There’s a small memory box I keep up in the attic. It doesn’t have a place of prominence, it gets set on a stack of boxes or shoved in an open box. But, it has a place of prominence in my heart.
The anniversary of grief coincides with the time of year when I climb up to retrieve my Christmas decorations from the attic, where the memory box greets me with little stabs of pain.
A few years I have shoved it aside and blinked back tears.
Other years, I open the book-shaped tin box, finger through the scant contents, and weep in the cold, breathing in insulation dust with my heaving.
I’m always surprised that the grief can be as raw as it was years ago. That the longings for the “what-ifs” are only dimmed, but not gone. I’m still surprised I never have a tissue because I always think this might be the year I won’t weep. This year the memory box needed to be opened so I could write the entire story of the contents for the first time.
I’d gone in for a routine sonogram. It was my 7th pregnancy, I knew the ropes. I chatted with the technician while she blobbed my bulging tummy with the cold jelly. Even though I was only three months pregnant, I had no muscle tone left and showed very quickly. I shared our family’s excitement about having another little one and explained that baby #6 was held so much, I didn’t use a swing or a playpen. She moved the probe around and gently applied pressure. We both stared with anticipation as the image appeared on the screen.
Her face confirmed my fears.
She pressed and prodded anxiously with no response. The silence of death in the room was the opening line in my lifelong story of loss. The intensity of her shock and grief blended with mine. She spoke long-forgotten words and left to find a doctor.
I don’t remember what happened next, if anybody spoke or hugged me or expressed their sympathy, but I was ushered into a examination room and left alone. Someone, maybe me, called my husband, and I awaited his arrival. I paced a little, stared out the window and marveled at the green life in the midst of the WA winter, then curled up on the exam table because there was nothing else to do.
I lay in the darkness, feeling the stillness, the starkness, and the emptiness as if I were inside my own heart. I heard voices outside my door and wondered if they were talking about me.
The door to the room next to me opened and I heard happy voices of a young man and woman greeting the doctor. Within a few minutes a familiar sound filled my room. I could almost see the sound of the small, galloping horse that interrupted my despair.
The happy exclamations of marvel from the mom and the dad harmonized with the heart-hoofbeats of their child.
I shook and sobbed on the exam table while their child’s life echoed in my emptiness.
I wept for my loss and I wept for their gain, as their joy intermingled with my grief through the hospital wall.
My grief turned to worship as the reality hit – their baby was ALIVE! They wouldn’t feel the agony I was going through. I rejoiced with them and prayed for their precious family. My child was lovingly welcomed into the arms of Jesus, and their child would be lovingly welcomed into their arms.
The next day I checked in early to the hospital for a procedure, an ugly word for an ugly experience. My baby wasn’t alive, but I couldn’t stand the thought of what would happen to its little body. My husband was in the private room with me as I dressed in a hospital gown and waited. I was walked alone to a hospital bed inside a large staging room, where patients were separated only by a thin curtain. In what felt like a cold parking garage, we all waited for something we didn’t want.
It was so cold and so lonely and so empty.
I couldn’t stop my sobs and was crying out, “But I WANTED this baby. I WANTED this baby. I WANT my baby.” I felt bad for disrupting everyone else, but how did they think I would endure the grief alone?
Relief finally came to my veins from a man in a white coat and the last thing I remember is being shoved through the cavernous room to where the procedure would take place. I’m glad I have no other memories other than being dressed again and a warm, kind woman talking to me about grief and urging me to read the brochures.
Shopping a few months later, still hazily confused how the world could go on when I was frozen in grief, I purchased the box stamped with the word “Eternal Love.” It was small, but I had precious little to put in the box. It was my way of physically marking a life that passed so quickly, few lives were touched. I read in a book I no longer own or can find, “No life, no matter how brief, is without purpose.”
All I had to put in it was this sweet infant gown I’d purchased because it was the most traditional baby item, my hospital bracelet, and the few cards and letters I received.
My dear friend Kirsti took time to write down the advice I didn’t know I needed at the time.
My Christmas season begins with remembering the precious little one who never celebrated the birth of the Christ child, but has celebrated every day as a child of Christ. It begins with the memory box I keep in the attic.