Sunday, July 3, 2016

bunch of

When I got home from the hospital, the usual church ladies were there.

Mrs. Sampson from the choir, who believed in the miraculous healing properties of a good broth, had ownership of my kitchen. She stayed for three days, going home at 9 p.m., and returning at 6 a.m. She made tea and coffee throughout the day, heated up portions of casseroles on demand, and she cleaned. The only time I saw her was when she peeked in to see if I was drinking the broth she had sent in for me.

Widow Adams took charge of the front door and the telephone. She was sweet and gracious but she allowed no visitors for the first 36 hours. Bud joked that he barely gained admission to his own house when he got home from the auto dealership and only after he was sent back to the Kroger for some flowers. "No self-respecting gentleman greets his wife home from the hospital without flowers," Widow Adams had said to him. He brought me a beautiful bunch of tulips, which one of the ladies whisked away. Later, the tulips returned, arranged in a lovely vase.

I hardly saw the children. There was a whole plan involving several families to keep them busy and happy. I asked Bud if anyone had explained the baby to them. He shook his head no, so there was that still to do. They were brought in each night to kiss me good night. Benji, at age seven, looked solemn and worried. I had to reassure him that I would be up in another day or two. Cilla was only three, so she was just glad to see me. "I miss you, Mommy." I held her body close and kissed her face and head a thousand times.

Preacher Darning stopped by every day and sat in the easy chair next to the bed. He was not at his best on home visits. He always had an air of wishing he was anywhere else but there. But he spoke the appropriate words of support, which infuriated me. "All part of God's plan" and "another angel in heaven" and "with the Lord's help, the pain will eventually dull," all combined to make God sound like a selfish asshole. I didn't say that to Preacher.

Mama always said that preachers had to be able to do three things: preach, minister to their community, and handle the business of the church. She said a preacher might be real strong in one area, but the other two would suffer a bit. And sometimes you'd find a preacher that was strong in two of the three areas. That was a day to rejoice. But you almost never found one strong in all three areas. Preacher Darning could preach, let me tell you, but he sucked at the ministering to your flock part. He was too focused on himself and trying too hard to say and do the right things. It was obvious he hated it.

No, it was Ms. Price, our assistant pastor, who excelled at the bedside visit. Why? She listened. She knew that I was heartbroken and angry and she opened the door to let me express it. And she somehow helped me make room for those awful thoughts and feelings instead of trying to pray them away. She understood that to be human was to be exquisitely complex and she celebrated that in each of us.

We survived those first few days and went back to our lives. But when you lose a child, in our case a newborn, you don't ever really get over it. Every baby I've seen for the last sixteen years, including Benji's first child, brings the memories back. I can see baby Michael's tiny fist, which would never move or clutch my finger. I could picture the soft down on his head. And I still cry.

But I rejoice in the life I have and in the triumphs of my living children. Not long after we lost Michael, somebody exclaimed to us that we had two beautiful children. "Thank you," I replied with a big smile. Beside me, I heard Bud say in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, "Three." I looked at him and saw his eyes were moist. I immediately thought back to that bunch of tulips for some reason. I took his hand and we stood together watching Benji and Cilla, both of us thinking of the precious one who left us too soon. "Three," I said.

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