Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Comfort" by Ann Hood

In just weeks after Caitlin died, I heard of a non-denominational group that helps bereaved parents cope, and so I attended a meeting on "How to Cope with the Holidays" with a special speaker, Ann Hood. Truth be known. I didn't care about the topic. After all, I wasn't even aware that there were holidays. The day after Caitlin's funeral we had Thanksgiving dinner at my house. It was surreal. The years of holiday dinners kicked in and we celebrated being together as a family, and for me her death loomed over it all. But we were thankful to be together, that I remember. I smiled that day.

Oh, dear, I've lost focus. . . .

So, I go alone to the group session. I entered already tear-stained and shaking and hunched over--a posture I held for months and still sometimes return to when the grief folds me again. I'm greeted by two lovely women, leaders of the group and bereaved mothers. They welcome me and ask about Caitlin. I answer, but I don't remember the rest of the conversation. I'm introduced to others and Kleenex boxes are placed in the several places in the center of a circle of about 30 chairs. I'm introduced and seated next to a pregnant woman, whose first child died as an infant from SIDS. This mom had flowing red hair and her love for her child radiated from her. We talk and I feel this hope that I'm sitting next to a baby. Yup, I felt comforted by the presence of a baby I couldn't see or hold, and wasn't mine. But, somehow it was proof on some level that babies could live. That was an anchor for me, the growing baby.

Oh, dear, I've lost focus again . . .

There were more than the usual number of chairs, because of our special speaker, Ann Hood, who wrote "The Knitting Circle" and the not yet published "Comfort." We were there to hear her story and hear some hope and feel some comfort.

The meeting starts We passed a rock with butterflies painted on it and as each parent held the rock, they told raw and painful stories of their dead children and their grief became as hard and cold as that rock. As the butterflies fluttered to each shaking bereft hand the cold hard pain continued to pummel me. When I received the rock, I remember saying something that identified who I was and that I was Caitlin's mother and she had died just a few weeks earlier and then I stared at the stone butterflies and remembered how the symbol that was once hopeful throughout my life was now stone. The beautiful gold butterfly earrings my husband gave to me with a smile and sweet words, "They made me think of you and your spirit." The butterfly icon I used when I first posted a care message on Caitlin's page for family and friends far away with the message, "A beautiful butterfly for a beautiful girl." And the baby onsies with butterflies on them.

"And I'm scared," I said, "I'm so scared." The stone butterflies layed their heaviness into the hands of the parent to my right and though there were 10 more stories, I was deaf. I hear a dull roar and could only remember the weight of that stone in my hands and the weight of Caitlin's dead body in my arms, when I looked at my husband and whispered, "She's not here anymore. I can feel it. She's not here anymore."

Oh, dear, I must focus . . .

The speaker, it was her turn. The stone was in her hands and I thought, "OK, now here is where I will hear some comfort. I'll see some evidence that I can survive this." The dead cold stone drew out her story of the death of her child. We heard the sad details and the devastation it visited upon her and her family. And my pain becomes unbearable and the meeting is over. I hug one woman and leave with the stories pounding inside my ears and crushing my heart. And a rock gives way and I find myself swept away in an avalanche of death rock and stone.

I leave with ax desperately swinging and trying to anchor it somewhere to save myself. I hear me talking to myself, trying to self-sooth with a mantra of "This is unacceptable. Unacceptable. This is unacceptable." I found myself in my car, holding my keys and trying to remember what to do with them. And grateful only for the landing.

What of "Comfort" by Ann Hood? I may discover that another day.

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