She slipped through the door, just a blur of blue as I continued to sob.
“You told me your baby was due right before Christmas. I want to give you this little Christmas ornament so you have something to hold and something to remember him by.”
She handed me a lacey glass heart with a baby blue ribbon. The texture made my brain hum as I rubbed my fingers over the edges.
“Can I tell you a story?”
The nurse named Nikki pulled up a stool and sat, her legs folded in listening. And I told her about our bonus baby, how he was conceived despite all the odds, how we had rearranged our lives for him, bought a house and a minivan, moved to a new city.
Hours later, I clutched the glass heart as we left the hospital. We waited for the elevator down from Labor and Delivery, my red fleece jacket stretched taunt over a belly full of Reece. The next night he would be born, we would say hellogoodbye, and the glass heart would hold a spot next to his box of cremains.
When I started back to work, I hung the glass heart on my rear view mirror. It was a simple way a piece of Reece could come with me every day. It grounded me when I stressed about running late and reminded me of what really mattered in life. An added bonus was that it helped distinguish my van from all the other grey Honda vans in any parking lot. Even at work, there was a van exactly like mine.
Then there was a day. Mother’s Day weekend the boys and I were headed to a plant exchange. As a gardener and budding horticulture nerd, I lived for plant exchanges. I could meet other gardeners and share an interest that had nothing to do with motherhood or children. The boys were playing in the van while they waited for me. I was digging one last plant for sharing when Dane approached me.
“Grant broke this!” He handed me a chunk of my glass heart.
I ran to the van, addressed my three year old, and crumpled into a pile on the garage floor. The very first gift I had received from Reece’s birth was shattered. I sobbed uncontrollably. My boys watched in mild shock. My three year old kept chanting “I sorry. I so sorry, Mama.”
The grief kept pouring out in heavy waves in my open garage. My literal heart was broken. My metaphorical heart just shattered, too. There are so few gifts from Reece’s time on Earth. Especially gifts from others.
A month later, our family was on vacation in the Black Hills. Like all tourist destinations, we stumbled upon a glass blowing shop. Dane and I went in while Ryan stayed with napping Grant. Inside, my breath caught when I saw the same delicate lace technique on small trinkets.
We watched a drinking glass be created and then I asked the woman about the skill behind the tiny pieces. I told her I used to have a heart made in the same style, but it had been broken. She sat down and began to heat her tools, happy to amuse me.
As I watched the skinny rod of glass melt, my eyes welled. Reece’s glass heart was made this same way. My glass heart, my sweet baby boy, both gone. She looked at me and I smiled as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
“Ha! Sorry,” I said, wiping my face. “This is just so neat to see. The ornament I had was so special because it was given to me when we learned our son no longer had a heartbeat.”
“Oh, that’s a terrible day,” she said, looking from me back to her work.
“Yeah. Some days are still hard.” She nodded. I watched, entranced, while Dane wandered the shop and fingerprinted all the cases. He wanted to buy a penguin. He wanted to buy a snake. He saw a frog that would be cool to have. I price checked them all. For a boy of six, I was not going to buy a glass trinket of any price. But these were exceptionally pricey.
After about ten minutes, the glass worker held out a glass heart. I beamed with pride.
“That looks just like the one I had. What’s the price on something like that?” I held my breath, prepared for a number I wasn’t willing to pay.
My heart skipped a beat. I stood among expensive artwork and she wanted twelve dollars for a custom piece. That’s when Dane pipped up.
“Hey! That looks like the heart from Reece that Grant broke! Except it had a blue ribbon.”
“Blue ribbon?” She mumbled to herself and rummaged through a drawer. She pulled out a spool of ribbon. Blue ribbon.
“How’s that?” She held it up by the ribbon for Dane to see.
I paid, thanking her profusely, telling her she had eased my heartbreak over the loss of a thing.
She shrugged and nodded. She didn’t fix my broken heart. She had offered me a new one. The loss of Reece broke my heart. And it didn’t heal so much as I grew a new one. One that is deep and tender and holds space for the broken people.