It is to be expected that a home with five children, a parakeet, a hamster, and a turtle would be a lively place, full of noise both genial and raucous. And it was, it was all that and also the children were full of expectancy, for what it would be hard to assign a name; it was as if they were ready to be ready for something. So it follows that they were in my face and hovering about, and inconveniently my heart and soul were quiet and withdrawn.
My cousin’s son was stillborn yesterday. Born too early, and yet he was born, and his tiny hands lay inside his parents’ wedding rings in the black and white photograph. We all mourn him, and the pain is sharp and singular. The pit of my stomach has an empathetic ache, for it mourned my own loss, my own Gabriel(a), and every child loss finds an echo there. My eyes are quick to sting with familiar grief, and really, I had to go for a walk and let the ache ache.
The twilight hour and the storm-thrashed town were fitting. Violent winds and rains had come through in a brief fury, and everything was clean but tossed, scoured but disordered. I found my way through the back alleys, partly because my husband thought that going out wearing my apron was a tad ridiculous, and I wondered if I indeed looked odd: black skirt and top, long linen apron, gray ruffled shabby jacket from a thrift bin, flip flops. But I couldn’t leave the apron; it has excellent pondering pockets for hands that don’t know where to put themselves, and I had pondering to do.
I came upon the public burial grounds, used from the 1850’s until 1902. I stooped and read the fading words; I read of Benjamin, nine months old. I read of Mary who led a long life, ninety-two years. One headstone was being slowly engulfed by a tree trunk; in a few years it will have grown completely inside of it, the marker of death swallowed into living wood. Pines grew up and around and between the broken headstones and I imagined the bones mingled and embraced by the reaching roots.
I thought too of black-clad huddled groups of mourners; how they stood at each of these graves and said goodbye to fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends. My eyes returned to Benjamin’s grave, and I felt for his parents who so lovingly buried him, with such a large and distinguished gravestone. How they honored his life.
As I stood in the damp cemetery, among the dead and the trees jutting up like long bones among them, I felt that this pain wasn’t alone. It was gathered together with my own loss and the losses of others I never knew. Even the melancholy green light of a damp day’s end bore it’s part. Stepping on one nail with all your weight is sharply painful, stepping on five is painful, but the weight is distributed a bit more mercifully. Step on a hundred and the pain is dulled. One would rather there be no pain at all, of course, but anything is better than that one nail biting fiercely.
I slipped my hands into my apron pockets and reluctantly left the darkening cemetery, praying as I walked, for it is the best way to gather all the pain; placing it into the hands of the Father, resting in His peace which transcends our understanding.