My aunt Ros was organizing some books a couple of weeks ago, when one of them fell and opened to this poem…
For a Child Born Dead
What ceremony can we fit
You in now? If you had come
Out of a warm and noisy room
To this, there’d be an opposite
For us to know you by. We could
Imagine you in a lively mood
And then look at the other side,
The mood drawn out of you, the breath
Defeated by the power of death.
But we have never seen you stride
Ambitiously the world we know.
You could not come and yet you go.
But there is nothing now to mar
Your clear refusal of our world.
Not in our memories can we mould
You or distort your character.
Then all our consolation is
That grief can be as pure as this.
-Elizabeth Jennings (1926)
Ros typed the poem out, printed it and glued it to the back of a little chickadee painting photo, which she sent to us.
The poem struck me and brought me to tears.
Elizabeth, the author of this poem, describes the sudden death of her child as “your clear refusal of our world.”
Oh how rejected I felt by my daughter when she died.
“We created such a beautiful home for you!” I cried after her death. “We got everything ready. I dusted, cleaned, planted a garden, raked leaves; we hammered in every nail on the back porch so your soft, fat legs didn’t get scraped by them. I practiced Spanish and French so you could hear me in the womb and grow up bilingual! I meditated with you every morning, I read you books, I imagined your whole life stretched out in front of us. We were going to take you on bicycle tours, take you to France to meet your relatives, take you to India to hang out with your monk uncle! You were going to have such an awesome life! Why didn’t you want it? Why didn’t you want us? How could you leave me like this?”
But then Elizabeth says, “Not in our memories can we mould or distort your character. Then, all our consolation is that grief can be pure as this.”
Chickadee was and is the perfect child. She never grew up and became tainted by the many sorrows of this world. She never had a drug problem, or yelled at me “I hate you!”. She never became depressed.
How true are Elizabeth’s words to me.
Later, I reread the poem and examined the date on which it had been written. 1926. That was almost a hundred years ago.
Almost a hundred years ago this woman experienced a loss and grief so similar to mine that the poem she wrote is one I could have written.
Grief is universal. Joy is universal. Pain is universal. Happiness is universal. Who knew that a grief this specific could be so universal? I knew and yet I needed this poem as a reminder.
Whatever you are feeling right now, whatever pain you are experiencing, whatever longing you’re having, remember this:
You are not alone.
Somewhere in the world, and at many points in history, there is someone who has felt or is feeling what you are feeling. Someone has gone through what you’re going through. Someone is going through what you are currently experiencing. Someone will experience what you are going through in the future.
Thank you, Elizabeth Jennings, for writing that poem, and Ros for finding it and sending it to us. 🙂
P.S. We are going to be releasing an E.P. in honor of our daughter’s one year anniversary, called “Chickadee”. When you preorder the album, your name will be printed on the inside of the album cover, to memorialize you as one of the people who made the project possible. Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee
P.P.S. If you preorder “Chickadee” for $25 or more, you will get a surprise in the mail along with the new album (it might be a beautifully hand painted pair of underwear, a T-shirt, a postcard, who knows?) Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee