Friday, January 2, 2009


This has to come out.  I have to write, or this spell of winter blues will turn into a deeper darkness.

The signs are there.  I find myself thinking thoughts such as this:  "Sadness floats in me like marrow bones in an old soup pot."  I'm having trouble focusing at work.  I'm starting to get anti-social.  I have the urge to journal.  This is serious.

Let me tell this publicly, so at least I'll be held accountable.  (For what, I don't know.)  I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details, because I picked them up in bits and pieces over the years, but this story is not about the details.

A long time ago, 14 months before I was born, my mother gave birth to a baby girl.  Or, almost did.   There was a prolapsed umbilical cord.  The doctors didn't catch it in time.  The baby girl who would have been my older sister (assuming I would even have been born) did not survive the journey into this world.  She went straight on to the next one.

Legally, she never had a given name.  Her paperwork said simply: "Baby Girl Lastname".  All I know of what happened next is that the Salvation Army "took care of things".  I suppose my parents were grief-stricken and bewildered.  They didn't know where to turn, and the Sally Ann offered their kind assistance in making burial arrangements.  

I don't know what the Jewish tradition would have been in such a case.  It's a measure of how wrong things were in their world that Christians stepped in to offer help, and my family accepted.  I don't know about my father, but it's not something that my mother would have consented to under lesser circumstances.

My mother makes a special donation to the Salvation Army every year, in memory of their kindness, and their generous help at such a wrenching time.  I also drop a few coins in, or more,  whenever I pass one of their kettles.

I have not asked for more details than were offered to me, because it is such a painful subject and I haven't wanted to re-open old wounds.  To my father who will certainly read this, I thought about calling you for fact-checking, but decided I'd rather lay out the pictures I've been carrying in my head all these years, and then let you correct me later.  The pictures I have, right or wrong, and definitely incomplete, are what I've been working from.

So far as I know, there was no memorial service.  There was no one from her family in attendance at her funeral.  Her body lies in a cemetary somewhere in Ottawa, where I've never been.  I'm told that "the family" didn't want to talk about it, and so everyone tried to carry on as though she'd never existed, just looking to the future.  Trying to forget.

I've always felt sad for that little baby, my elder sister.  I know my parents will never forget her, but she should have had more than just that.  And my parents should have had more support at such a time of enormous loss.  It was a tragic situation made worse by silence and confusion.

I think of her sometimes.  How I grew in the same womb-space, only months after she had been there.  How I travelled down that same tunnel to the light, passing through the place where she died on my way to life.  Wondering if these shared spaces link us somehow.

I also think of how it might have been for my mother, although I'll never really know.  In my life, on the balance (so far), there has been more sadness than joy.  Even before my birth.  I think of my fetal self as a teabag in the cup of my mother's belly, brewing in reverse, being flavoured by the sadness that flowed through her body.

I think of my elder sister every now and then, with a passing wistfulness.  I never knew her, have never visited her grave, so she always seemed a bit unreal.  But...

When I went to Tak's funeral, it was the first time I was present at an interment in which the deceased had been cremated.   When the funeral car arrived, Tak's remains were brought out, enclosed within a wee wooden box.  A tiny coffin.  Almost big enough to hold an infant.

I watched Ken kneel to place the little box in the ground.  Watched as earth was shoveled on top.  Felt numb.  Went and ate lunch.  Carried on an otherwise normal day.

But that night, I fell apart.  It all came crashing in.  It was 1971, the Salvation Army people in their uniforms, saying prayers by the graveside, and that lonely little box going down into the earth.  My heart broke for my mother, and my father; for the baby; for my family.  I cried until my face hurt, my back cramped, my jaw ached.  I cried until I couldn't cry anymore that night, but it didn't feel finished.

And since then it has all been swimming around just under my consciousness.  It's all in a big, jumbly mess,  getting confused with grief at not having my own children, and sorrow for all the recent deaths in my circle.  My sadness for my mother for that old loss is all mixed up with my sadness for her present divorce.  

It's like everything in my family that ever hurt us and pulled us apart swelled up inside my heart, even as the holidays brought some of us together.  Being close and loving my family (even as it is broken into pieces) makes the (re)open(ed) wounds ache, because I care.

I used to feel that there was no end to the losses in my life.  By the time I'd almost recovered from one, another would come crashing in.  I lived in traumatic environments for so long that I felt I would never catch up, never be done with all the grieving so that I could actually have a chance to heal.

I'm in a safe place now.  And I know I need to get through these griefs if I want to move forward.  So I'm not going to fight them when they come up, or hide them, or try to soldier on through.   I am healing, and this is how I do it. 


Warped Mind of Ron said...

So many things effect us all as we grow. Some thing harder than others. Sometimes the grief will be locked away for a time and come out when it's ready. We all deal with it in our own way.

Sabrae Carter said...

Greif sucks! :( That's all I can say becuz I am really no good at this kinda thing.. so umm Grief sucks! Love ya! :)

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace sister. You'll meet her in heaven when the time is right.

NicoleB said...

You are on a good path.
Thinking about it, writing about it, talking about it.
Accepting is healing.
Hugs my friend and the warmest wishes for you, your family and Baby sister. Rest in peace!

Karen said...

So sorry. It seems strange that we can carry grief for someone we never met. But at the same time it is totally logical that something that effected you family so fundamentally would cause grief.

I am so sorry!

Keera Ann Fox said...

I sort of kind of can understand this kind of loss-that-isn't-a-loss. My kid sister was born severely mentally handicapped because my mother got rubella while pregnant. One time I connected psychically with my sister (I know I did, because when I met her later, she acknowledged me for the first time). The person inside her that I got to talk to was lively and cheerful and I found myself missing my sister. Missing the person she could have been, the friend she could have been, the co-conspirator she could have been. I am absolutely certain we would have had a lot of fun together. And in that is a sense of loss, of grief. But I don't feel tragic in any way; I am happy I loved my sister even if she wasn't aware of me.

Perhaps you could turn that womb feeling around to being a gift from your sister ("I kept it occupied for you so you could be born at just the right time for you."). There are so many ways to look at this. Your parents' (perceived) grief does not have to be yours. Your life is not a tragedy just because something bad happened during it.

mex (aka Syb)..CONTACT ME via EMAIL at this address: said...

very brave. and sad. LY

Dianne said...

I had to catch up on the other posts - just to get a full sense of where you are

I know a lot about these phases - I push them away a lot - sometimes I deal with them, many times I don't

I do believe that in times of extreme emotional stress, pain, grief that people do the best they can

my family has always been big on hide and forget and it has always been a problem for me

but I muddle on


floreta said...

its amazing how someone you've never even met can affect you so much.. this was a good entry. i hope you feeling better after writing it.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: *receiving hugs* :-) Thank you!!

Sabrae: Grief does suck. Thanks for the love! I loves ya too. :-)

Unsigned: I hope so.

Nicole: Thank you for the hugs and warm wishes! It's so much better to write online, rather than in a journal no one will ever read. Some things have to be shared to be healed.

Karen: It is weird. I think I somehow took on some of my mom's grief, because hers was so strong and I identified with her. It doesn't make logical sense, but it's real to me.

Keera: That must have been very difficult for your family. The grief involved isn't so much about things you had that were lost, but about potentials that will never manifest, or at least not in this realm. Those are real losses too.
I do sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that my life is tragic, but I try to snap myself out of that selfish error as quickly as possible. There are so many people who have been way worse off. I try to keep things in perspective without minimizing. It's a tough balance, sometimes.

Syb: (((HUGS)))

Dianne: That's the best we can do, isn't it? Muddle on. I wish my mother's side of the family were better listeners, but the communication just doesn't happen. At least I can talk with my mom. That's the most important thing. The others, well, I try to be courteous and kind, but I don't expect anything much in return.

Floreta: I do. It made a huge difference to write it all down and get it off my chest. I don't know how that magic happens, but it's good medicine. :-)

Nilsa said...

I think it says tremendous things about you that you feel such deep and incredible loss over someone you didn't know, over a situation you couldn't control.

Kate said...

Writing it makes it all the more real and tangible. I have discovered that putting it on paper/typing it is very helpful in working on grief. You're going somewhere, girlie. You'll come out on the upside. You will.

Sparkling Red said...

Nilsa: I've been accused of being over-emotional, but I'd rather err on the side of feeling more than feeling too little. The world has too many people who shrug "whatever" and go back to flipping channels. :-)

Kate: I don't know you well, but I know that you know what you're talking about on this topic. Thanks for the encouragement. :-)

Scarlet said...

You can't get more real than this post. It's awesome and sad and inspirational all at the same time.

My heart goes out to you.

Sparkling Red said...

Scarlet: Thanks. If there is inspiration to be found in the story, that brings me joy! :-)