Today I will rise early.
I will slip downstairs before anyone else stirs. I will open the front door slowly, without a creak. I will step out onto the dewy grass with bare feet. I will listen to bird song and tree wind. I will close my eyes and try to breathe.
Tonight I will go to bed late. I will pull out the small box in the bottom drawer of my desk. I will read the sympathy cards, trace the edge of the picture, run the rosary beads between my fingers. I will whisper a prayer under my breath for a baby that was never born.
I will be the one who remembers.
. . .
Tomorrow he will rise early.
He will creak open the bedroom door to spy through the sliver. He will brighten when he catches our sleepy eyes. He will shuffle bare-footed to the bed and slip between us in the still-warm sheets. He will smile thank you when we sing a quiet happy birthday.
At evening’s end he will curl into bed with a new book and a gleaming baseball bat leaning on his nightstand, waiting for the next game. He will grin when I remind him of the cards and calls that came for him. He will whisper I love you when I whisper a bedtime birthday blessing.
Everyone will remember.
. . .
If I am honest, I want to forget today.
I want to pretend this un-anniversary never existed. I want to rush headlong into tomorrow, the easy delight of wrapping presents and frosting cake and singing surprises and celebrating the sweetness of my growing son. I do not want to sit here and remember loss.
But for the rest of my life, these two days will fall together like dominos knocking in a row. The calendar catches all of our living and dying, pinning down grief and hope on helpless dates. Each year we have to face them all over again.
Today is the anniversary of the day we lost a baby. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we welcomed a son. Memories of miscarriage and memories of birth, labor that brought death and labor that brought life, swirling in a blur of emergency room and maternity ward, stacked on top of each other in the same hospital.
One day rolling unrelenting into the next, meeting in an almost-unbearable moment at midnight.
Each year I will sit in the tension between these two days: the mourning of the past and the celebration of the present. I will find the fullness of my motherhood somewhere in between – sorrow and joy, private and public, broken and whole.
Each year these days teach me something.
That we all have these love stories. Harder than we imagined. But building us, broken, into something holy and unknown.
. . .
The night we came home from the hospital, we looked at each other wearily before trudging up to bed.
I stopped him. “We have to hang the birthday banners.”
He looked at me for a long moment.
“You really want to?”
But it wasn’t a question. It was tradition.
We stretched dancing flags across the doorframe in the dark, tripping over toys on the floor. We taped pointed pennants over the stairway, low enough so the birthday boy would have to duck with delight each time he passed.
The chintzy decorations made me smile, even in the dim light of August 2nd, 11:30 pm. Even with puffy eyes from long-gone crying.
Tomorrow would still be his birthday. Still sacred, still celebration.
Even if the eve would be forever changed.
. . .
This is a love story.
Motherhood is a story that stretches self, body and soul. It is a story of incarnation and resurrection. It is new life and strange death. It is an ancient story. It is fresh with each child.
Today and tomorrow are part of me. I will neglect neither. I will greet each day, each year. I will hold it. I will let it pass.
For a flashing moment of gut-felt gratitude I will hold each heart, whether still-beating in the sun-tanned, mosquito-pecked child in my arms, or long-buried beneath the ground in ashen dirt.
Because I am not the only one who remembers. I am not the only one who has these hard-edged days.
This is a love story. And it is ours.