The Heart Babies

This Sunday, May 7th, is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. A post from the Carly Marie project asked loss mamas to photograph and submit an image with our hands over our hearts. Those babies we have lost are carried in our hearts. As I pondered over the project, it occurred to me that I couldn’t narrow it down to one photograph. My heart baby goes with me everywhere. Like here: 

The space aches because it is always there and forever unfillable. We are their mothers. Are. Just as your mother is still your mother after her death. She does not cease to be your mother. She is not erased from having been. Nor are our children. Our children remain our children even after their death.  We are always mothering our heart babies. That’s the unfillable space. It is because of his absence that there is the presence of space. Like a balloon that is full of only air, and yet the presence of the air is what makes the balloon take up any space at all. The ballon skin itself actually has a very small claim to the space. But we know that the balloon isn’t empty. It isn’t an emptiness but a presence of absence. 

Perhaps it will not always hurt the way it does sometimes, but even a year and half after his death, there are still intense moments for me. Deep longing and sadness because I want all my sons together. The sting of feeling cheated out of knowing him more and watching him grow. I want Reece here on Earth.  I’ll be pulling into the garage, and I hear a song and I’m sucked under a wave of grief. I clutch my chest and cry with my head pressed against my minivan window. Alone, I have a moment of gut-wrenching sobs in the half dark of a shut garage. Something bumps my scab and it tears open and begins to bleed again.

Broken heart tissue never heals back into normal heart tissue. When I hear of tragedy befalling someone, my new heart throbs, the new tissue rippling with strength. My inner compassion wells, I am compelled to help. That’s Reece, my heart baby. 

I was deep into practicing yoga while pregnant with Reece. He hated the slow down. He especially hated “child’s pose” which I still find delightfully ironic. After his loss, thousands of tears were shed for him on my yoga mat. 

A transformation has taken place. The unfillable space takes up a spot in my heart. The living tissue pulses around the place where it cracked. For me, there was no atrophy of function. Quite the opposite. My heart is now more alive and aware than ever before. Reece did that. He came, he left, and it’s because he was ever in our lives that I am wide open. I am transformed, implanted with an unfillable space. 

Nothing will fill it up. Not new clothes, not food, not exercise, not returning to work full time. Not even a new baby. It is just there. Some things cannot be fixed or filled, they can only be carried. I’d rather carry my empty space for Reece than be able to fill it in with something as though he was never here. Having to give him back just before he was ready for others to meet him is a struggle for me as a mother. I fear that others will forget him. He is with us every day as the boys and I ride in our minivan. With my oldest wanting to ride in the third row, Reece’s seat is left open. Not empty, but open. 

I recently went to visit a friend I haven’t seen since Reece’s funeral. As we talked, she announced that she had something for me. She handed over a fleece tied blanket in blue and green, a size and style that matched the other two she had made for my boys when they were born. Now we had a matching set of three. 

As I drove home, what happened had time to sink in. She had asked me at his funeral if I wanted his blanket still, given the circumstances. I had said yes. 

That was a year and a half ago. Surely she could have given the blanket to another mother who had birthed a healthy baby boy. I would have been none the wiser. And yet, all this time she had kept the blanket in her house, waiting for a time together, no matter how long. In the deep grief of losing her husband, she perhaps understands the unfillable space. The presence of absence. My heart baby, Reece Michael. 

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