She would have been 32…
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
When the card arrived I checked the return address. As soon as I saw from whom it had been sent I knew its contents. The sender, a very dear friend of mine, is one of a very small number of friends and family—with the exception of my immediate family—that understands and remembers why March is such a difficult month for me.
I don’t know why my friend remembers. Maybe she writes it down somewhere. Maybe it is the way that she is wired. I have no idea and will never ask her. That she remembers and chooses to acknowledge is what moves me so very much. It would be much easier, and in some ways safer, for her to ‘forget’ the difficulties of March or, at least, ignore its significance for Candice and me.
Every March 18th I have to stop and give pause. In the last 32 years I have done that every year except for last year. March 18, 2017 I was feeling miserable all day. My stomach was very upset and I could not seem to shake it. Suddenly—very suddenly—I realized the date. For reasons that I can neither remember nor explain I had been so preoccupied that I had let the significance of the 18th of March escape me. The moment that it occurred to me and the moment that I apologized, the pain disappeared. That may sound overly mystical but I am not exaggerating. The pain vanished, though tears of sadness and embarrassment ran down my face.
March 18, 1986 my first born, Bianca, was delivered three months prematurely. She was beautiful. As beautiful as her sister, who would be born three years later. She was a stunning golden brown who moved her arms and legs and squeaked rather than cried because her lungs had not fully developed. Three days later, as a result of a brain hemorrhage and underdeveloped lungs, she passed into eternity.
Medical personnel could not give me and my wife, Candice, a definitive reason for the premature birth. It may have had to do with the flu that Candice had suffered the week prior. It may have been that Nature identified a serious problem that necessitated terminating the pregnancy. In either case, we got to see our first born for all of three days.
The friend who sent the card was told that story a number of years ago in a very personal conversation. She cast no judgment nor fell into simplistic language in response. I could tell that she somehow felt, quite deeply, the pain that Candice, and I had suffered in 1986, and that which continues to be part of who we are to this very day.
I have often said that there is an “underground” of parents who have lost their children. It is an underground that those who have not lost children rarely identify, let alone acknowledge. It is a body of people who are not very trusting in sharing their experiences because they—we—regularly encounter those who are uncomfortable with death generally, and the death of children in particular. In fact, many of our friends and family are so uncomfortable that they would rather change the subject or simply go silent.
The friend who sent the card is, therefore, quite unique. She seems to understand that the pain does not disappear. It is something to which you grow accustomed. It is a pain that need not immobilize you, but it is a pain that you must acknowledge. And it is a memory which you cannot and should not let go.
My deep love for my first born cannot be measured. And I believe that her spirit understands that. On March 18, 2017 her spirit needed to remind me of her presence. Her spirit knew that I was busy trying to save humanity but that there was a moment that I needed to share with her. It was her moment, or better put, our moment. I apologized to her spirit countless times and hope that I have been forgiven.
The card that my friend sent means more to me than she can ever imagine. She appreciated that after such a loss one does not just “move on,” but one must mourn, reflect, and adjust to the new environment, an environment that may look much like that which existed prior to the tragedy but which differs in some very deep ways.
To fellow members of the “underground,” find friends like mine and cherish them. They do not replace therapists and should not be treated as receptacles for all that you are experiencing. But they can be so essential in providing the setting through which you can carry out the healing process, a process that will last your entire life.
I think these thoughts on the day that my first born would have turned 32…