By Colleen Lowe Smith
My sister and I were never particularly close. Thirteen months older, we were always on totally different tracks. She played with dolls, I played in mud. She had boyfriends, I had band, plays and ski club. She got married after high school, I went to college. I learned with remote interest that she was pregnant, and wasn’t there to witness the bump of her belly or the growth ensued over the next nine months. I was in at school, six hours away, domesticity a foreign concept. I was a sophomore when I got the call that she was in labor, and had given birth to a baby boy. Then I got another call that his heart valves were switched. And then many more calls over the next two weeks, that he was going to live, that he was going to die, that he was going to live, that he was going to die. I had no idea what to make of this. I had no idea, as an intensely self absorbed nineteen year, old what this meant. I knew it was sad, but I had no idea just how sad. I actually remember thinking when I flew home for the funeral that maybe I could cheer her up.
I went to her house (again, a far cry and far fetched from my dorm room) to see her. She was laying in bed, this big bed, and as soon as I opened the door it was like entering this cave of grief and the despair of it just crashed into me. I dropped my things, my jacket to the floor and lay down next to her, holding her, sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. At the funeral the next day I wondered what idiot brought a cooler to a cemetery. Then I realized it was the casket. No one should ever have to attend the funeral of an infant. It was the saddest day I could have ever imagined, and then I went back to school. And studying, exams, parties resumed, life as usual. For me.
Skip nearly twenty five years later, and a text message from my cousin who lives where I used to live in Vermont and news of a friend who’s lost her ten year old daughter. I lived in an apartment attached to Meg’s house. Her daughter was the youngest in my Montessori class. What do you mean she lost her daughter? An infection that took a wrong turn. How could that happen? What do you mean? How could that happen?
No one should ever have to attend the funeral of a child. It is impossibly tragic. I have not been able to stop thinking about it, and I will probably never stop thinking about it. As a grown up, and now especially as a mother, the weight of such loss… how can it even be spoken of? How can it be written? I’ve never sat in front of a keyboard so long in my life finding nothing to say.
I called my sister today. It would have been my nephew’s 24th birthday. I have recognized over the years again and again how impossible it was to relate to the loss of her child, and how impossible it is even now. Though my capacity to imagine it has grown immensely since the birth of my daughter.
And life resumes. There are children to feed, homes to care for, work to go to… it doesn’t stop. Yet the loss so dramatically changes everything. And each moment we spend with those we love is more precious than the last.
Millie. 1/23/03 – 3/8/13 xoxoxo
Colleen Lowe Smith lived as a wanderer and Montessori pre-school teacher in ten different states and New Zealand before meeting her husband and landing in rural Massachusetts. Together, they raise their two year old daughter, and pigs. She also has a 14 year old stepdaughter and 24 year old stepson. Obsessed with higher education, Colleen has an BA in Studio Art, a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Human Studies), a MFA in Writing, as well as AMI certifications in Montessori education, and Psychosynthesis, a holistic form of psychotherapy. She currently teaches at a Montessori school which her daughter attends.