A Simple Question With A Difficult Answer
I wrote a book about a mother. Which means that often when I talk about the book I am asked, "How many children do you have?"
This is a simple question with a difficult answer.
I have three children. A son, Harper Benjamin, and two daughters, identical twins, Haven Emerson and Gideon Rose.
I have three children, but I only get to raise two, because my daughter Giddy passed away when she and her sister were only 19 days old.
By sad happenstance HUGO & ROSE, which I had worked on through their pregnancy, sold to St. Martin's Press three days after my daughter died.
The past year and a half has been a difficult journey. Mourning a child while raising her twin is a particularly unique kind of grief. To have added the dream come true of having my first book published amid this loss has been strange. Needless to say in all my unpublished writer's fantasies of what selling a book would be like, none of them involved talking with editors outside of NICUs or getting off the phone with my agent to take a call from a funeral director.
Hugo & Rose's path to publication has been bittersweet to say the least.
When I began writing the book, Rose was a character I had constructed to serve the plot. She was very much not a version of myself.
But I am now more like Rose than I ever thought possible, with first-hand experience of things I had previously only imagined. The playground scene in which a monster devours an identical twin was written well before the girls were conceived, but now has new poignancy. Rose’s father’s vigil, and his helplessness in the face of her condition is now something I have experienced, rather than just written about.
And like Rose, I now know exactly what it is like to watch someone grow up in my dreams.
And while the loss of my dear sweet Giddy is not the book's story, it has become, at least for me, the story of the book.
Grief is a lonely process but grieving a child who spent such a short time on this earth is even lonelier. What often helps in mourning is the sharing of memories. But families who suffer stillbirth or neo-natal loss often don't have these memories... or what few memories they do have are painful. It is lonely to mourn the end of potential, the shuttering of hope. We are taught to "get over" the disappointments we can do nothing about. To have a dead child is to have read a library of disappointments. But no one "gets over" it.
The greatest balm to me on this path has been the work of writers who found the strength to be vulnerable; to talk about their children, despite the discomfort of a world which would like to ignore the sad fact of infant loss. These writers, often women, insist upon the fact of their children's existence by sharing the story of their deaths. They do it by showing that a woman can be a grieving mother, and also sometimes be funny, and sometimes be happy, and, yes, sometimes be sad, but not in the ways you'd expect, and not at the times you want her to be.
We are strange creatures, grieving mothers, you'd almost think we were humans.
I suppose I am telling you this, because it would have been easier for me to write my daughter out of my biography. I did not need to share.
But Gideon is my biography. As much a part of me as any other fact of my life. Certainly much more than can ever fit on a book jacket.
And so I have decided to share, in case my story can be a balm to someone else, like those other writers were to me.
If you have found me through something I have published about my daughter or child loss, I thank you for letting me share my story. If you have lost a child yourself, please know that my heart aches for you and every lost child. If it will help you, please share your story with me. I will do my best to respond, though it may take me a while to be strong enough to do so.
These Things Helped Me With The Loneliness
This book, about McCracken's stillborn son and her subsequent pregnancy, was the first thing I was able to read after losing Gideon. I started in the middle, afraid it would be too painful to come at someone else's loss directly. I read it that way, bit by bit, thumbing around, nodding and crying because it felt like someone had written down dispatches from my heart. Elizabeth McCracken is a writer of incredible talent. Her story, and the way she tells it, will break your already broken heart.
Emily Rapp has said, "A broken heart is an open one." Her memoir about her son Ronan's demise from Tay Sach's is smart, touching and a deep meditation on what it means for a parent to survive her child.
One More Thing That Can Help
I recently forgot to call a very good friend on the anniversary of her son's death. I caught her online the next day, messaging her that I felt badly for not connecting and that I wanted to know how she had spent her day. She told me that she had spent it alone with her dogs, taking walks, crying and listening to her son's music.
I asked her to share some of his songs with me.
What followed was intimate and powerful. She sent me links to the music which makes her son dance in her mind. I listened to them and wept for her and her son and the loss to the world.
If you know someone who has lost a child, ask them for the song that most makes them think of their son or daughter. I assure you they will have one. Then listen to it. I mean, sit down, still your body and listen to your friend's child's song. You will be moved.
And if you have lost a child, consider sharing the song. Even if you lost you son or daughter years ago. Even if you're supposed be over it. Especially if you're supposed to be over it. Share the song and let your child dance in the minds of others.
My Gideon was named for a Beatles song. And like many, many, many grieving parents we sang "Blackbird" at her bedside. But the song that makes her dance in my mind "For Good" from Wicked.