When I was a little girl, I went to the cemetery to do some rubbings. I don't remember now if it was a school project, or an idea I'd gotten from girl scouts or what, but I went one lovely spring break on my bike with a graphite pencil and a piece of paper to look for lovely things to capture. History. Or maybe just my name.
Once I got over the eery entrance doors, I had a rather lovely time. I found the cemetery calm. I knew it was supposed to be spooky, but on a sunny day it was too pretty for all that.
And then I found something I didn't understand.
A grave site where the birth day and the death day were too close together. Less than two years.
It was the first time I'd really realized that babies die. Here was proof.
Old men and women with wrinkled hands and paper thin skin, they die. Like my grandpa. He'd gotten really sick four years earlier and died. I could still smell his snuff when we went to the funeral home. My dad was weeping. I tried to be sad and have tears in my eyes, because I knew I should, but I was only six. I'd had fun and loved my grandpa, but he was gone, and I wasn't sure what that meant. I couldn't get the tears up, so instead I went to the basement where the reception punch had yet to be set out, and me and my cousins snacked on funeral parlor mints.
That was my knowledge of death. But this was the gravestone of a baby. I put my graphite pencil and paper aside. I imagined the casket. So small. I imagined the parents. Parents shouldn't have to bury their kids. I knew that, even then. I cried. I couldn't help it. This baby - this little baby - had never ridden a bike. Had never gone to kindergarten with a new set of crayons. I wondered what had happened.
After my grandpa's death, my grandma would tend to his gravestone religiously. She'd bring flowers and water them, pinching off the dead bits to make the plant look alive and loved.
I didn't understand it when I was a kid. Grandpa didn't care if there were flowers. He was dead. But I still went with her sometimes to say hi to my granddad.
A few weeks ago I was back in my hometown. I didn't go to the cemetery where the little baby who died too young was buried. But I did run past my grandparents' last place of resting. I took a run the long way around to get a good jog through the cemetery, and it took me longer than I thought to find my family's bench and my grandfather's headstone. I was glad to find it, as by that point I needed a bit of a rest from the run. There were no flowers near his grave. Grandma sleeps peacefully next to him now.
I sat at her stone and thought about her and grandpa. I thought about her care for his stone as I cleared grass from the edges so their birth and death dates showed properly. And I thought about the little baby who died too soon.
And then I understood why grandma cared so much for grandpa's headstone.
It was a reminder. This person lived. This person was cared for and loved. This person had so so very much meaning, and that meaning goes on today.
I did not lose a child. I cannot pretend to know that pain. But the possibility stared us in the face, and that has become a new part of me. I have a new empathy for those that have, at any age.
I remember last year -- just wanting our son to live long enough to have been alive. I know it sounds strange, but I needed him to have life, some kind of life. I needed my baby to have existed. So that there could be a stone to go to, so that there was a place to remember.
That way, even if I was gone and my memories of my child had faded, maybe someday, someone biking or walking through the cemetery would see his final resting place and remember. He was alive. He was loved.
I weep with a friend who lost her son before he had a chance to go with brand new crayons to kindergarten.
I weep because her son would be a junior in college now.
I don't understand. But now more than a few years ago, I get it.
I don't get why my son lived. God's grace, I say. But why didn't that same grace extend to others? I don't know. I can't begin to know.
But I will weep with you. Even though I never experienced that pain, I looked at that path straight on, afraid it would be the only one we could walk down. We didn't walk down it, but I still walk it next to you. On the 21st anniversary of the birth of your son, I cry with you, Alice. Because I know that it's important. Remembering. It's so important. The grieving time doesn't ever really end, does it? If I could, I'd walk with you to his grave where his birth and death dates are too close together. I'd walk with you and clear the grass from the stone. I'd put a flower next to the stone, too. I didn't know him. I'll never know him. And for that I'm sorry, too.
In memory of Daniel. You were very loved.