of those girls, obviously, the ones I mean whenever I say "the girls," the ones who know me as I was and who still love me as I am.  It brings to mind the old song from Girl Scout Camp, “A circle is round, it has no end, that’s how long I want to be your friend.”  And although it was selected (I’ve been told) by my dear friend Allison, and gifted by her and by Beth and Jamie and Carol and Stephanie, I know they wouldn’t mind that it also makes me think of many other friends--everyone who has been so kind and compassionate in this time of great sadness.

It especially makes me think of those who came and sat with me when my pain was so raw and fresh that I expected everyone I knew to recoil from me in horror.  We were people whose busy schedules had kept us from seeing each other as much as we would have liked and yet there was suddenly enough time to spend an afternoon watching season one of The OC, despite the chaos of end of semester grading and holiday preparations.  And so this bracelet makes me think of Keya and Abby and Cailin and Anna.  It makes me think of Natalie, who has been my faithful long-distance correspondent over the years and who wrote me a sympathy note in a voice so flattened with grief that it didn't sound like her at all, only to recover her voice when she typed a short, sassy comment arguing that I was not Miss Havisham (exactly what I needed to hear).  This bracelet makes me think of friends I hadn’t heard from in years, who sent notes in still-familiar handwriting, and friends who copied out poems and song lyrics by hand to try and express what ordinary prose would not.  It reminds me of Kaley, who gave me a quirky gift that maybe only she and I would really appreciate.  And of Ben, who sent me a text in which he called me his buddy and told me that he’d strike the sun for me.

It makes me think, of course, of my BFF Monica, who rearranged her finals and dropped everything to move in with me for those days when my parents had to go home and David had to go back at work but I still needed someone to tell me to eat and tell me to shower and to wrap her arms around me while I cried.  She has, without fail, checked in with me every single day, to my eternal gratitude.

It also makes me think of friends I have never met in person, with whom I share this powerful, terrible bond.   Eight weeks ago, these grieving mothers were unknown to me and now they are my 3am confidants, friends who know the grief in my heart because it is their grief, too--Sarah N. and Jill L. and Jessica and Tiffany and Brianna and Monique and Amelia and Angie and Lori Beth and B and Eve and the many, many others who have read Eliza’s story and shared their babies’ stories and written to me with words of sorrow and courage and hope that salve this wound in a way that no other kind words could.

It makes me think of Dennis and Lindsey, whose baby boy broke their hearts at the same time his twin sister brought them light.  Of Megan, who e-mailed me tentatively, heartbroken over a similar loss, and inspired me with her faith.  And of Vicky, whose sudden loss was the unbearable repetition of mine.

Some of these were bonds forged by the random chance of geographical location (a small town in southwest Missouri, the third floor of Banks Hall, an English department at a Midwestern University) and others are bonds forged by necessity and technology.   I have named a lot of them, but not everyone, and I would hate to try to do so and inadvertently leave someone out.  Because I need them all.  And wearing that bracelet reminds me that I have them, no matter how alone I sometimes feel.

Around my neck these days, I wear a necklace my parents gave me when I (finally) finished my PhD.  It’s a rectangle engraved with a quotation by Jane Austen:  Where shall we see a better daughter or a kinder sister or a truer friend.

What you have to know about that quote is that it’s from the novel Emma and it's another character's comment describing Emma.  BUT, it’s most important to remember that this is the novel Jane Austen described as having a heroine that no one but herself would much like.  These words about Emma are spoken by her dear friend and governess, who loves Emma so much that she’s blind to her many obnoxious faults (faults that are blatantly obvious to the reader).  Emma Woodhouse is no Fanny Price.  She's far from perfect and this quotation is intended to illustrate less about Emma's actual character and more about how much her governess loves her.

I love this necklace not because I am the best daughter or the kindest sister or the truest friend, but because it reminds me that although I surely am not, my mom still sees me that way.

And so everyday I slip on these sparkly rings and fasten the clasps of these shiny chains to help me remember all of the people I love who are helping me get through the day.

Love and commitment to David on my left hand.

Our shared hope and heartbreak on my right.

A beaded band of grief and love and remembrance that bears Eliza’s beautiful name.

A shining circle of never-ending friendships.

And, close to my heart, the willfully blind, unconditional love of my family.

These are the best things in my life.  And I gratefully wear their symbols every day.


  1. I know this is no where near over and it never will be...but I can't help but read this and think that this is one of the fist times when I've really heard you looking back and recounting the stories that came after our hearts broke. It sounds like an introduction to the story I'm sure you'll write about her...the story you already are writing about her. I love you so much... you're pretty:)

  2. A beautiful post. You are lucky to have so many who love you, so many who are there for you. I'm glad you have these items that bring you comfort. Maybe if I wore jewelry I wouldn't have held on to those extra 20 lbs for so long! I can't tell you how much I relate to the things you write, the emotions and scenarios you describe. I hate that we've all had to find each other this way, but so glad we're able to be here for each other. I recently went private w my blog. I'm on my phone, so can't see if ur email is displayed, but if u want to send it to me at ill send u an invite. xoxo Lis

  3. How wonderful to have that physical manifestation of strength. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journay through this.

  4. What an incredibly beautiful post. It was beautiful to read the way in which the people in your life came forward in such a big way after Eliza's death. Hope that you continue to feel carried by that love and feel strengthened because of it ((hugs))

  5. I'm so glad these things -- & the people who gave them to you -- bring you some comfort. : )