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Saturday, March 05, 2011

The almost unbearable weight of love

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I read a friend's post about losing a baby to miscarriage at ten weeks. Her love for the baby she barely knew surmounted what some would imagine, and others might try to comfort away ("thankfully you already have three children . . . "). It brought to mind my daughter's best friend, who learned early in her pregnancy that the infant inside her had anencephaly, the cephalic disorder that prevents the brain developing. There is nothing anyone can do to help the baby survive once she's born, and they usually do go full term, depending on the mother for survival. Lesley's friend named her daughter, carried her in her womb the rest of the months to term, loved her, gave birth with her husband touching her wherever he could, and they held their daughter for a couple of hours until she passed away. I believe that it is possible to distill a full lifetime's love into a short span like that. What is time?

You've probably read about the sixteen-year-old boy who shot the final basket to win the varsity basketball game in Fennville, Michigan, and just after he was carried on the shoulders of his teammates and the crowd surrounded him with hysteria, suddenly, he paled, collapsed. And he died. Fennville is the high school where my siblings and I would have attended if my parents hadn't moved to a different town an hour and a half away shortly before I entered the world. My sister's granddaughter is student teaching in Fennville this year. Wes was in her school, where stunningly, with one missed heartbeat, he won't be Monday morning. We are throwing her a bridal shower tomorrow, for she is marrying a nice fellow named Jeff in May. Tomorrow in our celebration with Katy toward her new life with Jeff, we will also carry the weight of this too-soon-gone sixteen-year-old.

I think we are all mothers at times like this. Whatever our gender or childbearing ability, we carry the weight of a child, as Anne Michaels said in her powerful novel, Fugitive Pieces:

"There's a moment when love makes you believe in death for the first time. You recognize the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's grief...is the weight of a sleeping child."

Sometimes love itself feels this way. Love is almost a grief in its timelessness, ever constrained by the weight of gravity and distance. Even the separation of skin is is almost too much to bear.



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93 comments:

erin said...

( )
you can't see it
but inside of this is love
as though a flower you could cup

what can i say? nothing
only carry some of that weight that is in itself also lightness.

and cry. i can do that much too.

xo
erin

PurestGreen said...

So beautiful. xx

Maureen said...

A very moving post, Ruth.

M.L. Gallagher said...

We are all mothers
and must carry the weight
of the unborn
gestating hope
in every breath.

Beautiful post Ruth.

Thank you.

Barb said...

Yes, I've felt this grief like a weight in recent weeks, Ruth. What once bloomed brightly is now gone. I feel stunned - as though I'm forgetting something important. Some reason that would explain why.

Bonnie said...

Ah yes - the weight of the inevitable. Reminds me of the lines from Cunninghams's book 'The Hours': "...Come in ... All you have to do is die ..."

Funny how this dynamic of the pain of love can be described in opposite terms - as weight, and also 'the unbearable lightness of being'.

Moving words, as ever Ruth.

ellen abbott said...

One of my greatest fears is losing one of my children even though they are both now in their early 30s. when they were small, I could not read or listen to any news stories about the death of babies and small children whether by accident, negligence or purpose. It just hurt my heart too much.

Bruce Barone said...

As a father of two children, the thought of them in any kind of pain, is beyond my ability to even express.

Jane Lancaster said...

You can imagine how I feel about this post Ruth. And I never had children..Pam was my child, my sister and my mother. I just ordered Fugitive Pieces thanks for that. And for this..love those Spring images too...

Vagabonde said...

This is a beautiful post Ruth. The tulips are lovely – did you grow them? I could say so much about your post – but your post is so well written that it encompasses it all.

Margaret said...

Again, no Kleenex box nearby, but thank you for my tears and immense feelings I experienced here today. I too knew a friend who carried a baby full term and knew it would not live. They brought it home to the very large family and held it and loved it. It died within a few hours, surrounded by love. Many people (even those who workedmin the hospital) and shockingly to me - found this to be "sick" because she either didn't abort or just leave the baby at the hospital. I found it to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. And that poor, sweet, boy... Always sad to see such promise tragically end. I love the poem you quoted and your own beautiful thoughts. I'm sure I will be pondering this for days to come.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

I am moved to silence by this one. The fear all parents have for our children ... are we truly the only animal who, as Wendell Berry wrote, has a penchant for 'taxing our lives with the forethought of grief'? The story of Lesley's friend and the love she and her husband poured into a doomed life is wrenching, and seems to point to that special place where the greatest pain and greatest beauty come to a fine, sharp head and become indistinguishable. It is a place I observe with wonderment, even admiration, but not one I can bear to dwell in very long or ever claim to understand. The almost unbearable weight of love: is it worth carrying that heavy burden? Yes, we all answer, yes. And when we falter and doubt and sometimes ask: why? how?, life and love conspire to continue answering: yes, yes, yes.

Susan said...

Losing a child is a greater burden than any mother should ever have to bear, but bear it we do, because we must.

My heart goes out to Wes' mother and his entire family.

Heidi-"Heidi in Real Life" said...

That was really well done and poignant. Losing a child at any age or stage of development makes all us mothers hurt. I'm sorry to hear about your friends and neighbors--my heart weeps.

George said...

Moving, Ruth, moving and sad. Like love, however, sadness is part of the human condition. If is says nothing else, it says at least that we care. Beyond this, I have nothing to say, other than that I agree with Lorenzo. In matters of the heart, we will always say yes, even if our heart is destined to be broken. Such is the nature of life and life.

California Girl said...

Loss is something we all feel. Once you become a parent and you hear of the death of a child or young person, that loss may be more deeply felt. As parents, our greatest fear is that of our children dying before us. And I empathize to the max when I hear of it and I pray to God to spare my family and breathe that sigh of relief for the "passover". Once we are parents, we are never again free from the fear.

Arti said...

Your thoughts are just too poignant for words and yet you managed to communicate, literally, figuratively, visually. I have no words but just to receive ... Also, I saw on the news about that 16 yr-old basketball player... what a tragedy! And that wasn't the first time something like that happened in that school. A wrestler died about a year and a half ago during or after competition... What an unbearable weight the whole community has to bear!

ds said...

My heart goes out to the community of Fennville High, and the young man's family (their tragedy made the papers here), and to your friend. We do not become mothers at the moment of birth...

Lesley's friend and her husband are brave and love-filled souls. They bore the unbearable with grace.

Looking for Siddhartha said...

a very moving post, dear Ruth! Yes, so right, sometimes love seems unbearable but on the other side I ask myself if there is much other reason to live than love...
Really, a moving post! Thank you!

Have a peaceful and lovely day!

Renée

Gwei Mui said...

Once again your word have reduced me to tears. So profound, sad but also in a strange way uplighting.

Ruth said...

erin, with your and Rilke's help, and the help of many others, I am learning to be a "bee of the invisible," and as a result I can see a shimmer of something inside those parenthetic petals. Love is weighty, and strong, and lifts our hearts. I think it's the only thing that can simultaneously life its own weight and make it fly (like a jumbo jet).

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sophia. xo

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen. So much of the tragedy we hear about is distant. It is essential to connect such stories with real people.

Ruth said...

Louise, thank you for your echo, both here and at your own post "When we live in LOVE." You have borne your own grief. May we keep learning how LOVE drives out fear.

Julie said...

Ruth, the timing of your post about this is something, last year at this
(Febish) my daughter lost her baby at about 16 weeks into her third pregnancy the one before was that was lost too. This time when I go home in May she is due , a girl! She has a boy who will be 4 in May their birthdays will be in days of each other if she goes full term. Her son, Cole was six weeks early. This is a tricky subject to talk about , people try to say the right things and sometimes they dont come out that way. Nothing makes up for losing a child. I told my daughter people try to say things in a loving way so take them to heart in that way. Cant wait to get there and see my new Granddaughter ! THINK POSITIVE :)

I have heard about that story , I read the news from Michigan as much as I can. Prayers to his family for the strength to help
them thru this difficult time.

Thanks for your wonderful posts... Julie in HOlland :)

Ruth said...

Dear Barb, from your comment, it sounds as though nothing specific has brought you this feeling of grief. While I sincerely hope that is the case, I also think I understand the loss of something that "once bloomed brightly" that is now gone. Without talking with you more, I can't make assumptions, but let me say that I hope you will find, as I am, that as circumstances in the world are dire (and seem increasingly so, though I wonder really if anything is worse than it has ever been), the human spirit deepens and reaches and embraces.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, that is a stunning line from The Hours. There are small daily deaths, and there are looming ultimate deaths. I think sometimes the small daily ones are preparation for the distant ones.

I, too, thought of Kundera's title when the title of this post came. Love brings the capacity to lift up too. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I know. Something is torn that can't ever be repaired. I'm grateful not to know this from personal experience, but it is so clear when I witness it. May our loved ones be protected.

Ruth said...

Bruce, like almost every parent, I have wondered how I would emotionally survive losing one of my children. May they be protected.

Ruth said...

Yes, Jane, I can imagine. The work you are doing of expressing your pain and grief over losing Pam is beautiful to receive. I've learned from you.

I'm so pleased you ordered Fugitive Pieces which is my favorite novel.

All three photos are of the same tulips. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Vagabonde.

I did not grow the tulips. Don had them delivered to my university office on Valentine's Day. The photo of them fresh was the day they arrived. The other two photos are after they faded, and I still found them very beautiful. I haven't thrown them out.

Ruth said...

Oh Margaret, how wrenching it is. It's impossible to know how I would maneuver through such circumstances, not having been faced with them. Like you with your friend, I found what Lesley's friends did to be beautiful almost beyond comprehension.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, this raises the question of capacity, and something I've been thinking about much lately, which is that much of it seems to have to do with the will, a slight shift of the light, a determination to move forward in a certain way. To be nearly annihilated in love, especially in loss, but then to survive somehow intact, is one of those things I doubt anyone can see from this side. But to say Yes, and to hear Yes, is to remain open.

Ruth said...

Susie, some hearts are beyond imagining. Yours.

Ruth said...

Heidi, thank you for sharing this burden. I awoke this morning feeling sorry that I had put it on you and others. But truly, I feel it is important to bear each others griefs as well as joys.

Ruth said...

Hello, George, it's so good to see you. I think as long as more of us say yes in the face of brokenness, we will be all right.

Anne Michaels also said in this book: "Some stones are so heavy only silence helps you carry them!"

Ruth said...

California Girl, yes, this joint prayer, uttered from a bottomless well, is why we feel the grief so keenly when it happens to someone else. We ride their sorrow with profound empathy while also bringing some relief that it did not happen to us and our children.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you so much.

I did not know about the previous tragic death of the wrestler at Fennville. In a village of about 1,500 people, they must feel these losses acutely.

Ruth said...

ds, thank you, my friend.

Fennville is a tiny rural community. I imagine that because of this, friends are gathering around Wes's family with tremendous support. Ironic, isn't it, that the smaller the community, the bigger the impact and outreach.

I continue to be amazed by Michelle and Tim and their grace. I am happy to tell you that they have a beautiful daughter since losing their first.

Marcie said...

So beautifully conceived and written. A mother's love is universal. No matter what..no matter where - we all feel the weight and pain of the loss of a child..and more - we fear the loss of our very
own.
Such a moving post and tribute to 'mother-love'.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Renée, for your echo of "yes" to love, even under the weight of sorrows. Peace and love to you too.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, I'm glad you felt that, and not only sadness here. As Lorenzo said, there is a point where pain and beauty meet that transcends, but could easily be missed.

Ruth said...

Dear Julie, with all the hope in my heart I wish for a healthy birth for your daughter's daughter. Thank you for sharing your family's very real and present life here. May all the feelings expressed in my post and in the comments join in one enormous prayer for your granddaughter!

Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you for echoing my feelings. Somehow I think when we all bear this pain together it helps those who feel it firsthand.

deb colarossi said...

I am just whispering that I'm here.
I have wondered if we honour the greatness of life by this willingness to take the risk of loving.
A life is not to be taken lightly , and so then neither is death.

Pat said...

I just can't imagine the pain of losing a child. I.just.can't.

My heart goes out to the families you mentioned, and all who have lost children in their lives.

Jeanie said...

The story about the student in Fennville touched me so -- we've had a lot of "here today, gone too soon" stories around our area, as you know, these days. Somehow this one got me most of all -- if for no other reason than that he was doing what he loved and something so -- for lack of a better word -- pure and filled with joy. This is going to be a tough one for his fellow students to handle. There's no one to blame -- not even him. It is IS.

Your photos -- those marvelous tulips, so beautiful one day, so fading the next -- is a wonderful visual metaphor. There is a beauty, too, in those faded tulips. A memory of what was.

Patricia said...

To loose a young person at a victorious moment is beyond irony. What a tragedy for your community.

Love and grief describe the human condition yet we can see these same emotions in animals.

cathyswatercolors said...

Crying now. So sad to lose our loves. Your post reminded me of the book by Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Resturant. I read it long ago,but i remember a line in it where the mother talks about having an extra child in case one dies.... Stated differently and most certainly more poignant by Ms. Tyler. Nevertheless the thought has stayed with me all these years.

cathyswatercolors said...

"...it's closeness that does you in. Never get too close to people, son."
— Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant)

Montag said...

Overwhelming.
Our lives are in slow motion - so we hope - stretched between our joy and ultimate sorrows.

Irony speeds things up and Death always has his appointments punctually kept in Samarra.

Shari Sunday said...

Some stories are just too painful to even contemplate. You post was beautiful so I just wanted to acknowledge it. I saw the story about the boy who died. Such a handsome, strong and athletic boy. Heartbreaking.

The Bug said...

The death of a child is NOT one of the reasons I didn't have children (I don't like to not do things to save myself the pain of losing them - I think I could bear that), but it does make me think that my life is missing something without this great love.

gemma said...

My daughter and SIL finally got pregnant after trying for a few years only to lose the little one in 1st trimester. Heartbreak after celebrating the pregnancy.
They are cautiously optimistic now.

Jeanne-ming said...

Beautiful writing. I am moved by your post.

Terresa said...

"I think we are all mothers at times like this." Yes, no matter what age, sex, or background.

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

Ruth, as a Hospice Companion, I found your post and its comments full of comfort through empathy and insight.

Thank you for the line: "Even the separation of skin is almost too much to bear."

Ginnie said...

Some of these stories go all around the world, Ruth, and it's wonderful...the collective consciousness of Mother Earth. To think our own family has been connected to this story so closely is what still astounds me.

I wonder now how the day was yesterday! Lots of blanketing, I'm sure.

Pauline said...

"Even the separation of skin is is almost too much to bear."

This is EXACTLY how my love for my children and now my grandchildren makes me feel. You are right - every motherly instinct and every fear I ever had about losing my children is roused whenever I read or hear of another mother losing hers.

Brendan said...

Obviously you've touched a wide, wild nerve here ... The story of the couple who brought to term a baby they knew would not survive has such huge pathos -- especially their holding the child for its brief hour, squeezing in a lifetime . Odd, isn't it, that the single largest cause of death is birth. Our subconscious world is filled with grieving mothers whose children left them so early, who left them before their own passing, making time out of joint. I posted a piece yesterday about a young woman who'd given her child up for adoption under pressure from parents who didn't want her to ruin her life so young ... Her revenge against them takes the form of taking on all men, mothering their passions with her body.

But what really stirs me here -- about the power of grief to affirm life out of death -- is echoed in a line from Jack Gilbert's poem, "Harm and Boon In the Meetings": "Grief makes the heart apparent as much as a sudden happiness can."

Wonderful, aching, beautiful post - Brendan.

Peter said...

This is again so wonderfully written; not easy to comment and my comments are hardly needed.
For obvious reasons I have never been a mother and will never be; this may be one reason why I don’t know how I would react if I knew that my child would die a few hours after birth. To see it dying must also be something frightful. But to carry a child is something only a mother can talk about.
Fortunately we were never concerned about such a difficult decision.
My parents of course “ordered” me to survive them and I have managed. I so sincerely hope that my “orders” to my kids will also be strictly followed.

photowannabe said...

Poignant and so touching. Love truly is a weight and its roots grow into every fiber of a Mother's being.
Your tulips are beautiful and have so much meaning to them.
I've missed coming to your blog and glad I came today.
Sue

freefalling said...

Most time words don't reach me deep inside but you put a photo like that first one with them and it opens a door and it all comes flooding in.

freefalling said...

Now I feel like crying.
(and I never cry).

Ruth said...

Deb, your whispers are some of the boldest and most resonant sounds in my world.

Ruth said...

Pat, our medical strides have so greatly lessened this kind of heartbreak, it's unfathomable how many children were lost in previous generations, to disease and miscarriage.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, It really has been a stunning year of tragedy in our community.

I pray that tonight's game between Fennville High and Lawrence at Hope College will begin to heal his team mates and lead them back into the stuff of life.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Patricia, yes, and I think something has to be said for him dying in a moment of pure joy.

I did not grow up with animals, but I can attest to the joy I have felt in my son's girlfriend's dog as we walk the meadow (she runs).

Ruth said...

Cathy, an extra child in case one dies. I believe there were days when that was a very practical way to keep a family afloat. It sounds harsh and heartless now, but how things have changed.

Never get too close, closeness does you in. I'm grateful I haven't faced that kind of pain.

Ruth said...

Montag, life in slo mo, we so hope. May we have health, and long lives. I wish you and yours the best of happiness and health.

Ruth said...

Shari, we love our children. You love your grandchildren, and I will one day too. We hold them, and it seems like life is a lesson in letting them go.

Ruth said...

Dana, bless you for the choices you have made and the way you multiply your life.

Ruth said...

Gemma, I am terribly sorry. That is shattering after so long trying.

Ruth said...

Jeanne-ming, welcome! I'm sorry this is sad, I don't like to welcome Shaista's big sister this way. It's so great to meet you, as I admire Shaista and her writing more than I can express, and I'm inspired by her perseverance, and by your parents and brother. What a treat to meet you too.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Terresa.

Ruth said...

Amy, thank you, that means a lot to me. We benefited from the grace of Hospice care when my father became ill, and the Hospice companion took our hands as we witnessed his passing.

Ruth said...

Boots, it was a good shower, but we missed you and Astrid.

Ruth said...

Pauline, I wonder if the burden is lifted when we share this emotion. I hope so.

Ruth said...

Brendan, I did not realize birth is the leading cause of death. I will come check your posting about the young woman. It's extraordinary, the things that shape a life.

Thank you for sharing the lines from Gilbert's poem. The range of the human heart is, I think, beyond what we can imagine. But I do not want to imagine it.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Peter, it is as we all hope it will be, to follow those orders. I'm so grateful you did, and I pray your children and grandchildren will too.

My best to you, my friend.

Ruth said...

Hello, Sue, I have missed you, and wondered about you. Best regards to you in northern California, where I hope it is warmer than here, and maybe things are beginning to bloom, like these tulips.

Ruth said...

Sweet Letty. You have experienced life from "death." I thank god you have Vince, after too much pain. I'm sorry.

Yoli said...

You write so beautifully. Your words are so true.

Shaista said...

these are the days of miracle and wonder, and don't cry baby, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.

maybe the fawn will come into the world with the soul of your friend's baby?

and that young man? wow, his soul must have just flown and soared right out on that high win. i wouldn't mind going like that. i don't want everyone crying just before i go. i think about death a lot, as you can imagine. and equally, about life, and renewal.

the flowers are beautiful ruth, both pictures. either way.

rauf said...

Educated or rich, you don't have any biological privileges offered to Women by nature Ruth. Women are Women and they carry the weight and the risk always. Nature sometimes is unfair.

Actually love makes you forget about death Ruth.

Is love the beginning of all the troubles ?
Women find joy in those troubles ?
Perhaps.

Today is International Women's day 8th of March ?

Well

i think i should write something today.
Something funny for a change.

Capital W for Women hereafter Ruth.

Oliag said...

There is so much sadness in this world isn't there? The most unbearable sadness does involve our children. I could mention similar losses of children here in my area involving people I know well...I am not sure I could bear it if happened to me...

kenny said...

The photos are intensely beautiful. A few months ago, my twin lost a baby at full term. I wrote a poem I've never shown her. I thought you might like it.

http://kolembo.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/morning-come/

I cried so hard for her, for days and days. I know I can never understand, but perhaps I can stand in pain just a little and shield her.

Ruth said...

Yoli, I think we've got much of how we view these things wrong. But it's difficult to talk about it. Thank you for your kind comment.

Ruth said...

Shaista, thank you for reminding me of what I said in my last post, which is a reminder that we very likely think, or I should say I very likely think wrongly about death. We dread it as if it is the worst thing that can happen. Of course it is not what we want, and it is terrible for the ones left behind. But you're right, I too would like to go out in a moment of such joy and triumph, or at least peace. Blessed comfort to you, my dear friend. May your voice heal us all for many lifetimes.

Ruth said...

rauf, what a stunning insight:

Is love the beginning of all the troubles ?
Women find joy in those troubles ?
Perhaps.


You know and love women. You have been surrounded by your mother and sisters your whole life. You understand women better than many women do, rauf.

I hope you post something funny. I'm afraid I have another not-too-funny post. :|

Ruth said...

Oliag, it is terribly wrenching, these tragic deaths so young. They are far fewer than they once were, yet we have come to demand that death be eradicated from our lives, one disease at a time. Sometimes there isn't a thing we can do to prevent it. Perhaps we should at the same time start adjusting our attitudes to it. I believe some Native American languages do not have a word for death.

Ruth said...

Kenny, I am terribly sorry about your sister's grievous loss after carrying her daughter full term. I believe with my entire heart that our standing with each other through pain and grief (as through joy) is sometimes all we can do, and completely necessary. As you said in your poignant poem, Morning come to us all.

Thank you.

Michelle said...

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." - Khalil Gibran

Love. :)