|Dusk or Daybreak? The Yellowknife Sky, 2am on June 17|
And so, we have all been preparing ourselves for the funeral which would most likely follow on the heels of the birth. My aunt Moiya sewed a little dress for Annabelle to be buried in, and my brother-in-law Leo had time to build a small coffin for this little child. While Mary had hoped that Annabelle would survive to term, and that they would have some moments together, that was not to be: her little heart stopped beating. The funeral was yesterday (June 16th).
That is two funerals for our family in less than a month: Verlaine after living for 90 years; Annabelle before taking her first breath. But in both cases, I have been struck by the reminder of how precious life is, both its beginnings and its ending, and by the ways we are always living with dying. It is something of a challenge in figuring out how to honour the kinds of emotions involved in that reality, and to be present for the strange mix of joy and pain that comes with the reality of leaving.
I wanted to share some of the words that were spoken at the funeral. First, the words my mother Arta wrote to my sister Mary when we all finally knew that this little life would not come to fruition. Second, the words spoken by my sister Mary, speaking about what she learned and experienced from the short time she carried Annabelle with her. Both my mom and my sister have helped me to think more deeply about the many different ways that we live with the realities of dying.
Words from Arta to Mary
Mary, I am not going to grieve for you, but find joy in what Annabelle has given you, what she has helped you to discover about yourself and your family. Your deep respect for life. Your joy in her short life. Shorter than you would wish, but you have loved her every minute of it. That will have to be enough. She has helped you remember the real fragility that surrounds birthing, how it can go wrong, how deep the grief is that you will now share with other women who lose their daughters in some way.
A baby girl. I have imagined for her a laundry list of life’s events: her first words, the first tree she would climb, her first bank account she would have, her first tube of lipstick, her first high heels (borrowed from her own mother’s closet at the age of 5), her first kiss, and later her own joy in giving birth, even her own deep grief when the realities of what goes wrong in the world might touch her. It is easy for me to imagine all of this, for I am watching your other two girls in whose lives I will see all of this. Even in the beginning there was never more than a slim hope for any of the former as being a place we could go with Annabelle. In some way, I accepted that too. But she has been fully present. I have enjoyed watching you name her, watching you bring her into the lives of her extended family with phone calls and emails, seeing you treasuring her tiniest movements, witnessing that she would have existed fully had her tiny body allowed it. Your love has been a lovely gift to her. And a lovely gift to us. Thank you Mary. And yes, bawl away. Don’t think my cheeks have been dry as I have been writing this. Love, ArtaMary's Reflections on a Journey with Annabelle: Thoughts on Miracles, Love, Peace, Hope, Mercy and Joy
My journey with Annabelle has been one full of moments that have deepened my understanding of six important things: miracles, love, peace, hope, mercy and joy.
Miracles - It is easy to look at the world around us and see miracles, big and small, in our natural environment. We may not do so often enough, but it is not a struggle to find and appreciate the beauty around us. Annabelle has helped me to remember to turn my eye inward, to see the tiniest cell in my own body, and to remember what I have been given. Each of us is a miracle. And each breath we take is a gift. Less obvious perhaps are the miracles to be found in imperfection. From the first day that we found out that our Annabelle had fatal imperfections I knew in my heart that I could not ask for a miracle – I could not ask for her to be cured, to be born whole and healthy. But as the weeks turned to months, and Annabelle kept growing, I knew without a doubt that she was already a miracle. Not only was her heart growing outside her body, her heart itself had serious defects. And yet, she continued to grow, to wiggle, and to share her short time here on earth with me. Not to be forgotten, the miracle of the doctors and medical technologies that enhanced our time with Annabelle and helped us to prepare for her arrival. What a miracle to see her through ultrasounds, to know her body, her hands and feet, even to see her tiny little heart beating. How lucky we were to journey with the doctors to find out all we could about her condition, and prepare ourselves a much as possible for her arrival. This was truly a gift to us.
Love - Love has been watching my sweet three monkeys --- Xavier, Naomi and Rhiannon on their journey with Annabelle. The sweet words to their sister Annabelle delivered with lips to my tummy. The hugs and snuggles, arms tight around my expanding waist, or heads laid gently on my belly. The sadness, tears and questions that could not be answered. Love has been poured upon us from all directions. And this love has made our own hearts turn outward. Instead of turning inward, of focusing on our own grief, we have been reminded of the importance of loving those around us and of helping others in need. Love is Rogers House, the palliative care centre where we were given the opportunity to spend a day together as a family after Annabelle was born. That gift is priceless. Our time together there let us celebrate, grieve, and love each other in a most amazing and special way.
Peace I have been in constant awe of the blessing I have received -- that I would have peace and comfort in my heart. Grief and heartache could have torn me apart, but instead I have been blessed to find joy within my grief. I have felt overwhelming peace and comfort that things were as they were meant to be. Comfort that my family would come out of this journey stronger. Peace even when Annabelle arrived far earlier than we had hoped.
Hope - Which brings me to hope. From the beginning, there was never much of a chance that we would get to see Annabelle take her first breath, to watch her grow and learn. We never knew how long she would survive. We knew she might leave this world at any moment. But Annabelle taught me about the joy that can come from setting aside what is practical and realistic and letting myself hope for something that is almost impossible. Hoping for one moment with Annabelle alive in my arms. I finally understood the importance of letting myself want something I could not have.
Mercy - Mercy was Annabelle arriving on June 7th. I wanted so much to carry her to the very end. To hope beyond reason that she would make it to August, to keep growing, that I would meet her and we would look into each others eyes. I believe a higher power knew the time would come when I would not have the strength to wait any longer, to hope anymore. I did not want Annabelle to come this month -- I desperately did not want her to come. But when I knew her heart had stopped, despite the grief, I was somehow at peace and knew in my heart the time was right.
Joy - After days of waiting in the hospital for my body to cooperate and deliver Annabelle, she finally arrived. I just held her and held her, trying to remember to let Leo and others have a turn. I just couldn’t stop holding her little hand on my finger and looking at her tiny feet. She was so limp, but so warm and soft and beautiful. So beautiful and perfect, despite all her imperfections. With her little eyes closed, she just looked like she was sleeping. The thing I never want to forget about those first few hours with her was my joy -- how happy and at peace I was. So, so happy to finally get to meet her, to see her little broken body and hold it close to me.
(Mary ended with a few words about gratitude...those at the funeral, and those who were not, but who had shared in the journey with Annabelle.)
And so, today is another day.
I am in Yellowknife this week. I arrived on the plane well after midnight, astonished by the light in the sky, and the range of colours swept along the horizon. This week, the nights are so short, and the days are so long that it is next to impossible to distinguish the sunrise from the sunset. Is the day ending or being reborn? I will keep that thought with me for the rest of the week.