I had a chance encounter with J, the lone woman in our county's Data Services Department (the computer geeks). I was having issues with my newly "fixed" computer and she came by to see if she could help. While sitting at my desk, she noticed my pencil sketch of Alex and asked, "Is that your...baby?" She said it reverently...gently...kindly, but I still wasn't sure what to say.
I said yes and then paused briefly and stuttered, "I don't know if you know what happened..."
She smiled a sad smile to interrupt me and let me know I didn't need to find any more words, "Yes, I know what happened...I'm very sad for you...I lost a grandson earlier this year."
Earlier this year, while still blissfully pregnant, I heard the sirens on my way to work. I remember noting that they were especially loud and near to our home. I wondered what had happened and was horrified to later find that a woman, nine months pregnant, had been involved in a terrible car accident on the next street over (in the country that is quite a distance...but there's not much in between us but corn, so it is close by our standards). They kept her alive for a day but there was no hope to save the baby...a boy. The office sent flowers to the funeral, as the deceased mother was the niece of one of our receptionists. I didn't know anyone else was related to her.
J explained how she was the baby's grandmama. She told me how they delivered the baby right away, but it was too late. They all got to hold him and say hello and goodbye. J said he was perfect...his little body just didn't survive the trauma caused to his mother's body. I asked if they gave him a name. His name was Caleb. I thought of Julie when I heard that name. And I thought of the father...who lost so much on that day. And then I thought of J.
It still shocks me when people tell me their stories of loss. I don't know that I will ever get used to the idea of people walking around with these wounds and scars. They all seem so normal. The kind woman I work with who lost her brother when she was 18. The accomplished attorney who lost her sister when she was 12. The friend's mother who lost her own baby and then later lost a grandbaby to SIDS. The friend who lost her nephew. The dear friend who only had a few days to enjoy her pregnancy before miscarrying. They all go on with life. They're all different because of their experiences. They all carry that sadness with them on a daily basis. Sure, it is tempered by time, but it is there nonetheless.
When I tried to explain my surprise to my husband he said, "Well, would you have pegged us as the type to have a dead baby?" Funny, I never thought about it that way. I guess you can't tell just by looking. It makes me wonder what things people carry with them...at the grocery store...at work...at parties...at my son's daycare. And despite knowing what I carry around with me each day, I'm still surprised by the idea that other people DO know something about the burden...the weight of the sadness. And there are other types of sadness too. Sadness that we just don't talk about and people are left to deal with on their own. We all suffer in silence and we all feel alone as a result. But we're not alone. Perhaps it is that feeling of isolation that makes it seem so unreal that other people have their own burdens that they carry.
Caleb was buried in his mother's arms. I know I will look at J a bit differently now. She understands me and I understand her. How sad that this is the thing that brings us together.