Bleak November

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I love the old Christmas carol In The Bleak Midwinter. I haven’t always loved it, though. We used to sing it in our church choir, and I always felt so depressed singing it. I thought, Goodness, this is supposed to be Christmas! We should be celebrating, not singing a dirge!

That was before I grew to love the church calendar. Before I understood Lent and Advent and the deep meaning behind them. Before I appreciated the history and symbolism contained in the days leading up to the church’s two biggest holy days.

My Novembers used to be celebratory. The entire month seemed like one huge party, starting with my little brother’s birthday, then my grandpa’s and great grandma’s, my “twin” cousin, one of my best friends’, my dad’s, my niece (born ON my birthday!!😍) then Thanksgiving! All of those celebrations  leading up to the grandest of them all—my birthday! Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not actually a birthday diva (though I’ve been accused of being one). I just really, really love birthdays. And surprises. And cake. And presents. And baby pictures and birth stories and spending a whole entire day rejoicing in life. I just love celebrating life. November has always been a month packed full of festivities. And I loved it.

Two Novembers ago, all of that changed. Two Novembers ago, while we excitedly planned the Thanksgiving menu and my epic birthday celebration, my baby suddenly and inexplicably died within me. One night he was alive. And then he wasn’t.

And as my midwife wrapped her arms around me while I sobbed on the hospital bed that day, she whispered “And tomorrow is your birthday, isn’t it?” He died the day before my birthday. Two days before Thanksgiving.

Not only does November 22 hurt now. The entirety of November hurts. As the month approaches, it hurts. When it finally comes, it hurts. Each dreary November day plods one step closer to that bleakest of Bleak November days. And then, my birthday. Still, two years later, every single detail of those dark days that followed is seared onto my heart.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I remember everything the day he died, and the day after. I vaguely remember Thanksgiving. But then. Nothing. The nine days between when he died and when he was born are like a black hole. All I remember is that’s when I stopped being able to sleep. That’s when I started waking up in the middle of terror filled nightmares. That’s when I would move to the couch in the middle of the night, pop in Anne of Green Gables for the sheer comfort of familiarity, and eventually fall into a restless sleep.

I barely slept for six months following that day. Not until after The Intervention and finally The Separation. Then, I will never forget that March day when I crawled into my own bed again, this time alone, and for the first time in months, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was safe.  My phone wasn’t secretly tucked under my pillow in case of emergencies. I wasn’t afraid of being woken up in the night.  I wasn’t afraid of waking up in the morning. I wasn’t afraid to fall asleep. And so, I did.

What does all of that have to do with my Bleak November? Because that November, we were embroiled in The Beginning of The End. That November, everything that should have been beautiful became broken.  Or maybe, for some things, the broken simply became visible. The fastidiously maintained coverings began to fall away.  And just as nothing could save my baby, nothing, I would learn, could save my marriage. Things at home had been gradually spinning out of control over the last few months, but the speed a which our life was disintegrating had been propelled into high gear in August of that year.

And then–I was pregnant. And then, I wasn’t. And the memories surrounding that time are almost unbearable.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Symphony, and afterwards, I had to walk past the funeral home in order to get to the car. The bitter memories of choosing his casket, of going–alone again–to pick up his tiny body in that beautiful casket, assaulted me and ruined the rest of the evening. I couldn’t get it all out of my head.

And then, there were babies everywhere. It was literally as if the entire population of newborn babies had descended on the Autumn Craft Fair where I was working (at least, that’s how it felt to me). And every time I saw one of those babies, my body would go cold. My chest would tighten, my breathing grew labored. And I just needed to hold one of those babies. Go figure, none of the new mamas were eager to share their newborns with a stranger who looked like she was about to burst into tears.

Last weekend, a TimeHop memory popped up on my phone, and it was a photo of Zion. I began to feel the tightness in my chest, the burning in my throat, my heart beginning to race, my breathing starting to shallow, the feeling of the room closing in around me–an approaching panic attack.  All from the memories.

This morning, I finally made myself order his baby book, so we could have it for his birthday. The kids keep asking to see pictures, sometimes dissolving into tears at the slightest thing and then declaring that they just wish their baby brother was here, and why didn’t I let them see him to say goodbye?? I’ve been putting off ordering that book for over a year. It was about time I did. But even though I merely sped through it for one final check through before ordering it from Shutterfly, I felt that feeling again. As if I was going to vomit. As it I might faint, or merely collapse. Dammit, those pictures. The memories. Two years later? It still takes my breath away. Still sets me crying in the car, in my bedroom, at work–wherever I am.

Every day during the month of November, I’m acutely aware that time is inching closer to The Very Bad Day, as we started calling it. I can distract myself, fill my time with other things, try to forget. But it doesn’t work. It doesn’t change what’s happened. Someday, I hope, I will be able to see photos, or hold babies, or get through the month of November, without so many tears, so many panic attacks, so many days where I just Can’t Even, and we order pizza. Again.

But for now, I’ve accepted that my Novembers are going to be bleak. Just like the old carol, somber and plodding and melancholy, but acknowledging the need for redemption. Pointing to the need for a Savior. Embracing the ache of the “already and not yet.”  And I will be okay, and I will get through it. And there’s light on the other side of all of this.

I’m learning to navigate and stave off the panic attacks.  I’m realizing how deeply the pictures and the memories haunt me, and I’m as careful as I can be, to ensure that I’m prepared for that.  And ordering pizza–even a couple of times in one month–never killed anyone.

 

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Coming Up For Air

My blog has been woefully neglected this last year. There are a number of reasons for that. Probably the biggest one being the fact that the blog’s very web address, ashleynicolewillcox.wordpress.com, is no longer my name. And the life I lived and blogged about here is no longer my life. And part of me feels like an imposter, daring to pick up the pen, as it were, again on this site. It feels like if I’m going to start writing again, I should at least open a new blog. One that doesn’t have my married name attached to it. One that isn’t full of memories of a past life that seems strangely disconnected from the life I’m now living.

But, no. This is still me. Those are still my words. These are still my stories. No one can take that away from me. Maybe someday I will be able to start fresh in a new blogosphere. But for now, I’m still here. I’m still the same person, even though my name has changed, my marriage disintegrated, my hair is short, my address is new, my entire world has shifted unrecognizably.

Almost. Not completely unrecognizably. I still have these four little munchkins surrounding me that call me Mama. They’ve gained a couple of inches, lost some teeth, bickered with one another more than is necessary, but they’re mine nonetheless. We’ve cried together, laughed together, grown together over this last couple of years. Our family looks completely different than it used to.

 

But we are still a family. And by God’s Grace, they have been my anchor. They have given me a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day. They have literally kept me alive. They have been a balm to my broken heart. My four children, I their Mama.

I tell them we will rebuild. We will overcome. We will get through. We will be okay. And some days lately, I actually believe that.

I may not have the same last name, and my hair may be shorter, I may not think or believe all of the same things I espouse at other points in this blog—but then again, maybe I do, go ahead and ask!— but I’m still Me. And it’s about time I come alive again.

In Response to the Firestorm That was My Facebook Wall Yesterday

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” –Madeline Albright

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. A lot of thinking.  That happens when everything you thought was certain and true and stable in your life gets ripped out from under you over the course of a few months.  I’ve fielded a lot of questions about my personal life, my thoughts, my beliefs on what Scripture teaches. I thought, Hey, instead of answering every single person individually, how about I share an article on Facebook which articulates my thoughts perfectly, and with which I fully agree.  That ought to cut back on the personal questions, verbal assaults, and assumptions.

I was wrong.

I shared Gary Thomas’ “Enough is Enough: Why The Church needs to Stop Enabling Abuse,” and simply said it articulates my thoughts well, and encouraged everyone to read it and give it some thought.

That would be nice, right? Giving an article some thought–especially an article directly dealing with how poorly abuse is handled in the church– before saying everything on your mind? Before deciding that you yourself don’t even need to know all the facts, but will instead presume them, and are judge, jury, and executioner in someone’s very thoughts and motives.  Which was, of course, ironically, what I was immediately accused of.

142 comments later…multiple personal messages and phone calls…

How dare I post about my personal life on Facebook! How could I further humiliate my husband by insinuating the things in the article were also true about us.  Why would I want to cause people to assume terrible things about my marriage? Take it down. Take it down, NOW.

You guys. I believe I was very clear in my post that I was simply posting an article about rampant abuse in the church, how it’s not only swept under the rug, but enabled and perpetuated.  And so many of you did an amazing job of proving my very point.  If you assumed things on my own life, marriage, or situation because I shared an article with which I agree, that’s on you.  If maybe you were privy to more of the personal details of my life and projected that on to the article and my intent in posting, and then commented with deeply personal information about my life, I may have deleted your comments, and I’m not sorry I did.  I’m only sorry you thought it was appropriate to go there on Facebook, and more sorry that you thought my posting the article in the first place pointed to or said anything specific to me or my life. I’m not the one who went there on Facebook. You did.

For those of you who read the article for what it was, assumption and judgement-free of what I may or may not be saying about my own life, thank you.  Thank you for considering how we can stand up to this very horrific and deeply entrenched pattern in the church.  For those of you who reached out to me via texts or personal messages, thank you.  So many of you said, “Thanks for posting this article and shedding light on a very touchy subject.  I wouldn’t have thought twice about it possibly being personal until I saw some people’s comments–by the way, are you okay?”

And more sadly, so many of you reached out and said, “Thank you so much for posting this, because yes, yes, YES! I am being abused, and when I went to the church for help, they only made it worse!” So many of you said, “I don’t have a voice anymore, and I need someone to help me get it back.  Please. Please help me get help, too.”

My God-given voice has been crushed and suppressed by the “church” for too long.  Now that I have found it again, I fully intend to use it to be a voice for the voiceless, to shine light in the darkness, and to set the captives free.

Last year, during the darkest time of my life, I got the words “Out of These Ashes, Beauty will Rise” tattooed on my foot.  I guarantee you, when I had that permanently inked on my foot, I had no idea what that beauty rising out of the ashes would be, I just knew God was good, all the time. Some people tell me that I am giving up hope of beauty rising.  But I think that it’s just beginning to rise.  And it looks entirely different than I imagined it would. But it’s even more Beautiful than I ever dreamed it would be.

Speaking of which, I can’t wait for you all to see my next tattoo…

 

 

An Odd Juxtaposition of Incongruent Elements

My youth pastor once preached a sermon where he used an illustration.  He had been an art major, and while he was out viewing art, he and a friend saw a beautiful, old, ornate cathedral.  And on the front of it was a neon florescent lit cross.  He tells the story of how his friend tilted her head, somewhat confused, and expressed, “That’s an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.”

Grief is a lot like that neon cross on the cathedral. An odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.  It doesn’t always hit us the way we expect.  And it certainly doesn’t always look the way others expect.

I remember when an elderly friend died. His wife didn’t cry at all at his funeral. They had been married for over 60 years…and she didn’t even cry at his funeral.  Instead, she cried months later when her friend’s husband died. She cried at his funeral all the buckets of tears she wanted to cry at her own husband’s, but couldn’t.

Grief is a funny thing, isn’t it? When and how it chooses to manifest itself often makes no sense at all. We often feel sad when we don’t expect to and okay when we expect to feel sad. We have times where tears are expected and culturally appropriate, and times where expression of emotion is frowned upon. But our grief doesn’t always hit us on the timetable that we, or everyone else, expect it to.

I expected to cry when Zion was stillborn. But I didn’t. I felt numb right then.

I expected to cry at his funeral, during the slideshow, or maybe while my sister sang the haunting melody of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” But I didn’t cry then either.

I cried when I saw the hearse and wasn’t expecting it. I cried when the funeral director had us carry the casket out together as a family and lay it in the hearse, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I cried when I was alone in my bed. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I cried a lot.

But other times, I laughed when I didn’t expect it. I laughed with my family on my birthday, the day after he died, while I was still pregnant with his lifeless body. I smiled and recounted my blessings over a Thanksgiving feast that friends and family and I had been bound and determined to enjoy.

My sister and some friends and I laughed over something silly after his funeral. We did Christmas and birthdays, and celebrated, and plodded through the weeks leading up to his missed due date. I dreaded that date. The weeks leading up to it were filled with that odd juxtaposition of incongruent emotions. Some days were sad days, some days were okay. Most days I curled up alone in my bed at night and felt sad.

For some reason, May 1 was the date that my heart broke. The first of May, the month I had been dreading for so long, was the day when all the pent up grief from the months before washed over me, and I felt its suffocating weight. I hadn’t expected that.

If there is one thing I have learned from this, it’s that grief tends to manifest itself in the ways we don’t expect. The ebb and flow of sorrow and normalcy come in and out like the tide, some days soft and slow, other days, crushing and overwhelming. We don’t choose when we feel grief’s vice-like grip. And sometimes, that can be hard for others, those on the outside looking in, to understand.

It can feel confusing to watch another person grieve, because they don’t always appear to grieve in the same way we would, or think that they should. It can feel duplicitous when we know how heavy their heart is, but somehow they smile and laugh, or do “normal” things, or even appear to have fun.

There are no rules for grief. There can’t be. Everyone experiences grief differently. Everyone moves through its stages differently and at different paces.  But please give the grieving person the benefit of the doubt. Please don’t judge them for not crying when you think they should, or crying when you think they shouldn’t. Please don’t shame them for having moments of “normalcy” where they are able to smile and laugh despite their heavy heart. Please don’t expect them to conform to whatever pattern of grief you feel theirs should look like.

Grief is a scary, confusing, multi-faceted beast.  It never manifests itself in the ways you expect, and rarely at the times you expect.  The last thing a grieving person needs is to be told how their grief should look so it makes you feel better.  Our brains always want to make sense of things, and grief doesn’t make any sense. It just is.  And grieving people just need you to be with them in their “is,” without judgement or expectations.  They have no idea how their journey will look or how long it will take, but trust me, it’s even scarier for them to navigate than for you.  Just keep loving grieving people, thinking of ways to help or lighten the load, offering encouragement and love.  Their process may take longer or look differently than you expect or think it “should.”  That’s okay. Just walk with them anyway.

While I was out one evening,  choosing to have fun instead of mope, one of my friends snapped this picture of me.

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I love it. It reminds me that not all of life is sorrow and sadness and suffering.  It reminds me that, as awful as these last few months have been–for so many reasons in addition to the death of my son–there is still some joy.  There is still happiness.  There is and will continue to be healing.  There is light at the end of this tunnel.  And beauty will rise out of these ashes. (And if your concern is actually that in my sorrow, I am turning to drinking and debauchery, have no fear. We can have a conversation about our views on drinking and smoking if you want, but please don’t make wrong assumptions based on a picture.)

These two pictures, side-by-side, are an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.  But they are no less true.  Grief is an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements, too.  Two hours after the smiling picture was taken, I was curled up in bed sobbing.  These pictures, to me, are a visual representation of the complexities of grief. There is no right or wrong way.  There is no time frame.  There are no rules.  Grief just is.

Please don’t watch a grieving person from the outside and assume they are depressed or sinning because they exhibit sorrow.  Please don’t judge a grieving person for smiling or laughing and assume they are cold and heartless.  Please understand the multi-dimensional, complex creatures that God made us as humans, and give grace instead of condemnation.

Our brains naturally want to make sense of the senseless.  But grief doesn’t make sense.  It’s just like that neon green cross flashing atop the gothic cathedral.  Strange.  Confusing.  Odd.  Ugly.  Irrational.  It doesn’t make always look like we think it “should.”  But maybe we should be the ones changing how we think grief “should” look, instead of shaming the grieving person for  not conforming to our expectations.  Maybe we shouldn’t impose our expectations on those who are just trying to figure out how to feed ourselves and our kids most days. Maybe we shouldn’t judge grieving people for having good days followed by bad days followed by good days. Just walk alongside them instead of analyzing their every step. Pray for them instead of persecuting them. Serve them instead of waiting for them. Take the opportunity of being friends with a suffering soul to extend grace, mercy, and love without strings attached.   “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to get it all together. He came to us at our lowest.  May we be there for the hurting when they are at their lowest, offer a hand up, and walk along together.

Birthday Wishes

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Dear Zion,

This morning, I woke up to a pile of kids on my bed. After a series of nightmares all night long, I welcomed your brothers and sisters climbing under the covers with me, snuggling in and laughing at the antics of Adoniah. My heart swelled with love for those four little joys, and suddenly, I was keenly aware that someone was missing. You.

“Shuah, go into the other room and get your baby brother to join us!” I only thought the words, and just as I opened my mouth to say them out loud, I remembered.

You weren’t asleep in the next room. You couldn’t join in on the pile of siblings in my bed. Why was my brain playing terrible tricks on me and making me think you were?

Today is May 10. That day that every mom circles and puts hearts all over and writes “Due Date!!” on her calendar for but totally hopes she gets to end up meeting her baby sooner than that date.

But I didn’t want it to be so much sooner. And I had imagined I would get to keep you once you were born.

We have a birthday tradition here. However many years the birthday person is turning, they get that number of candles on their cake. And they try to blow them all out, and if they do, they make a wish. You never got to blow out birthday candles and make a wish. So I will make a wish on your behalf. Lots of wishes actually, because this Mama’s broken heart has an infinite number of wishes for her baby boy.

I wish you could have kept growing inside of me until you were ready to be born, healthy and alive. I wish I hadn’t complained about how awful it is to be pregnant. I wish I hadn’t been afraid of how in earth would I handle five kids?? I wish I had a birth story for you that ended in joy and not sorrow. I wish I could have had that moment with you–that ethereal moment that surpasses all human joy–that moment when you would have come into the world crying and been placed on my chest. That moment when I would have seen your face for the first time, and you would have squinted open your little eyes at me and seen your Mama for the first time. I would have cooed “Oh hi there!” To your squishy, round face, just like I did with your brothers and sisters. And I would have beamed with pride and joy and laughed with your daddy and the midwife over the miracle of new life and birth.

I wish I had gotten that moment with you.

I wish I could have seen the look on your big brother’s face when I told him you were a boy!! And I wish I could have seen the pride in his eyes when he would have held you for the first time. Eliana would have doted in you. Jubilee would have giggled over you. Adoniah probably would have poked you, or even given you a good bop on the head for good measure–just so you could start your life out knowing he was older than you.

They would have loved you. We would have loved you. I wish we could have had the chance.

But sometimes I think about how I wish you were in my arms, and I remember…you are in Jesus’ arms!! How glorious would that be?? You are more alive now than ever. And you have even met your sister before me, and so many cousins. I can imagine all of you enjoy playing and laughing just like I did with my own cousins growing up. Sometimes when I am feeling the overwhelming sorrow, I remember where you are and how happy you are, and I smile. You are in good hands.

But it doesn’t take away the emptiness in my own arms, the ache in my heart, the tears from my eyes. I may never again hold you on my arms, but I will always hold you in my heart. I will always be your Mama and you will always be my son. I will think about you every November 22 and December 1 and May 10 for the rest of my life. Those dates are burned onto my heart. The day you died. The day you were stillborn. The day you should have been born.

Today, you should have been born. But nothing in this world is as it should have been, is it? And you know that firsthand, as you sit at Jesus’ feet, in His very presence, and experience eternal life without sin, pain, and death.

Someday I will see you again. And your sister. And your cousins. Give them all hugs and kisses and play some hide and seek and tell stories and laugh a lot in the meantime, okay? I will do the same down here with your brothers and sisters, and we will always wish you were with us, too.

Love you now, forever, always,

Your Mama

 

Bitter. Sweet.

I want to print Zion’s baby book. Or rather, I need to print it. But I don’t really want to.

Part of me does and part of me doesn’t.

All I have left of him are my memories and those pictures. And I love those pictures.

Well. Some of them.

But some of them, I hate. Some of them, I can’t even look at. Some of them rip through my heart like a dagger, piercing through to the very depths of my being.

After he was born, we were concerned that his skin would start peeling, and so we handled him very, very gently.  At first, his whole body was slightly damp and sticky and a little bit shiny. When we pulled him out of the sack (he was born en caul, my water never broke), part of the stretchy, sticky substance stuck to his body, a large portion covering half of his face.  I tried to peel it away at first, but I was too afraid of tearing his tender skin.  I knew he would never feel it. But I would.  And I just couldn’t.

So for the first half of the pictures, his face is half obscured by what was left of the sack.  And it looks…creepy.  Eerie.  Disturbing.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to at least try to get that sack off his face.  Thankfully, my long nails were perfect for oh, so carefully peeling a strand off. And once it started coming, it kept coming.  And then! His other eye! His whole face! Why hadn’t I done that before?  Some of my favorite pictures of us with him we took before I got that stupid sack off his face.  And I will always wish I had pulled it off from the beginning.

I love, love, love this picture of my hands in a heart around his tiny, precious feet.  You guys.  Every. Single. Little. Toe. Melt-your-heart adorable. But every time I look at it, I want to redo it. I want to be able to reach into the camera and pull that leftover strand of sack off his feet.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

But the ones that I can’t look at are the ones where it’s just him, lying limply on his blanket.  As soon as we would prop his head or hands up one way, they would fall lifeless to the side again.  His head would roll back to the side, his cheeks and neck bulging out grotesquely under the weight of his still disproportionate head. I can’t look at them without remembering how horrifyingly dead he was.  How it was the opposite of what a birthday should be.

I can’t look at his wide open, vacant eyes without wishing I knew what color they would have become.  Without wishing he had at least been alive long enough to grow eyelids over those eyes so they weren’t just so awfully empty.

My five-year old just walked in as I was browsing through his pictures to find ones for this post. She gasped in awe, “Is that baby Zion?” she asked, running up and gazing longingly at her brother.

Then. As only children, in their sheer uncensored honesty can say things.  “Ewww.  He looks kinda ugly.” And then she was off to fight bad guys again with her siblings. And I am left with that bitter truth.

I hate that. I hate that I think the same thing. I hate that part of me cringes when I see some of his pictures, because he just wasn’t ready yet. He wasn’t ready to be born yet.  He wasn’t ready for the outside world. My mama’s heart wants to protect him from anyone else thinking or saying the same thing.

I love, love, love this one of us holding him  together.  But I can’t look at the pictures of us holding him without wishing he had grown big enough to hold him in our arms instead of just our hands.

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The pictures are both bitter and sweet.  Truly bittersweet.  Some of the pictures I absolutely love.  I will print them out and hang them on my wall and my heart will swell with love and longing every time I look at them.  But others are just hard.  Others are just plain sad for me.

And part of me feels like I need to hang on to those painful ones, too, because it’s all I have to remember him by.  But another part of me says it’s okay to let those go.  It’s okay to not print some of them in his baby book.  It’s okay to want his baby book to be my favorite pictures, the ones I love of the son I never got to know.

One of these days, if Shutterfly will stop glitching long enough for me to finish the book, I will print it off.  I will print the pictures that I love, and not print the ones that I don’t love.  And I will happily share his memory with anyone who wants to see the pictures I feel comfortable showing.  And that’s okay.

 

 

Good Morning, May?

 

I woke up this morning, and it was May. Finally. I have been dreading this month for weeks. And it’s finally here.

I laid awake half of the night, listening to the branches scrape the roof, wondering if it was an intruder, or maybe the kids waking up and building obstacle courses in their room again?

But, no. It wasn’t that. It was simply five inches of extremely heavy snow coating the newly blossomed tree branches, weighing them down so much that they trailed over the roof, blowing in the wind and scraping the shingles repeatedly.  Occasionally, I heard a loud, splintering crack, as another huge branch simply couldn’t handle the weight of the snow anymore and crashed to the ground.

Lately I wonder how much longer I can handle the weight of my grief.

This wasn’t how the first day of May was supposed to look.  Last week, it was 70 and sunny. The grass was green and springing up in all new places in our yard.  Tiny leaves sprouted off the branches, and hope filled the air. Spring was coming. But now, winter had stolen back in, its frigid air whistling through the tree tops, its snow shrouding the blossoms.

This wasn’t how May was supposed to look in our home, either. Me, alone in my bed, listening to the eerie scraping of snowy branches, clinging tightly to the tiny blue blanket that my son’s casket had been wrapped in.  I’ll never forget, when I went to pick up that casket to bury him, how I waited in the funeral home narthex. Waited in silence, barely keeping the tears back.  And how the man, kind and gentle, slowly walked back towards me, carrying that precious miniature box.  His eyes met mine as he handed him over, and I was amazed at the depth of grief and compassion in his eyes. We didn’t say anything to each other. We didn’t have to.  We both knew. There are simply no words.  Only unfathomable sorrow.

I gritted my teeth, put my chin up, and walked back to my car.  But as soon as I closed the door safely behind me, I picked up that precious casket, wrapped it in my arms, and held it tightly to my chest, allowing the tears to fall, and the grief to wash over me. The night before we buried him, his casket was in my parents’ garage.  I knew in the morning, he would be buried beneath the dirt, and I would never hold him close again.  All I wanted in the whole world was to steal out to the garage after everyone was asleep, take his casket out of its protective box, and hold him close one last time. I wanted to sit on the steps and cling to him and cry all the tears that felt stuck in the back of my throat, burning, searing, aching to be let out.  But I couldn’t. Maybe someone would hear me. Maybe I would bother someone.  And so I didn’t. And I will always, always wish I had. It was my last chance to be that close to him. And I will never get that back.

Every night, as I climb under the covers in bed, I pull Zion’s baby blanket up to my face, close my eyes, and just inhale its scent. I think maybe if I breathe deeply enough, I can remember what he felt like to hold. Or maybe, if I breathe in deeply enough, I can even undo all the terrible truth and actually hold him in my arms for real, like I was supposed to be doing right now. I burrow under the duvet and grasp his blanket to my chest. If only he was on my chest. I wonder if every stillborn mother feels that aching in her chest–that horrible, awful, heavy nothingness–where your newborn baby was supposed to lie, warm and soft and full of life. Nothing can fill that emptiness. Nothing can take away that ache.

I hear another branch snap and crash to the ground outside. I have been dreading the month of May for many weeks now. With each day it grows closer, my heart grows heavier, the ache more physical than emotional.  May, with all the hopes and dreams it held. The beginning of spring, of new life, of new birth.  All that beauty is buried beneath inches of white snow, but in a couple of days, it will all come alive again.  Spring will still come, even here in South Dakota.  The new life hidden under the snow is still there, still alive, and it will pop back out again.

But while May will inevitably bring forth spring, causing sleeping things to come alive all around, my baby will still be dead. He will still lie cold in his grave. The new birth in our home that we had eagerly anticipated is not to be.  So while it may technically be spring, it may be May, and there may be tulips under all that snow, I look out my window now, and it seems perfectly fitting.

I’ll take it. I’ll take five inches of snow on the first day of May this year.  I’ll stay in my bathrobe in my bed with my baby’s blanket and my baby’s pictures and my empty arms and my tears, and I will wait for spring to come.

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