This is almost exactly what I see when I close my eyes and think of him.As is often the case in adult life, your friends live far from you.  While this is moderately inconvenient or slightly annoying during times of joy and accomplishment, there is nothing quite so heart-wrenching as the fact that you aren’t there in times of suffering and need.  I have felt this many times in my life, but none so acutely as the recent weeks.

Not too long ago, a friend of mine lost her child.  And, because I don’t get the chance to be there to comfort the grieving mother, nor did I get the chance to hold or know the babe who was to be my nephew in all respects but biological, I offer this: the song of my heart.

The song starts about a year ago.  It was when my friend told me she was going to try to have this child.  I have rarely been so overwhelmed with longing, a longing akin to the longing I feel for a child of my own.  But, in this case, this longing was not for myself, but for my friend.  This longing was for all the hopes and dreams I immediately had for her to come true.  It was also the impractical longing to be there, to be the informal nanny-housekeeper–to take all the burdens of motherhood away so that her days would be filled with the bliss of her son (for I was determined she would have a boy).  These were the times it was inconvenient not to be there; the song was impatient.

Then came the long months of waiting.  Of bad news, no news, joyous discussions of plans, and hope that–at times–seemed ill-advised in the best of perspectives.  These were times when not being there was difficult; the song was perhaps too cheerful to try to combat the gloom.

Then finally, finally finally, she was pregnant.  However, being a close friend, I was told early enough that the world at large did not know.  I had an enormous secret, but it was a glad one.  There was no weight in carrying it.  I was filled to bursting with joy; my little nephew was almost here!  I made a baby blanket so that the Fall and Winter cold would never be able to reach him.  I searched mightily for present ideas for the mother.  I began a CD of all my favorite lullabies so that my darling best friend, who always seems to be sick, would be able to put it on when her voice was tired or gone and so the baby would know my voice, if not my face.  I made all the preparations that I could to be a long-distance auntie, figuring out ways to overcome the distance for not only the child, but for my friend.

As needed, I provided emotional support to the mother (families can be enormously crazy when little children enter the picture).  I reveled in each little piece of news.  I imagined her stomach slowly getting bigger, even though it was much too early for that.  I made plans to visit, though it could only be before the baby came.  These were the times when it was the least difficult to be away, a tickling annoyance at most; the song beat away, always trilling with an irrepressible gladness.

And then, just before that magic all-clear of the pregnancy world, the twelve week mark, she lost her baby.  No warning, no reason–the way most miscarriages happen.  And I found out in the worst, but most practical (and likely most painless for my friend) way possible: an e-mail.  Though I do not begrudge her the saved pain nor the convenience, the note in my inbox was a terrible thing.  Black and white on a screen, spelling the death of one so dear.  This was the worst time.  The song went silent.

I immediately sent her the words to one of the songs I had intended to include on the CD I was making, the one verse ditty my mother would sing when I was sad.  It’s from a book, and so far as I know, the tune is something my mother made up.  “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”  Perhaps not the best salve to this wound, but all I could come up with at the moment that I needed to respond quickly.

Then I spent days wondering how on Earth I could help.  I have never suffered loss even remotely akin to this.  The death of grandparents, aunts and uncles, classmates, and pets, yes.  But never one so close as my own child.  I have suffered all manner of privations and horrors with my disease, but in this I was the “happy” observer, safe on the other side of the gulf that separated me and my best friend.  Though we live impossibly far away from each other as it is, I have never felt so far from her as I did those days following her announcement.

I wondered all the stupid, silly practical things that occur after death.  What will I do with the blanket?  Should I finish the CD?  Should I make a condolences gift or should I leave well enough alone?  Will visiting still be a good idea?  I believe these things, heartless as they seem, are the human mind’s way to process something so big and so foreign as deep grief.  I did the same thing when it became clear my grandmother was dying–my first reaction was to say we should probably throw out the coffee she kept out at our house.  Callous and terrible, the song returned as a weak march–pushing me forward day by day.

And then something changed.  The song wasn’t about me anymore.  It had never been for me, but it had been about me, isolated as I was from the events that were transpiring.  However, somewhere in that weak march, the song turned into the baby’s song, and what he had brought to my friend’s life, and mine, in such a short time.

My nephew (which I still determinedly think of him as, since we’ll never get the chance to know) was joy and hope and anticipation since long before his conception.  He was a bright future and hard work ahead, and he was love.  He brought me and my best friend closer together, even across distances that some days seem without bridge.  He made of us a family.  His song, the song my heart now sings when I think of him, is a song of universality and triumph, though tinged with the sadness of lost potential.

The song I sing aloud–for as much as I’d love to be able to sing what my heart does, I can’t–has all the melancholy of his life, but ends with comfort for me.  It’s the song I probably sang a good three or four dozen times (and still had more to go) before it was CD ready: Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby (from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou).  This was the song I had to get right, and though I don’t know why it was important then, it’s a help to me now.  The last verse says this, “Go to sleep you little baby (go to sleep you little baby), go to sleep you little babe (go to sleep you little babe).  Come and lay your bones on the alabaster stones and be my ever-lovin’ baby.”

I believe in an after-life for all, even for those lost so young.  The image I see is a cliff and a sea, with a small patch of brilliant white stones where he waits for my best friend and, once his family’s had a chance to know him, me.  There he waits, always and ever loved by those he left behind.  I hope that he can hear the song he created, the song that is his.  It will ever be in my heart.

Until we meet at the white stones, baby.

Auntie Joie

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