Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Pretty Song

It's happening as it does every year. Although, I say cautiously, maybe less this year, actually? Still, the week before her birthday is the hardest. Thanksgiving is over. The whole world throws itself into the sparkle and wonder and forced family joy of Christmastime and I'm putting on a smile and moving an elf around my house, but feeling kind of numb about it. 

I just want to slip into a blanket of grief, now five years old and comfortable as my own skin. I want to wrap around me, selfishly, the very thing I used to hate, and let myself sit in the grief, draped over me as I wait to feel submerged. Strangely, I feel both obligated and relieved to make time to do this, to feel this. This angry sadness feels like all I have left of my first daughter.

I'm making my students memorize poems, and this one by Mary Oliver is what I'm repeating in my own head.

     A Pretty Song

     From the complications of loving you

     I think there is no end or return.
     No answer, no coming out of it.

     Which is the only way to love, isn't it?

     This isn't a playground, this is
     earth, our heaven, for a while.

     Therefore I give precedence 

     to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
     that hold you in the center of my world.

     And I say to my body: grow thinner still.

     And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
     And I say to my heart: rave on.

There are many things I try to do to honor Eliza's memory. Good, positive things that I hope demonstrate my love for her and my experience of her brief life as a beautiful gift of joy and delight. But right now, I can only focus on the gift that was taken away. You'll excuse me while I give precedent to a sullen, dark mood for a few minutes here, because the shitty truth is that these moments of deep grief feel like the only space I have where Eliza is at the center of my world.

Balancing my grief has made life more bearable, made it enjoyable--joyful even!--but it also means that my life does not revolve around her. That shift, I know, is necessary, good, and healthy; it is also weighted with sorrow, guilt, and regret. As Elizabeth McCracken writes, my experience has moved from, "It's a happy life, but someone is missing" to "It's a happy life, and someone is missing." The difference may seem subtle, but it's significant.

I will get through this week. I've had enough practice by now. I will interact with my students and colleagues as necessary. I will meet expectations. I will maintain my composure. I will feed the dog and make my bed and love on my kids. I have gotten good at this, and I'm relieved my grief is no longer a monster I cannot control. But the very fact that I can contain it means I'm farther away from her than ever, and that thought alone is enough to make me cry.

So I will give precedence to grief. Even now, though I'm dry-eyed, I type this "pretty song" for her, because there is no answer, no coming out of missing her.

And on the inside, my broken, tender, patched-together heart will rave and wail, and shake its fist at the unfairness of this world, going on without my baby in it.


  1. Our hearts are raving with yours.

    This was beautiful. Your love for her, though the joy and the sorrow, is so beautiful.

  2. Lots of love to you, Brooke. Missing them somehow never gets easier. I always struggle the week leading up. Bon courage.

  3. Beautiful post. Thinking of you & Eliza and sending virtual (((hugs))).

  4. I am loving and missing Eliza with you.

  5. Exactly. Truer words have never been spoken. My love to you.

  6. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thinking of you and your love for Eliza, and missing her with you.


  7. That week of grief just needs to happen, doesn't it? As my therapist always said, you can't go around it or over it, only through. Sending warm thoughts to you and Eliza.

  8. Love this poem and this post. It's almost 8 years since my daughter was stillborn and you capture my relationship with grief very accurately here. Thanks for writing.

  9. Thank you for these words. Christmastime is also our season of grief, and this will be our second one without our daughter. It is a bittersweet time. I love that McCracken quote! It gave me so much hope in the early days, and continues to validate my feelings of utter loss, and yet, happiness, all jumbled up together.

  10. beautiful. Sending you love and remembering your first baby duck.
    Five years of grief, of loving, of missing her. I can barely believe it.

  11. Thinking of you and Eliza, Brooke. This is a lovely, perfect post, which of course, I wish you never had the occasion to write. Thank you for sharing Eliza and your grief and your beautiful family. Five years. What a big birthday. <3 Eliza <3