When I was a child, I snuck into my mother's china cabinet, and took out the Lenox statuette of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus. My mother was napping on the couch. And, through some bizarre twist of fate, I lost hold of the porcelain form. I'm terribly uncoordinated, but have pretty good reflexes, so I was able to catch it quickly (like those catatonic people in the 1990 Robin Williams/Robert DeNiro flick, Awakenings). But Jesus's porcelain head tapped the table, and popped off, and rolled across the dining room floor. I was young, probably around 8, and gearing up for my first communion. Religion was terrifying to me at that time, and I knew God would smite me, and bad, for breaking off the head of his only begotten son. There was no need to incur the wrath of my mother as well. She was sleeping, so I used that opportunity to glue the head of Baby Jesus back onto his body, which was not so safe in his mother's arms. My mother never found out, though when I looked at the figurine last year after my mom's death, I could clearly see where the glue had yellowed around the neck of the savior.
You'll say I'm ridiculous, but I don't care. The visual of the head of the Baby Jesus traveling across the dark green carpeting of our dining room, has never left me. I see it now as foreshadowing of my broken faith and my heartbreaking road to parenthood.
Matthew turned one a few weeks ago, and buying the chunky 1 candle at the supermarket for his cake was a profound moment for me. It was just a run-of-the-mill wax 1, but I had spent so much time in the previous year marking the anniversaries of sad, miserable days: my mother's death, my dog's death, and, most notably, my daughter, Catherine's, death. So I pulled that candle down from its hook in the baking aisle, and held it in my hand until I checked out, barely believing I had arrived at the one year mark in my little boy's life. The chunky candle was proof, and proof in hand feels so damn good.
I spent the better part of 2007 trying to find my footing again, after Catherine's unexplained passing, and I wrote, and created art, and read everything I could on grief and infant loss, in the hopes of processing everything properly.
In January of 2008, we marked the year that had gone by since we lost Catherine. It was a sad day, but not full of the despair that I had experienced throughout the previous year. There was a sense of confusion over how time could simultaneously stand still and rush forward; confusion over how our lives could be SO different from the year previously. I had been quietly marking each day without Catherine, up to her anniversary, by saying to myself, "One year ago today, she was alive, inside of me." I couldn't say that anymore on January 31, and I had mixed feelings about uttering to myself, "One year ago, she died." It's a significant unit of measure, the year, and in a very basic sense, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had made it that far. It forced me to try harder to find meaning in Catherine's brief time with us. Finding meaning, I suppose, is what we humans do.
Some people, I suppose, turn to religion. Sometimes their faith is strengthened by tragedy. Not so much by choice, I have never been one of the faithful, and maybe that's the reason I bristle when I hear people say, "It was God's will," or "God had a plan for her," or "God only gives you what you can handle."
On the flip side, I've also recently witnessed friends and family talking about "God's will," and "God's plan" when it comes to a little baby girl, born too early. I am relieved that it looks like she will pull through. People mean well; I know they meant well when they used the God terminology with me, too. And I don't want anyone to experience the loss of a baby; the pain is illogical, and I'm fairly certain, no matter how much time goes by, I will always feel a bit broken, failed. I will always wonder if I could have done something differently, maybe she'd be here, now. That doesn't nag at me the way it used to, but it's always there, under the surface, so when I hear about "God's goodness" in respect to the premature baby, I can't help but feel smote, for a spell, all over again, singled out, as if my lack of faith may be the reason my baby died, at least in the minds of religious people.
Really, I don't believe that's true, and I really don't believe the faithful think that my faithlessness is the reason Catherine died, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I think about the headless Lenox Jesus in Mary's arms, and my glue job so many years ago, and how the imagery affects me. Except, perhaps, I'm not holy, and I'm the one who's been glued back together.
But, I think those cracks that make me so vulnerable, also make me stronger, better able to prioritize, and more capable of appreciating life. A few weeks ago, we celebrated Matthew's first birthday. Instead of marking an anniversary of tragedy, in which we have no choice but to find meaning, I was able to simply bake a cake. And, just like so many other people in this world, I planted a fat wax 1 right in the middle of it. It felt so good, so right, to experience something normal. I am grateful.