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Thursday, October 22, 2015

O, Jackie.

Dear Josie,

Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis said:  "I think my biggest achievement is that, after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane."

Last week we lit a candle for you.

We lit a candle for you and for thirty one other babies.

It was the International Wave of Light Ceremony, and it started at 7:00.  We finished dinner and I got out the special candles that I bought for this exact night at this exact time last year.  After scanning the closets and finding nothing but half-melted scented sets and your brother's baptismal candle, I headed to the store.  What does that candle look like, the one you light for your dead daughter once a year?  Apparently I know.

Don't ask me how they're chosen.  Candles.  Bracelets.  Cardigans.  All these things without you.  Things that should be with you.  I look at this display and I think of the other three women in the home décor aisle that day, how maybe it graces their living room shelf throughout the year.  Or maybe parts of the glass are broken from overuse.  Normal, daily, twenty dollar overuse.  Never a second thought given to the last minute purchase.  How I shifted and weighed so much in that aisle.  How I look at these candles a different way.   How a crack in that same glass might break me. 

It's strange, the things you hold.  Along with all the grief, the tangible things you hold when you cannot hold your baby.  People send the most beautiful gifts.  Silver and engraved and special, yet some of my most treasured possessions include a deflated balloon and a stained sports bra. 

When you died I searched for others like me.  This search lead me to internet forums at four in the morning and support groups once a month.   Perfect strangers.  Doctors and delivery room nurses.  Teachers.  Cashiers and telemarketers.  Accountants and Christians and atheists and radio personalities.   It lead me to people who speak foreign languages and people two blocks away.   Annie Lennox and Keanu Reeves and Michelle Duggar and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. 

What a comfort to believe that tragedy strikes once.  That the true, horrific, heartbreaking kind which is the burying of one's child can only happen once and that's it.  That the darkness has a limit.  That there exists a saturation point.  That it isn't unending or compounding.  That grim hands might stumble upon a familiar parent, eyes heavy, only to see they've already been touched by death.   Move on, they're told.  It isn't so. 

That night in the hospital when they told me you died, I learned about Jackie O.  I learned that during her first pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage.  I learned that her first daughter was stillborn at around eight months gestation, and that she fondly called her Arabella. 

I learned that Jackie would go on to deliver two healthy children, Caroline and John Jr.  And that after another difficult pregnancy, she would deliver a son, Patrick, six weeks early.  I learned that Patrick would suffer from respiratory distress syndrome, and that he died at two days old. 

I read that her husband, President John F Kennedy, would stay in the hospital with his son while Jackie lay recovering in a separate one across town.  That he asked a staff member to dismantle her television set, because he didn't want her to hear that Patrick had died on the evening news. 

I learned that after the burial of his son, the President laid his hand on the tiny coffin and said "Goodbye."  And then he touched the ground and whispered, "It's awfully lonely here."

And I read the part I already knew.  How three months later he would be assassinated, violently and publicly while she sat beside him.  How she got up from the ICU waiting chair, pushed past the nursing staff because she wanted to be next to him when he died.

I read and I am shocked.  And inspired.  And it isn't because of the tragedies that repeatedly befell her, nor am I most envious of her Oleg Cassini inaugural gown.  As I lay in my hospital bed that night it was her words that struck me most.  Her words that were able to permeate my trembling skin and feed my soul with the very thing it so desperately searched.  Words that help me out of bed to this day. 

After the death of her infant son, it is written that Jackie left the hospital arm in arm with her husband.  She thanked the nursing staff for how wonderful they had been to her, and assured them she would be back the next year to have another baby.  She said, "You better be ready for me."

And all I could manage was, remarkable. Out loud to my silent hospital room.  Remarkable. 

Last week I lit thirty two candles and then I stopped.  I sent pictures to their mothers and I spoke their names in the air but then I stopped.  I had to stop and I started to cry, and when your father asked me why I could only say 'There's so many.'

I said it again when we released the balloons at the SHARE walk, listened to the hundreds of Patricks and Josies and Dominics and Frankies and Arabellas, watched thousands of mothers and fathers and brothers and aunts and friends say goodbye, once more and for always, into the sky.  Contemplated this balance, this isolation and solidarity with five hundred orange balloons. 

And I think how sad my life has become.  How it's awfully lonely sometimes.  How bitter and how abstract and how difficult and isolating.  And how remarkable. 



  1. <3 You are so so sweet.

    There are so many. It's so frustrating and sad, 6 years in now for us, hearing the same stories from new families.

  2. Too many.

    I have a framed picture of Jackie Kennedy in my office as a reminder that other women survived great loss (and remained mostly sane). It is a lonely and bitter place to be, and yet we are in good company here.