By Patty Inwood - Rivers & Roads Blog
THE BOX July 3, 2021
I stumbled onto a show a few years after Luke passed away titled Call the Midwife. I always wished it had a catchier name, but let me tell you, it is one heck of a show on the BBC channel. The series is based on a memoir chronicling the life of Jennifer Worth, a midwife in London during the 1950s. As a bereaved mom, every episode was an emotional rollercoaster. Full of heartfelt stories of women at that time in history, it dealt with family issues still relevant today: body image, women’s rights, abortion, the role of religion in society, losing a parent to dementia. But the biggest thing of all, was every episode, EVERY episode, a child was born. This miracle of life, and with it, the promise of a future. And I would cry and cry and cry… thinking about the fragility of this offering.
In one episode that really stuck with me, the couple that was expecting also had a baby girl that had passed away two years earlier. If I remember correctly, it was from what we now call SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Unbeknownst to the couple, this new pregnancy was a trigger for their first child’s death and they were struggling with the gamut of emotions that entails: Anger at each other over the loss, guilt that they hadn’t protected that child, fear that this new baby was going to suffer the same fate. Sigh. Grief is so complicated! The midwife that had been assigned to them skillfully helped them identify what was happening and helped them realize they needed to acknowledge that child and the love they still had for their little girl. What happened next broke my heart. In the following scene, the mother walked over to a side table, opened a drawer, and pulled out a box. It was not even the size of a shoebox, and in it, they had put their precious memories of their girl: a locket of hair, a picture or two, a blanket. That was what they had left to represent their child. A box.
My tears are flowing now because the truth of it is, if you have lost a child, you know this is our sad reality. I, too, have a box. It’s an old pine chest that we used as a coffee table when we first started out as a family. Now it is in the basement and it is full of Luke. The cards and banners from his wake, the mementos people have left at the cemetery, pictures of his seventeen years on Earth, some personal belongings like his mandles. When I ache to connect with my boy when it’s an occasion like his birthday and I desperately want him back, I make my way downstairs and I go through the box. Just like you might go through a yearbook or a wedding album to revisit an important moment in your life, parents who have lost a child go through their box. Each item holds a memory, an emotion, SO much love. It is all we have left.
So here’s what I need you to know: When someone comes to me and says, “My best friend just lost a child. What do I do?” I always tell them, “They are going to need a box. Buy them a box.” I am not sure how many folks have taken me up on this advice, but if you have lost a child you know how important this is. You can’t keep everything, you see. You want to. You want to keep their room and their clothes and their belongings exactly as they were that last day they breathed. But you can’t. Sometimes there is too much pain in seeing what has been left behind of your baby and you get rid of it as soon as you can. Sometimes your heart starts to heal and you realize you don’t need a drawer full of their socks anymore. Whatever the reason, you pare down the existence of your child into a few items and you put them in the box. For safekeeping. For proof that your child was here.
What I have learned, with time, is that my connection to my child doesn’t rest solely in the box. Our love, our bond is so strong that it is an invisible thread between this world and the next. We are forever joined at the heart. And there is simply no box big enough for that. I love you, Lukester. Xxx.