by Wendy Keller, mother of three
I went to the cemetery yesterday to “see” my children. They are buried in Arcadia, just outside Rose Parade-famous Pasadena, California.
As I drove past places they had been alive and with me, I felt my stomach start to tense.
When I reached the last stoplight before the cemetery entrance, I was already quivering.
How can this be real? How can this be my life? Did this really happen to me, that I buried two children? In 1991?
Before that accident, I had a family and a husband and a home and Thanksgiving dinners and a dog and a swing set. Who was that woman? Who am I now without them?
I pulled into the cemetery’s big black iron gates. I always feel like I’ve entered an Inner Sanctum when I do this, like there’s my life out in the world, the one I think about, the one I struggle with, the one I dream in, the one in which my living daughter abides. And then there’s this life, the raw, real, private one where I am the bereaved mother of two. I feel my soul being squeezed in a vise as I drive the winding path toward their graves.
A huge sycamore shades their plots. The “Garden of Innocence” is reserved just for dead children, and I see there are new graves out to the very edge of the curb. Mexican people put a lot of colorful stuff on grave sites, so I look past all that to see the two headstones I came for. The sprinklers are on, the big arc splashing rainbows over more than a hundred dead babies. Some headstones have only one date on them – how sad would that be? At least I still can hear Amelia’s laughter echo in my head – she was 18 months old when her neck broke on impact.
When I am in this kind of grief, I become a different person: dazed and inert. I sit in the car for a while and watch the sprinkler, trying to think of a way to kneel before their headstones and not get wet. I can’t think of any solution, even though hours later I will remember I have an umbrella in the trunk. My legs have turned to stone. My heart has become a sabre and pinned me to the back of my driver’s seat. I ask myself if I have enough tissues with me to make it through this. There are not enough tissues in the whole world.
Next thing I know, I am out of the car, barefoot, watching for the sprinkler to shift away. Each time it returns, I take shelter on the dry side of the massive sycamore than has been watered by a trillion tears, many of them mine. I walk to their headstones, then rush back to the tree several times. Through tear-fogged eyes, I see the riding lawnmower guy on the section one over. I wish he wasn’t there. I want to be alone with the corpses of my children, please. Go away! I beg him silently.
A man in a green workman’s shirt suddenly appears on my right. He walks to the rainbird and disconnects just that one. He smiles gently at me and walks away. I thank him and crumble to my knees in the wet sod as if I had been shot in the back. Right now, I wish I had been. I weep on their graves and listen to my logical mind tell me these are wasted emotions – they will ruin my day and not resurrect my precious babies.
My heart doesn’t care. I will cry so hard I suffocate.
My mind tells me it has been more than 20 years since I sat in my wheelchair staring at two child-sized holes in the earth. I should be grateful I ended up being able to walk again.
I feel grateful for nothing.
I sob so hard I scare away the man on the riding mower. I should have worn waterproof mascara – I have a meeting nearby right after this. My heart splits open from 20+ years of anguish and all my blood spills out, reddening the soil. In my last moment of life, at last I collapse peacefully, my physical being seeping into the earth to merge again with the remains of my long-lost children, whatever remains of them now.
But no, it doesn’t.
There is no way to carry this for so many years and not have gone mad. There is no way to live each day. How have I done so? Why have I tried? The pain is as overpowering as ever, it never lessens, it never goes away, this anguish is all I’ve ever known, all I ever will know.
But no, it isn’t. It does go away. After some unknown period of weeping time, the grief abates. I pick the grass shards out of the matching indentations in my knees and I get back in my car. My eyes are red and swollen. I use the last tissue in the box. I see a bird fly past. I look at the half-drunk bottle of garish orange soda some grieving Mexican mother or father left on their less-than-one-day-old baby’s headstone, along with a spray of polyester tulips. I know the gardeners take that stuff off every single night, so those parents were here this morning too. And then left too. And I must leave too. I am capable of continuing to live. Somehow. We all seem to do it.
I drive out the black iron gates and average human life envelops me again. I survived the accident and they did not. I am here and my precious children are dead. I don’t know why or if there even is a why. I take one long last deep shuddering breath and resign myself for the millionth time to a lifetime without them. My only choice, other than death, is to live this life with compassion for myself and others… and with awareness while I yet breathe.
Are you a bereaved parent? Do you love someone who is? Please, comment on this post.