Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Grief Journey

A little over a week ago the couple whose baby died in utero held a ceremony to honor him. It was profound.

They live across the street from a great city park. They got the city's permission to claim one of the recently planted trees (the city has stopped its memorial tree program, so the closest thing it could offer was association to a tree already planted to replace one of the ash trees felled by the emerald ash borer; that there is this scientific and community connection somehow feels fitting -- the couple are both scientists themselves). They had a memorial marker engraved with their son's name, birth date and acknowledgement that he taught them about "joy, love and community."

On the day of their tribute some 40-50 people gathered at the tree. We made origami decorations out of paper they provided. Some people brought flowers to lay on the ground; a few had stuffed animals. One person had tied a note to a stone and laid it on the new mulch.

There was a slow, peaceful rhythm as different people stepped forward to the table to make their ornaments, then hang them before blending back in with the crowd.

Eventually -- at what felt like exactly the right moment -- the couple stepped up to the tree. They had been standing off to the side watching people gather, though I only noticed them as they entered the group. It was magical. One minute I was unsuccessfully searching the crowd for their faces, the next, they were suddently right in front of me.

They hung a string of what looked like homemade prayer flags on the tree. Then each read a meditation he or she had written to and for their son. The sky was grey. Snow was flurrying. The parents' words were occasionally lost to the wind or to emotion. In part to hear better, in part out of the reflex to cocoon this couple, our group tightened in and around them. We witnessed their stories; they bore witness to their son's life.

When they were done reading, we stood silently for a few seconds. Then one person stepped forward to hug them and another. Again we were back to the slow rhythm, the dance into the circle's center and out as different of us felt called to give a physical sign of support and sympathy.

The whole ceremony was unscripted. In fact, the father said at one point, "We don't know what we're doing." And yet, it was as perfect as any tribute to a lost child's life and parents' grief could be. It was honest and spontaneous and raw.

The couple invited us to their home across the street. We drank mulled cider and nibbled -- who had an appetite -- at a table full of food. From every room at least one window faced the park. One could easily see the recently decorated tree, a bold collection of color in an otherwise dreary landscape.

I have gotten permission from the family to link to the blog they've set up to chronicle this loss. I know you will only visit with respect and a loving heart.

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Blogger cooler*doula said...

I remember you writing about this. Oh my. So hard to read. So imposible to imagine what they must be going through. And at the same time, there's that terrifying pang every parent must surely feel reading about this impossibly sad and unfair outcome of that long nine month odyssey...

7:13 PM  

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