Sunday, July 6, 2008


This word flummoxes me every time: lost.

As if she can be found.

I lost my baby.

This euphamism, which I use often for the benefit of others, truly does not work for me. Our daughter is not lost. Our cat, who wandered into the woods, and was most probably eaten by some wild creature, he is lost. Our daughter, we know just where she is.

Her ashes are in a small, marble urn. I have never had the strength to face up to this urn. Others display their urns in prominent places, or hold them close, cherishing all they have left. I am different.

I can hardly look at the urn. The urn says this to me: Your child is dead. You chose to burn her. Here is what remains.

Would I have preferred a grave? No. Had we chosen a grave, I would have lain on the bare dirt, muddy from the spring rains, and I would have dug with my bare hands, all night and into the day to bring her back into my arms. I would have muddied every shirt I had, ruined shorts and pants and socks and shoes, lying on the soft May earth, trying to get closer to her. I can see it now. I would lie there, and I would know it: She is under me. She is there. Her body is there. Her face is there, her hands are there, her feet are there. If I could get to her, I could feel her. My flesh lies beneath me. I must have her.

And then? Now? Five years later? I would still go, and probably I would sit, and I would tend to the grass and the flowers and make it as perfect as I could, and I would try not to think about it: She is still there, and what now? What remains, what does not?

Ashes are simple. Charlotte is gone. From three days after her death, her body ceased to exist. Her little body, which had begun from two cells just over nine months earlier, again was nothing. Not there, gone. As if she had never happened.

So shouldn't the clink, clink of the tiny bits of her that I can rattle around inside the urn bring me something? A form of comfort to know that there are pieces of her, some tiny, broken remains of the beautiful daughter that I grew and cared for and loved?

When we brought her ashes home, I put them in the crib we had prepared for her, and I covered the urn with a small blanket. I pretended they were not there. I did not acknowedge them. They pained me. I had not wanted to answer what I was asked that day: will you cremate or bury your daughter? No, I screamed, no. I will bring her home. I will not make that choice.

Nearly a year later, when we prepared the room for its next occupant, I moved her ashes into the tiny cradle that would sit next to our bed with the rest of her things. I wrapped them the same blanket, and I put some other things on top of them. I wanted them to be in there, but I didn't want anyone else to know that. I needed her ashes to be only mine. I couldn't talk about them.

Several weeks ago, we were at an event with some other families from the group we run, and one of the newly bereaved families brought their son's ashes with them. As we were sitting together, feeling the spring air surround us, Liam approached them, fascinated by the little, wooden box. It was engraved with a teddy bear, and had the child's name and birth date enscribed on the side.

What's this? asked Liam, and the mother answered, That's Jacob*. Liam stared, and I felt a little embarrassed, as if I, too, should have my child's ashes with me. At the very least it seemed that my son, who knows almost everything he could possibly know about his dead sister, should be familiar with what this box might contain. So I reminded him, as if we talked about it often, about how when a body dies, it can be returned to the earth, or returned to the air by putting it on a special fire, and how the ashes are left, and how those are Jacob's ashes. So he asked, logically, Do we have Charlotte's ashes? I told him, yes, I would show him when we got home.

I felt shy to be explaining it to him there, while Jacob's mom held what was left of him close to her heart. Why could the ashes of my daughter never bring me comfort? I still do not know.

It took Liam a few days to remember about this, this curious fact that somewhere unbeknownst to him, there was a container that held his sister's ashes. But he did remember, and when he asked, I had to act brave and matter of fact, and I unwrapped the little velvet bag from its blanket, and I opened the bag and removed the urn, being careful not to remove the death certificate that still lies in its envelope in the bag with the urn.

Liam held it between his hands, and turned it upside down, and back again.

Shhh, shhhh, went the sound of his sister.

I want to open it, he said.

And I said, we can't.

And there was, and is, a tiny piece of me that wanted to, that wanted to smash the urn to bits, and let the ashes spill all around us on the wide, pine floor, I wanted to see the tiny pieces of her bones, to eat them up and say Yes, yes. This is my daughter, these are what's left of her bones and her DNA might still be here. She was real.

But I just held his hand, and told him how they used a special key at the funeral home to close it up tight, and how we would never be able to get inside.

And he accepted that, and so did I.

I re-wrapped the urn in the velvet bag, and I put it back under the folded yellow blanket, and laid the little footprint blanket on top, so it almost just disappeared into the softness of the cradle.

Goodnight, my daughter?

I don't think so. The daughter I know and love isn't in that urn, she is in the stars, and she is in the trees, and runs with the swift river water in my backyard. She lights up with the fireflies and she smells sweet in the wind.

And so, perhaps if she is, indeed, all those things, she is simply lost. I will never cease to look for her.

*not his real name


Jen said...

Words fail me. All I can do is cry at this perfect rendering of grief and anguish. Thank you. I am thinking about Charlotte and you and your family so much these days, and about mortality, and the meaning of life and death. And beyond thinking--just feeling at a deep level.

Aimee said...

So I'm not sure if I told you this already, but I have a friend from our group who "lost" her twins this past December (one died at birth and one died two days later). She is a Montessori school teacher who runs a private preschool out of her home. She isn't running it this year, for obvious reasons, but she wanted to keep up with state inspections and such. So the inspector dude comes to the house and her husband is giving him a tour, etc. and the state man asks why the school was closed this year. The husband says, "It was hard to run when she was pregnant and then when she lost the twins, it was simply impossible." The inspector guy paused for a minute and then asked, "Where did these twins go?" As in he thought she had actually lost--misplaced--a set of twins. No wonder this woman no longer runs a preschool! She actually LOSES children in her care!

While it took her husband a minute or two to figure out what this guy was thinking, it quickly got straightened out. But, and this may seem strange to people who aren't babylost, we had a very good laugh at the inspector's expense this month at our meeting.

And the mom who I am talking about is waiting, still waiting, for someone to FIND her beloved twins and return them to her arms. Because wouldn't we all want that?

Shannon said...

"The daughter I know and love isn't in that urn, she is in the stars, and she is in the trees, and runs with the swift river water in my backyard. She lights up with the fireflies and she smells sweet in the wind."

This is the Charlotte we have all come to know and love through your beautiful writing. Thank you again for sharing her with us.

Birdies Mama said...

Oh Carol, my heart is aching for you right now and always....Charlotte is not lost. None of our babes are "lost" they are as you say in the stars and in the trees. It pains me to to say that Birdie is lost, but to others, to strangers sometimes saying that we have a dead baby seems to harsh. Though there are times that I do just blurt it out and tell people that "I have a dead daughter".

I don't think that I knew it was hard for you to see Charlotte's urn...

I must tell you that to open Birdie's urn has been comforting to an see her ashes and the tiny little pieces of bone...and to touch them has brought a strange comfort to my heart.

I miss you very much Carol.

mattina di lunedi said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful post. You truly give the world a gift through your writing.
I, too, cannot bring myself to refer to my son as "lost". He is dead, not lost. I have such a hard time with my son's ashes, with the idea and with the reality of them. I never want to part with them, but somehow feel that I "should" let them go someday, that it's the "healthy" thing to do - whatever. I don't want to. It's all I have of him, the only proof that he existed. His ashes are a part of my physical being, just like he was.

Janya said...

my lord, this is beautiful.

janis said...

This is truly a beautiful, beautiful piece. It touched my heart deeply.