Friday, January 28, 2011

Out of the Everywhere

I have a real resistance to any reference to Eliza as an angel.

Particularly a guardian angel.

She's not an angel.  She's my baby.  She certainly can't be watching over and protecting me.  I'm supposed to be protecting her.  It doesn't work the other way.  It's completely backwards and I hate it.

Call me a "mommy of an angel," and I just might grab the nearest sharp object and make your mommy the mommy of an angel.

Oh, who I am kidding?  More likely, I'll just nod while my eyes fill with tears and then bitch to David about what you said later, but you get the idea.

I used to think of Heaven as a real, physical place.  I imagined it very vividly.  In eighth grade, when my great-grandpa died, there was no doubt in my mind that he was hanging out on fluffy clouds and playing mini golf with Jesus.  As one would do, in Heaven.  Obviously.

I wish I could still believe in that version of Heaven.  I wish I could be certain that Eliza is being held and loved by my grandparents, who trade her off amongst themselves in between games of miniature golf and Crazy Eights and cavorting around on fluffy clouds and sending blessings down from above.

I just can't quite wrap my head around that in any kind of believable way.

A few days after I got home from the hospital, I started re-reading the last few Harry Potter books.  I chose them because they were familiar (no more surprises, please) and because they were nice and fat so it would take me a while to get through, but given that they're kiddie-lit, I wouldn't have to think too terribly hard to get through them.  But I also think I wanted to read them because in Harry Potter, people die.  People who shouldn't die, people who are too young to die, people who are good and loved and wanted.  And when they do, the dead aren't so far away from us.  They can't come back, of course, but they love they shared with those they left behind endures even after they're gone, and that love can affect the living in tangible ways.  It's like they are always around, but behind a kind of invisible curtain we just barely catch a glimpse of every once in a while.

It's a fictional world, of course, with wizards and giants and dragons.  But this idea of death doesn't seem so unbelievable to me.

In fact, these days it seems rather more believable than my great-grandpa playing mini-golf with Jesus (although, who's to say?  Jesus might rock the mini-golf).

I received a baby gift I loved very much from a family I also love very much.  It was a little nightgown and a matching blanket, yellow with big white polka-dots.  Each item came in a keepsake box with a sweet little duck on the front.  And there was a whimsical little poem:

Where did you come from,
Baby Dear?
Out of the everywhere,
into the here!

I had used one of the boxes to store cards from my baby showers, so I'd glanced at the cover a few times and I'd kept the box out to be displayed on a shelf in the nursery when we finished putting it all together (we never finished).

After Eliza was born, the lines of that poem kept running through my head and I couldn't place them.  I couldn't figure out where I had read that or why it was stuck in my brain like song lyrics I couldn't shake.  Where did you come from, Baby Dear?  Out of the everywhere into the here...

It wasn't until I went to get that box to add sympathy cards to its collection that I realized that was the same rhyme I'd been mentally reciting.  And it eventually occurred to me--about the same time the collection of sympathy cards outgrew that box and was on its way to becoming the enormous stack that now towers precariously on one of our bookshelves--that if this poem were true (and it seemed to be absolutely true, just as true as any other fact in my life) then its opposite would also be true.  If Eliza had been everywhere before we'd brought her here, then since she was no longer here, she must have gone back there--back to the everywhere.

I felt a kind of relief in that, a sense that she had returned to a place she'd been before, and that though I missed her so desperately I could barely stand it, she herself must be okay without me.  It wasn't entirely comforting, but it was a new way of thinking about this gaping hole in my life.  I remember lying in bed in the dark, clinging to David's arm and trying to hold my breath as if I might be able to feel her or hear her close to us.

I couldn't be sure, of course, but it made perfect sense to me that if she weren't here with us, then she must be everywhere with us.

It was not the most satisfying revelation.  I don't want her to be everywhere.  I want her to be here with me, where she belongs.  I wish I knew where she was exactly, and what it was like, and whether she knows how much I love her and how much I want her here with me.  It's not enough to be surrounded by love in the abstract when all I want is to hold her in my arms and talk ridiculous baby talk nonsense to her.  I don't want some beautiful metaphysical connection propelling me to do good in her memory.  I just want a warm baby to hold and to love and to take care of.  And I don't know why I don't get to have that.

I certainly don't claim to have any of it figured out.  I don't know why there are so many of us who have had our babies taken from us by a cruel twist of fate or random happenstance.  I don't know if we get to see them again (although I hope so--more than anything I hope that's true).  I don't know what Heaven might look like or whether souls have physical shapes or halos or wings or bide their time in eternity playing miniature golf.  I'm really uncertain about this angel thing and I don't believe for a moment that God snatches souls from earth to join some ridiculous winged chorus.  I think that the reality of nature just might operate independently from the goodness of God.  And I think whatever goodness there is in the universe suffers alongside those of us who grieve.  I don't know whether our love ones truly whisper to us from behind an invisible curtain (although I think it's quite likely that they do).

But I can only believe that when Eliza left us here, she went back into the everywhere.

And I can only hope that it was peaceful for her, that she just slipped away surrounded by warmth and love and the sound of my heart beating for her.

Where did you come from, Baby Dear?


  1. This is a really cold way of understanding the concept of heaven but I like it...I've heard it used to describe the realm of God but, to me, it's heaven. It's from this book, Flatland.

    If you picture a cylinder...say a marker...and you spin it and turn it around to look at every side of it. In a 2D world, it would look like a rectangle from one angle and a circle from the other. There are moments when we encounter these circles or rectangles and we think, "Ah, a circle." There are also moments when we encounter a circle and we think, "There's something more going on here...something I can't explain," because we can't experience the 3D version...we have neither the vocabulary nor the ability to understand. In these moments, God or Eliza are poking through into our 2D world, our flatland, and we are able to experience her.

    That's the best image for me. Because it makes her always here and it reminds me that we only know the 2D version of each other...we're waiting to realize it all. But, sometimes, when the natural order has torn apart our image of who God should be, God steps in and shows us that maybe there's more. It's not what any of us want. It's not a warm baby to hold...but it's something.

    Love you.

  2. what a breathtakingly beautiful post.

    you are a fabulous writer.

    i miss your baby girl with you.

    thank you for writing.

  3. This is one of those things that everyone feels differently about and there aren't really right or wrong answers. I know people who are all about the "mommy of an angel" label and even have the ribbon sticker on their car, and people that don't like it at all, and I'm just kind of ambivalent about it without strong feelings either way.

    One of the things that gets on my nerves lately, though, is people telling me don't worry, this baby will be fine, because he has Olivia watching over him. Sometimes I fall into that trap too even, because it sounds nice and pretty and reassuring, but that's not supposed to be her responsibility! And there *are* a few people (very very few-it's not nearly as common) who I know online who lost their rainbow babies too. So is that their older siblings fault for not "watching over them"? Um, no! Hmph. It's just been the last couple of days that I've been turned off of the whole concept.

  4. Also, two more things:

    Have you seen the previews for "Rabbit Hole" with Nicole Kidman? It's out now but I don't think I'm going to brave seeing it in theaters, but there is a scene in the previews that your post reminds me of. When Nicole's character is sitting at a support group and someone in the group says, "We have an angel now" and seems satisfied/comforted by that. And Nicole says angrily, "If God needed an angel, why didn't He just make one, He is God, after all." Anyway, I think you might like that movie, but I hear it's tough so maybe wait till it's on DVD.

    The second thing is that can you email me your address so I can make sure you get on Maggie's mailing list? (She usually uses the names/info from people who had losses at SJM's because it's mainly people there who come to group, not that it matters, so I don't think she has you on the list yet), but if you give me your info., I'll make sure I have you added.

  5. I'm not particularly enamoured of the term "angel" myself -- particularly since there are parents who refer to their living babies as "little angels" too (which always gives me a bit of a shock). And the idea that God took my baby because must have wanted another one -- that's not the sort of God I choose to believe in.

    Have you read "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner (who is a Jewish rabbi)?

  6. I struggle with the notion of an afterlife (and God) constantly. Before, I used to believe in nothing, now, out of necessity, I'm more open-minded. I feel like a hypocrite most days. I just want him to know how much is loved and missed (and I tell him that daily, just in case). I certainly bristle at the thought of God needing angels, intervening in our lives in such a heartless way.

  7. i kind of like the idea of our babies being in the everywhere. well, as much as i can 'like' anything that involves them not being alive.

    i get annoyed about the 'angel' label too, for various reasons.

  8. This was beautiful, and much more of a comfort then the card I recieved telling me I should be happy that at least my son was in Jesus' arms.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  9. well said. i especially love when you said:
    "Call me a "mommy of an angel," and I just might grab the nearest sharp object and make your mommy the mommy of an angel."

    i struggle with my thoughts on this too. i wonder where my Juju is now. i don't want to believe that he just ceased to exist, because he was {and still is} so real to me. but not have a physical body here to hold and love on is maddening. i hope beyond all hope that he really is an "angel" that is perched on my shoulder like Gemini cricket and that i will get to see and hold again when *i* pass away, because i hate the alternative - that he's just gone.forever. :'(

  10. I don't like it either. That comment. People saying my three children are "angels". It's not true. There's not even a basis for saying so. Even if you truly believe in god and heaven and eternal life. People who die do not become angels. Babies and children who die do not become angels. And besides, I'm a mother to three children, not to three angels. I don't know why it comforts people to think that, but it must, because they keep thinking it and saying it. I only know that it offends me terribly. After Jet died, someone sent me a photoframe which said "My Angel" on it. I re-gifted it immediately to someone who had just had a baby.