Fri 29 Apr 2011
the end of April brings taxes and mortgage renewals and home insurance and end-of-term papers and the opening of lobster season and two birthdays within a week. Oscar, then Finn, always out of order, the second child born 51 weeks to the day after his brother. both Friday’s boys, loving and giving. both early. one safely so.
he would be six today.
last week, Oscar turned five and the first of his baby teeth came loose and suddenly all that we lost hovers phantom-like on the edges of my consciousness. because just-five and the cusp of six are not so far apart, no longer unimaginably separate. Oscar has friends the same age as Finn would be, almost exactly. and i found myself imagining, just briefly, what it would be like to have the impossible two of them, brothers, both five for that single week.
a glass darkly, rare and precious. i want to sit with it, chew it over, understanding all the while that it is not real, that i have to give it back.
but there is a royal wedding and a stopover of less than 24 hours at home between Dave’s keynote in Halifax and the trip up to northern New Brunswick to help his parents put out the lobster traps at dawn tomorrow, kids in tow all the way. goodness. busy-ness. in November, my silly heart broke when they announced the date of the wedding, the dates of Dave’s conference. lobster season, i already knew. it was after they came in from the boat six years ago that we told Dave’s parents their grandson had died.
what time is there for a birthday for a child who is not even here?
my mouth twists up in a wry little smile that it’s his loss in the shuffle that i mourn, when he is, after all, already lost. the forest and the trees. how much time do you need to honour something so brief? i know the world does not stop. i no longer ask it to.
(but when he was born, it did.
all was in motion, fifteen yellow-clad masked professionals racing like dancers to the warmer and the shrill sound of the emergency alarm still in the air and so much blood as they whisked him silent from me, all of it in the longest breath i ever took. i really saw only his ear. one perfect, tiny, reddish ear.
and my world froze on its axis and altered forever. i had never seen anything so ludicrously beautiful. wish made flesh, mundane and miracle, mine mine mine. for all that would unfold across that room and through that night, in that moment, i was any new mother. and he was my boy.
maybe it happened for you, too. if it did, you were lucky. so was i, in that moment on Friday afternoon six years ago. 3:24 pm.)
yesterday, in Halifax where Finn was born and lived his whole short life, we packed up the kids after Dave’s conference ended and we drove a tiny ways out of town, to the park known as the Dingle, where an old colonial tower flanked by lions has stood for a hundred years on the granite bedrock of the Northwest Arm. my mother and my Nannie took me there as a child. i had not been back for six years, since the Sunday afternoon i left the hospital without my baby.
Dave drove and i sat in the car like a skinless thing, staring bewildered and raw at the world around me. i climbed the hill to the tower on shaking legs, because i had been on bedrest nearly three weeks and had not walked further than from a wheelchair to a toilet. i had given birth less than forty-eight hours before.
i stood in the rain that Sunday afternoon and only when Dave stepped a few feet away did i dare speak him aloud for the first time.
i had a son, i whispered to the water and the wind. his name was Finn.
we went back yesterday, with some of his ashes. for six years, i haven’t known what to do with the ashes. some are under the trees in our backyard, but most have sat in the small urn by our bedside. i don’t know what we’ve been waiting for. maybe the courage not to let him go, but to invest him with the ritual of letting go. i have been afraid, for six years, to make too much of a deal out of him, except here. i have been afraid to make a formal space to honour him, for fear the world would tell me it was busy with business and royal weddings, or would look at me with pity. i have been afraid of being silly.
i am not afraid anymore.
the tower and the lions of the Dingle are under reconstruction, robed in white. we showed the kids the outcroppings of rock, so different from here in PEI where all is sand and sandstone. we showed them the plaques that commemorate the bygone days of Empire. and we picked our way in the mist down a path to the wharf, each of us holding a small hand, and me holding a small bag.
human ashes are gritty, flecked with tiny pieces of what must have once been bone. i ran my fingers gently through them, and poured them into the palm of my hand. irreconcilable, this dust and that child who held my finger tightly in his own. irreconcilable, that it has been six years. life, a hundred irreconcilable, sometimes silly things all thrown together.
the four of us traced our fingers in the dust that was his body and let him go floating down to the water. Oscar threw in shells to make it pretty for his brother. we each chose a rock and we put it in our pockets to take home.
today, we will bring another handful of ashes with us to New Brunswick, and tomorrow, once the lobster traps go out from the beach behind Dave’s house, we will scatter them there, too. set them free.
and i will whisper, i had a son. his name was Finn. and i will smile, because he was my boy.