When my baby Charlotte first died, I went over the bridge to Bread and Circus and posted a note on the family board which hung on the wall behind the registers. I know you're out there, I thought, I just need to find you. I was alone. A support group in Springfield had yielded fruitful and compassionate second Wednesdays of the month, but the friends I was making were from Monson, Springfield, and Hampden. I needed here, I needed now. I knew I wasn't really alone.
Silence followed the posting. Silence, to add to the silence that echoed throughout every corner of my life now. A few friends tentatively called and asked after us, wondering if there was anything they could do. I didn't know how to answer. I had never done this before. Silence hung like an iron curtain across the timeline of my life, cutting off the before from the now. I was new, newly born in the death of my daughter, and I didn't know yet who I was. I needed context. I needed someone. There was absolutely nobody in my life, which was full of wonderful, supportive people who were dying to help me, who could break the silence. They couldn't understand what I had to say.
A few months after the posting on the board, I was driving in the car when I heard a name that reminded me of the book plate in the front of a book I'd received when I left the hospital. The book was called "Empty Cradle, Broken Heart" and for four days I couldn't even look at the cover because I couldn't bear that I had become that, just the woman with the empty cradle and the very broken heart. But when I did open it, I read the name of a family here in the valley who had donated the book in memory of their daughter, we'll call her Rose. The mother, we'll call her Jenny Story. And I heard the name Story on the radio, and thought of her, and thought, it would be so strange if I ever bumped into her. I knew she lived in the valley, but she was lost to me. I imagined the scenario, where somehow, somewhere, I'd meet a woman with shining brown hair, and she'd hold out her hand and say, "Hi, I'm Jenny Story." and I'd say to her, "I know who you are. You're Rose's mother." The thought of this gave me chills, because not only would I have then found a model for how my life was to play out, but I would also be able to speak Rose's name aloud, to recognize Jenny as her mother. I wondered if anyone would ever know me as Charlotte's mother.
That night, I was sitting at home, quietly rinsing dishes in warm water, watching the steam grow on the windows over the sink, when the phone rang. I considered whether or not to answer it. This was before the days of ubiquitous caller ID, and the emotional energy that making it through a phone call often required sometimes put me over the edge. But something compelled me to pick it up, to push the talk button. An unfamiliar voice was there.
Is this Carol? She asked. This is Jenny Story.
How the cosmos arranged for that, I'll never know. She had seen the posting at Bread and Circus, and finally thought to call on the very day I'd thought of her. But the next week I walked into the Haymarket and there she was, with shining brown hair, and we hugged and ordered warm drinks and talked for a few hours. She had another daughter now, and hadn't forgotten the first. She was pretty, well spoken, and happy in her life four years after her loss. She still missed Rose terribly, but she had learned to pair her grief with a newly built life, so that she could miss Rose without missing everything. I supposed i could do that, too, when the time came. I didn't end up ever calling Jenny again, but I would see her sometimes, at the Post Office or the Y, and I would smile to myself just knowing she was out there, like me, living here, missing someone. A mother who was minus one, like me. What a hard job to have, but she was doing it with grace, and so could I.