|Standing in community: Balm for heartache|
A couple of weeks ago, at the end of a discernment class that I help co-facilitate at a catholic, urban spirituality center, two participants requested some special prayers for a newly born child who was on life support. While I had no connection to this babe, my friends did, and entering into the sacred space of quiet and love-filled silence required nothing, save for my sincere intention. Yesterday, at lunch, with two mom friends in relationship with this child's parents, and one of the catholic nuns we all work with, we learned that the child passed away. She had been taken off life support on Wednesday, began breathing on her own, and then abruptly died on Thursday.
In the same lunch/ work space, with this news arriving via text message and shattering the calm and ease of our cohort, came tears and a request for further prayers. Sr. Mary* lead us quietly in a beautiful reflection on this child's passing, imagining her ease into Heaven, her arrival into the arms of ancestors and angels, and asking the God we all believe in to hold the family closely, guiding them in their grief and gratitude for this little girl's brief life.
I sat at our corner table, feeling tucked and safe with my friends, but wildly open and vulnerable in my heart and whole body. Days away from celebrating my own daughter's second birthday, and thinking of the small being growing inside my own belly, (for those who may not know I am 10 weeks pregnant) I thought I might crack in half with sorrow for this kind of loss of life.
Within moments of this news, Sr. Mary shared a tale from her own northside community that involved another kind of ache and loss simultaneously being experienced across town. She told us of a mother who she has known for years who was, that afternoon, giving her newborn daughter up for adoption. The why of it was not fully disclosed, but details of this mother's other, OLDER children -- six and 8 years, begging for their mom to bring the baby home - were again enough to send me over the edge.
Yes, the mom is an addict.
No, this wasn't the first child she'd given up.
Yes, she was in darkness and despair.
No, the older kids were not doing well -- stepping into a space to caretake for their mother.
I immediately thought of a lesbian couple I know who have adopted three children -- all with special needs, two from the same mom, both of them born addicted to narcotics. I saw their sweet faces and robust smiles and snapshots of arms wrapped around their tiny frames -- all so loved.
I was angry and grateful and overwhelmed all in one breath.
"Man, is God busy today" were the words that came quietly out of my mouth toward Sister Mary. She nodded and smiled, "yes."
My friends processed a bit of their own immediate grief over the death of the daughter that they knew personally, and tears flowed as they considered the way their own children's knowledge of this passing would bring them so much closer to their own mortality and questions of life, death, vulnerability, God, uncertainty, and the fragility of life.
I listened to these moms reflect on ways that they would parent through this time, addressing their 4, 5 and 7 year olds' fears, and considering the larger community that they have in common and will journey with as adult friends.
We moved through our lunch and planning meeting in stops and starts, and I personally was grateful for the distraction of our work tasks at hand.
After my colleagues left, I turned to email and other to-dos, and almost immediately got another note that was a blow to my heart and mind. My long time friend, colleague and teaching mentor sent an email to share that her sister had died suddenly the day before, completely unexpectedly - and so no, she wouldn't be able to make our monthly date for dinner.
Today, at ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education), we gathered in a circle with Teacher Todd for songs and stories and up on the whiteboard behind him was a penned obituary for the guinea pig that had died a few days ago. (Even this classroom pet was not safe from the cycle of life playing out!)
The levity in my morning, and balm for all this ache and woe, came in fact from one small child named Lily, who confided in me near the guinea pig's cage while feeding the other remaining pet a carrot: "She went to guinea pig heaven, you know?" I nodded, in awe at this child's capacity to state so clearly what had happened and why the cage was a bit emptier. After a brief pause, she looked at me, shook her head, and uttered one more word, "Shoot."
Next to this large classroom cage, with one lonely guinea pig being plied with straw and carrots --like any good family-survivor-in-mourning household would be --I acknowledged my own broken, grieving heart and gave thanks for this space.
"Shoot" is a very appropriate response for it all.
Thanks for being on the receiving end of this reflection. Please keep all families who know loss and death at this time in your thoughts, as images of love, largeness, community, life-cycles, especially birth, buoy us, and remind us of the circles that envelop and permeate our existence, and perpetuate and transform our hearts and minds.
*not her real name.