Our group of bereaved mothers recently got together for a writing retreat the way we have been doing for close to a dozen years now, twice a year. We spent some relaxing and recuperative time at a North Carolina beach in late spring. Some of the writings we may be posting on this blog soon were started or finished during that time we spent together.
Just before we left for the beach, a writer from a local writer’s group and I sat at a booth at the library telling others about writing events and books. She asked me about our Farther Along group: Are you still writing about your children who died after all these years?
Her question continued to echo for me during the writing retreat and since I’ve returned. I think she wanted to know whether we had written all there was to say about our dead children and then moved “farther along” and now wrote about other subjects.
The answers are yes and not always.
Yes, we do still write about our children. We still write and talk about our children–in the safest of places, where it is absolutely OK to say their names and share their stories.
And not always. We catch up on the next chapters in our own lives: We have all lost other family members since we began meeting. Among us, we have welcomed three more children and about 20 grandchildren into our families. We have experienced an abundance of life changes. Often we have cared for other family members. We have so many chapters in all of these stories. And telling those keeps us connected to each other even when we may see each other only once or twice a year, scattered and busy as we are in our lives.
Stories connect us and construct bridges for us and keep our children present for us. And sharing them on the page or sharing them with others in the group allows that. And sharing some of those stories with others who are grieving and who may read this blog allows connections too.
My childhood friend (and longtime kindred spirit) starts a conversation with “Let me tell you a stoh-ry,” her sweet Southern drawl making the “o” long and stressed.
So now, I’ll tell you a stoh-ry, one that I recalled as I wrote at the beach recently. The prompt we wrote to was “Behind Closed Doors.”
Behind the closed door of my daughter’s bedroom one day recently, I heard giggles and laughter and the loud thump of someone jumping off the bed onto the floor.
It is not my daughter whose laughter I hear on this day—although this was a room that she filled with years full of giggles. Instead, I hear four of her nieces who have spread My Little Ponys, dollhouse furniture, Barbies and piles of books on the floor, on the bed and in the cubby under the kneespace of the desk. Closet doors are wide open, and two of them have tried on old dance and Halloween costumes.
I see all of this through a small crack in the door, which will open only a few inches because a whole pasture of purple and pink ponies forms a blockage, and in this small space of a room, the room in our house that receives the best morning light and the most warmth, I see a three-year-old dressed in a ragged yellow tutu, a few errant strings of lace tickling one leg. She has a pointed witches hat perched crookedly on her head, and she has created a world for the ponies, who shimmer with rainbow hair and iridescent wings and unicorn horns. She is putting them all to bed in small boxes arranged on a green cloth, placing them on pillows that she and I sewed together from scraps in my mother’s sewing box on another day.
Another sister wears a blue chiffon gown with a colorful scarf tied around her waist, purple boa around her neck and a sparkly crown. She holds a magic wand that lights up and trills when she touches something she hopes to change. She is aiming it at one of her sisters. She settles on the floor between the dollhouse and the pile of Barbies and Kens, all of whom are naked and waiting to be outfitted from the piles of finger-sized leggings, plastic boots, flouncy skirts, skating outfits, tuxedos and wedding dresses.
The dollhouse is rearranged with pieces of carpet placed in some of the rooms, tiny toothbrush and toothpaste and towel in the bathroom, fireplace and pretend books and chairs and tiny bottles of ketchup and plates all finding a place in the house as sister number three makes order from the chaos of those tiny household items. She has set the table with cups and saucers that are about the size of her fingernails.
And the fourth sister has found a reading place, first on the bed and then, when she jumped off of the bed, on a cushion in the corner, and she is halfway through a Nancy Drew mystery, another stack of books waiting beside her. Some of these are books I read at her age and some are Elizabeth’s. Reading the words from generation to generation, and sharing the stories is another bridge.
One of these children said to me years ago that it was so nice of Aunt Elizabeth to leave all these toys and books for her and her sisters.
Behind the almost closed door of this room, these girls, so different from each other but so fiercely sisters, create another chapter to the story that is my daughter’s story too. She is not here to be part of it, but the objects I could not bear to part with have new life, new purpose. When they have used most of them up, the objects can go, but for now, I love the bridges that the objects, the toys and books, allow. And I do so love the giggles.