Beauty

That little collection of ashes housed in that nondescript white container is not you, sweet Flicker.  I know that.  The essence of you – your spirit, your soul, your goodness – transcends that container and this place. A place which would have likely greeted you with ugliness and struggle and pain.  However I want you to know that there is tremendous beauty here; some of it obvious, some of it requiring the context of an experience to make itself known.

In the garden next door I see a ubiquitous white webworm moth fluttering amongst the rudbeckia blooms, its beauty manifest in a childhood memory of your wonderful great grandmother, Momma Yorse.  Each time she would see such a moth, she would lovingly exclaim, “Why hello, Ebenezer!”  When I was a small child unable to discern the world beyond what I had experienced, I thought that this Ebenezer, Momma Yorse’s devoted companion, was one lucky moth.  After all he was allowed to feast on the day lilies that lined her backyard pool, tomorrow the potted geraniums in my back yard, next week the wisteria climbing the lattice at Mama Lou’s farm.  An embarrassingly large number of years later I would come to learn Ebenezer was not one, but a vast many.  What a gift this was to place the beauty of a silly name and a friendly greeting to what most would consider a common garden pest.  Why hello, Ebenezer.  Nice to see you again.

I mourn that you left this Earth without drinking in any of its obvious beauty, sweet Flicker. I mourn that you left this Earth without the opportunity to have shared experiences that create beauty in your life here.

At the top of a hill on the back side of Spectacle Island sits a solitary tree.  This tree is rather unremarkable – approximately 15 feet tall, thin branches, small leaves, unknown species – yet it houses so much beauty for your dad and I.  This tree provided shade from an intense sun and an oasis from my sad disposition as we picnicked and read and napped and pondered and gave thanks on a Mother’s Day burdened with the weight of your diagnosis.  Leaving the island on that peaceful day in May I knew we would return to share it with you, sweet Flicker.  I prayed fervently that a miracle granted would allow you to be crawling around on our picnic blanket next summer, snacking on watermelon and laughing at the circling seagulls.  But a prayer unanswered dictates that we must share this place with you under much more somber circumstances.

As we boarded the ferry on Saturday alongside the throngs of tourists squeezing in a vacation in these waning days of our New England summer, I couldn’t help but feel strange about the motive of our journey across the Boston Harbor.  We must have looked just like everyone else –  backpack, picnic supplies, sunglasses – but on our person was your person, or the remnants thereof.  Over and over again I reminded myself that this was not you, sweet Flicker.  Just what was left of that cursed body that could not serve you here.  I hate that body – despise it with my whole being – but love it and miss it and mourn it all the same.  Such complex emotions enclosed in a tiny white box.  I wonder what tiny white boxes all of these happy families were carrying with them on to Spectacle Island?

At the base of this tree – your tree, sweet Flicker – your dad and I released your ashes into the Earth.  Intensely heartbreaking, I relied on the strength of your father and my Father as I watched our hope and intimacy mix in with the tall grass and soil.  This was not you, sweet Flicker.  Thank God it was not you. But I felt that it was so much of me.

Momma Yorse left this Earth this past November, also leaving behind a small box of ashes.  In her ashes I envision just a few particles of her infant days, when she was but a collection of cells from her mother and father. As she aged she developed her own voice.  Her own perspective.  Her own passions. She married my grandfather.  She traveled the world.  She raised three children of her own.  Each day as she lived on this Earth I picture her becoming less and less of her original self as dictated by the cells of her mother and father, and more and more of the self she became as a result of her life experiences.  Consequently the balance of her ash particles I envision to contain the 85 year of life she absorbed.

But you, sweet Flicker, left this Earth before you were challenged to take even one independent breath.  You were wholly reliant on me for everything – blood flow and oxygen and nourishment – and deprived of any chance to evolve beyond this dependent state.  In your ash I could only see your father and me and the life here that could have been.  A painful experience shared with your father and this solitary tree on Spectacle Island that will be permanently absorbed into my life story.

Yet in this sadness I am able to see the incredible beauty you have added to this unremarkable tree – your tree – sweet Flicker.  Your tree will be a destination for your father and I to visit and feel connected to you.  We will watch your tree grow and mourn that you are not growing with it, but be at peace with your presence in Heaven.  Lord willing your tree will provide shade as we picnic with your siblings in the years to come, telling them of your amazing little life.

Flicker's Tree

Flicker’s Tree

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Celebrating Your Little Big Life

Deep breath, sweet Flicker. This week was a chaotic one, our small home filled to the brim with family and flowers and friends and visitors and food and… love. So much love. The atmosphere was in stark contrast to our first days home after meeting you; those surreal, upside-down days where all I could hear was the silence of your absence. I will admit that at times last week I craved a bit of that silence, escaping to quiet corners to reconnect with the familiar. It is so very strange how quickly the new becomes the routine, even when the new is something so unwanted.

Driving this flurry of activity was love for you, sweet Flicker. The community who would have helped raise you – your Yia Yia, Nana Bon, Papa, aunties, uncles, honorary family and playmates – came together to celebrate your short but massive life. It was a beautiful day, sweet Flicker, both inside and out as we spoke of your life and the passion you lit in us. Your dad even got the chance to challenge you to a game of horse, to be settled of course when we are all reunited in Heaven. Don’t let him win, sweet Flicker. His 3-point jumper is pretty legendary.

You had some “friends” there too: your little sheep lovie, hand-knit blanket, and stuffed bear who I know would have had a name. No doubt he would have been your companion, dragged all around the house by one leg or arm, the crisp white quickly dirtied. I don’t know why I am telling you this because I know in my soul that you were there with us, smiling alongside as our tears fell.

Flicker's Friends at his celebration of life.

Flicker’s Friends

When you were safely within me, you heartbeat still thumping, I would spend hours putting myself in various hypothetical situations surrounding your birth and passing – what it might feel like, what I wanted to say to you, how we would tell people – and on and on. But I could never bring myself to visualize your memorial service. It was too painful, too unnatural. After all, parents are not supposed to say goodbye to their kids like this. It is supposed to be the other way around, after long, fruitful lives spent together. What does it look like, feel like, sound like, when memorializing a person who we hardly got to meet, yet we know and love so intimately? Walking into the church on Saturday with no expectations or earthly knowledge of how I was going to make it through, I left several hours later arms locked with your father overflowing with joy. Of course it was joy experienced alongside grief and longing and pain, but joy nonetheless. My deepest wish is that you felt the joy, too.

This beautiful New England summer has been such a blessing during these hard days. Missing you while also missing the sun and warmth and sounds dampened by sub-zero temperatures and blustery snow would likely add another layer to my grief. Your dad and I needed some silence after your celebration on Saturday, so while your grandparents retreated to our home to prepare a D’Elia family pasta feast, your dad and I sought out a place of quiet reflection to soak in the sun and warmth, calming our anxious bones. Our original destination, Walden Pond, which felt the burden of our steps in April as we circled its shoreline processing your unconfirmed diagnosis, was closed without explanation. So we consulted our map and headed to an unexplored nearby green space, which led us to the Great Meadows Nature Conservatory, and this:

Great Meadows Nature Conservatory

Great Meadows Nature Conservatory

Thanks, sweet Flicker, for leading us here!

Thanks, sweet Flicker, for leading us here!

I smile when I think of you leading us here, to such an amazing oasis, to take in so much of God’s created beauty while thanking Him for your sweet little big life.

A Chance to Play

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” 
– Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

All children should have a safe and creative space to play – to develop the heart, mind, body and spirit.  Sweet Flicker, there would have been lots of play in our home. This I guarantee.

Sadly many children are not given the chance to play because they live in neighborhoods with no access to safe play places.  In fact, many communities that have a very high density of children are lacking any form of basic playground.  An organization called KaBoom! is trying to change that by building awesome, innovative playgrounds in these so-called “play deserts.” They want to make sure there is a place to play within walking distance of every child in America.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?

It would give us great pleasure if more kids got the chance to simply be kids – to play – because of you, sweet Flicker.  Hopefully this will make you smile, too.

Learn more about KaBoom! here.  Click here to donate to KaBoom! in memory of sweet Flicker.

A New Rhythm

It is just another Sunday evening, sweet Flicker.  A Sunday evening experienced on this block and around this world in a myriad of ways; some in peace, many in chaos, but a shared experience nonetheless. In our home, Sunday evenings usually trigger the arranging of checklists, tallying of to-do’s, accounting of workweek anxieties, mapping of post-work plans, reviewing of scheduled doctors appointments, and preparing of food that will sustain us until the mid-week farm share pick up and grocery store run.  Usually.

But on this Sunday evening, sweet Flicker, I am struggling to grasp the usual.  Meals prepared by the loving hands of our family and friends fill our refrigerator.  Doctors have removed our names from their respective calendars.  My workplace has granted me leave to heal.  Social plans have been postponed to give your dad and I space to grieve.  You are not coming in October. You are not here with me now.  Everything feels so highly unusual.

In the homes on this block and around this world life marches forward on this any given Sunday evening, some of it in peace, much of it in chaos. But in this march I do not know the cadence of my steps just yet.  I have not found my footing in this world with you not in it.

The rhythm of a family of two is one of familiarity to your dad and I, learned, refined and perfected throughout our six years of marriage.  In this span we have celebrated alongside the majority of our siblings and friends as they have added to their familial numbers – three, four, five, six – witnessing firsthand how such tiny bodies perpetuate such exponentially large change.  Change in sleep and spontaneity and priority and routine and love and budget and media and …

We were ready for you, sweet Flicker, and all of the wonderful disruption you were going to cause; growing pains welcomed with hands wide open as we graduated from two to three.  Reconciliation is now difficult: while we are cruelly not a family of three, your dad and I are no longer a family of two.  Rather, the two of us are living in this awkward half-place of having a third who is not here.  The routine of my kid-free life seems so inappropriate. Unfulfilling.  Selfish.  However, absent the tangible duties of motherhood the adjustments I have witnessed so many others make are unnecessary.  So what is this new rhythm, sweet Flicker?  Where do my feet belong? When does the ground settle?

Amidst so many questions, these things I know to be true:

It is still early days.

I am not the only one adjusting to this half-place of life after infant loss. Scores have done it before I came, and scores will continue to do it long after I am gone.  I hate that this is a truth.

I will find my footing.

Your father will, too.

I will never understand why we have been asked to march to this mournful rhythm. A part of me will always resent it. But thanks be to God it will become ours.

When a Name Just Fits

Many of our dear friends and family have inquired about your “official” name.    Well sweet Flicker, I can promise with some degree of certainty that you will not meet too many people with your name in Heaven.  Of course you are joining a distinguished group of D’Elia boys who have names that tend to give people pause.

Don-Paul?
Or was that John-Paul?
Is Paul a middle name?
Oh, it’s a hyphenated first name?
Fine, just initials will do.
And how in the heck do you pronounce that last name?
Huh.

Welcome to the family, love.

We began calling you Flicker when you were just four weeks in to your life, inspired by watching your pin-sized heart flicker on the ultrasound machine.  We heard its thump thump thump.  We recognized its power in fueling your growth.  That it should become your nickname was never up for debate.  It just fit.

Did it ever just fit.

Flicker (n) – a short burst.  You were here and gone before we got to learn so many things about you.  Would you spend your summer hours outside on the basketball court like your father, or on the tennis court like me? Would you be the one to get a whole room laughing, or be more comfortable taking in the conversation of others? Light hair or dark? Green eyes or blue?  Your book was closed before we got to these chapters, which your dad and I mourn constantly.  Your life here was just a short burst.  A flicker.

Flicker (v) – to shine unsteadily, varying in brightness.  We had some ups and downs together, didn’t we.  Years of frustrating anticipation. Twelve weeks of unencumbered joy.  One hour that forever changed us.  Fifteen weeks of sadness and worry and anxiety trading moments with gratefulness and awe and hope.  In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” Reconciling the circumstances of your life in real time coursed both joy and pain – light and dark – through my veins simultaneously.  My world with you in it flickered.

Flicker (n) – preceding a flame.  While your life was but a short burst here, your flame burns everlasting in Heaven.  But know, sweet Flicker, that your flame also burns everlasting in us.  I cannot think of a single event in my life that has altered the course of my…everything…more than these last collection of months with you.  Living in the present.  Channeling hope throughout fear.  Leaning not on my own understanding.  Trusting in difficult decisions.  Turning to my faith for the grace to get through the hard days.  Relying on your dad for things too numerous to count. Asking for help and letting people in. Understanding a depth of love I never thought possible.  I could go on forever, sweet Flicker, listing the ways you have altered the course of my life for the better.  And I know I will uncover more ways each day as I navigate through life without you here with me.  Your flicker has ignited a flame in me, and for that I am truly grateful.

So Flicker D’Elia, may you shine bright in Heaven, shine brightly within us on this Earth, and be a continued source of light and love for those who have had the honor to know you.