our evening was cut short by the drama of toddler vomit. this may be just as well since i was starting to feel a little prickly at the service. i know intentions are good and in this, of all places, it truly is the thought that counts. but i can’t help but think — as i did at the memorial service we attended for earl in 2005 — that parents of dead infants should have separate services from parents and families of older children. it’s just very, very different.

i have written before about grief’s sameness — and i still believe in that idea, that the way grief bears upon our bodies is the same (largely) regardless of the source. the depth and longevity may differ, of course, but the pure physiology of grief persists.

nonetheless, the source of grief does make a profound difference. i remember well the night i learned of my maternal grandfather’s death. his was the first death i experienced as an adult; he was my first “close” family member to die. his name was matthew and i was very fond of him even though i barely knew him. one night my mother called me to tell me he had died. i was in my small garden-level apartment in seattle, lying on the floor talking to a friend. after i got off the phone with my mother i spent the rest of the night sobbing. i had only seen my grandfather half a dozen times in my life. i hadn’t seen him in about 10 years. he didn’t even live in the same country as i did. and yet i could not still my wracking body.

the next day i bought some memorabilia, having none that were “genuine”: a sweater knitted in scotland and a celtic brooch. i wore them every day for months.

but my feelings of experiencing his death were relatively brief. for several days i walked everywhere, leaden-limbed and red-eyed. my heart felt ripped open, my insides gutted. and i knew that my sorrow was almost all for me. matthew had lived a long, full and happy life. he had children who loved him. he died at home. so i cried that someone i loved had died, that i would never see him again, that i would never get to know him better, that i had lost my grandpa.

losing an infant is nothing like that. sure i cry for me, but i also cry for s, and for m, and for the babies themselves. i cry that we will never have a complete family photo. i cry that my daughters won’t know their sisters. i don’t get to say “i wish i’d seen your smile one last time” or “i’ll always remember your voice.” i don’t have memories of ruby or earl looking at me, of feeling their breath, of watching them sleep at night. i never had conversations with them. i’ll never know a damn thing about them, except that they both had their daddy’s hands and feet and my ears. when i miss them it’s not only because they’re gone, but it’s also because it’s hard to remember that they were ever here. evidence is scant, and too few people care to help me remember anyway.

i can only guess at what it’s like to lose an older child. somewhere, i suppose, between my experiences with my daughters and my experiences with my grandfather. so a memorial service that opens with songs that have lines like “if i knew that would be our last walk in the rain…” are inappropriate for parents of dead infants. we never had walks in the rain. we don’t miss what was and wish for more of it. we don’t have any idea what we’re missing.

thinking of you tonight: aurelia, carole, cecily, meg, tertia, and other moms whose names i don’t know.

kisses sent skyward for ben, earl, joseph, georgia, matthew, mira, maddy, and ruby grace.