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Monthly Archives: April 2012

La Peregrina

The search for reason plays out in many different ways when a parent is faced with the prospect of losing a child. You look for reasons why and you seek some kind of structure where reason itself will prevail and bring order along with it. And you do some crazy things along the way to make it so.

I decided in my questionable wisdom, one summer day in 2008, that walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain would deliver the outcome I wanted most of all. I’d crawl on my hands and knees in penance for every possible sin I may or may not have committed in exchange for my daughter’s life, just as thousands of pilgrims have done for a thousand years. I’d put my faith in history’s hands – history and the Catholic Church. Did I mention I’m not Catholic? Turns out, I’m not much of a pilgrim, either.

The Camino Frances, a pilgrim trail that runs 780 kilometers from the south of France, over the top of the Pyrenees and across Spain to the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela, is pretty much de rigueur these days. Everywhere you look, someone is writing a book about their Camino experience. In hindsight, however, it’s clear I had no business being there and you wouldn’t be the first person to wonder if I hadn’t lost my mind. No, the first person to look at me and say, “Um, really? Why would you do that?” was the daughter I imagined I was doing it for. She knew me well, this girl did, and when I told her that my plan included leaving offerings on her behalf at each creche of the Virgin Mary along the pilgrim trail, she didn’t bother to suppress her laugh. “Well o… kay,” she said and sent me off on the path of righteousness, polished stones as offerings in hand, with no illusions as to her thoughts on the matter.

That was then. This is now. Much has changed but symbols of love continue to dominate, as does the lesson I learned on my camino.

My daughter moved to another city to start her adult life eight years before her death last summer. We made the move from a big house to a small one and each of our children’s collections of memorabilia were separated, catalogued, boxed-up and put into one of those storage lockers that inhabit the 401 highway from one end of this country to the other. Following her death, we retrieved her things and slowly but surely reacquainted ourselves with the first 23 years of her life.

She was a collector extraordinaire, this daughter of ours; what we referred to as her bitty-bits. Scraps of paper with half-written song lyrics, every note surreptitiously received in high school classrooms, all the journals of her life – they were all there – along with her most treasured collection of all. She loved Hawaii and when she returned from the trip she took following high school graduation and before she started university, she brought home with her a box of beach shells. I made my decision the moment I held them in my hands.

The first trip we took after her death was to London, a city she adored. Shells in hand, I went about leaving them in the places that meant something to her there. I’ve done it many times now, and I’ll continue to leave her beloved shells in places special to her for the rest of my life. This is the meaning that was missing on my first pilgrimage. Walking, whether a camino or through life, must be purposeful, I think. As vital as the act of living is the company you keep while doing it. Who you walk for, then, becomes as important as where you go. I walk for her. I place a shell, I say a prayer, I shed a tear – finally the good pilgrim has arrived. Buen camino, mi hija. Buen camino.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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The Quilt

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Some of us grow up with talented mothers that are beautiful, unpredictable, and not so hot in the emotional growth department. If you have a mother like that, and I did, the real gift you get if you’re lucky is an aunt. In my case, she was my mum’s youngest sister; a precious gem no matter which way you cut it. She provided me with steady assurance throughout my life – a welcome relief from the quicksand of home – and her ability to anticipate what I might need from a distance of 1000 kilometers was uncanny. She was the light at the end of a long tunnel and I wanted to make a home for my family and me like she did.

In the year before my daughter died, this past year, I spent a lot of time with my aunt. My daughter lived closer to her than to me. I’d stop in on my way, have a good cry on her shoulder, and arrive at my daughter’s bedside with a full tank of resolve at my disposal. This is in spite of the fact that my aunt was dying, too. She was 79, she said. She’d had a long, happy life, she said. Hug her for me, I said.

When I’d come home, counting the 20 or so days until the next trip back, I’d crawl into bed and under a double ring quilt my aunt made many years ago. The tiny cutouts of cotton fabric, culled from remnants of dresses sewn for her daughters and granddaughters, comfort me now in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. Now that they are both gone, and my bedside table is graced with a photograph of my daughter sleeping under the same quilt as a teenager (well, refusing to sleep on Christmas Eve, actually), I lay my head down each night and imagine that the pair of them embrace me until sleep comes. Sometimes that takes awhile.

I told my aunt how much I loved the quilt and she launched into a stylistic self-critique of her early quilting skills (or lack thereof, according to her). I’d never noticed imperfections of any kind on it but once she made me look, I had to admit they were there. Still, each stitch is hers, as opposed to the machine-made ones sold at Sears. Does the imperfection make it perfect? Is that the same as us?

As a child, her home was the only place I felt safe, the down-filled Danish bedding some kind of wonderful I’d never seen before. Her home was, like her quilt, imperfect. It was also real and I soaked it up. She was passionate about her life, her kids and their kids, and she was still madly in love with the man she’d made it all happen with. She reminded me, after my daughter’s death, and before her own, that I’d done it, too. I’d married for love, built a life that was full and continue to follow my dreams. But it all went so terribly wrong, I said. Yes, it did. And there it is, I guess. Even when your eyes are on the prize; even when you tread a careful path; even when you love as fiercely as you can, the challenges you encounter can be insurmountable.

It’s true; my daughter is no longer in this world. I may not know exactly where she is, but at least I’m sure who stands beside her. They are together, much like the double rings on the quilt that comforts me nightly. And like each imperfect stitch upon it, I am reminded to remember what I already know. It is perfect in its imperfection. It is the same as us.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Diamonds

It’s ball season again. I used to be able to see the remnants of softball season’s past at the ballpark as each Spring revealed its new recruits and last year’s echoes pressed themselves against the white lines between first and third. I spent the last few years turning away from that magic, unwilling or, maybe more accurately, unable to look at the promise in those young faces. I didn’t know that the time would come when I would let the memories return and bring my child with them.

While I prepared to lose my daughter, I found the pure simplicity of softball too painful to remember. Parents pace the park, desperate to see their girls win. I’d wonder (bitterly) if they knew how good they had it. Do they know the outcome doesn’t matter? Can they see the metaphor that lives in the relay throw from left field to home plate? I doubted it. I doubted them. I used to be them. This season, now that she’s gone from this physical world, the same ballpark calls me.

Year after year the park photographer lines the girls up and they heft the bat onto their shoulder and squint into the sun. Those photos come home with them at season’s end and find their way to the bottom of a lint-filled drawer, stuck in the folds of a box or the back pages of yet another full photo album. When the unthinkable happens, and that child dies, the flow of life’s photos stop, too. Every picture you have must last the rest of your life. Some spark of some photo somewhere dogged me. I rooted through the stacks of photographs of her that fill every vacant surface of my home and there they were. Two photos, a decade apart – same park, same place, same grip – you can seeImage the church across the street over her shoulder. Hat-head. Check. Sun-squint. Check. Good stance. Check.

This season, as I sit in my car across from the park and eavesdrop on this year’s version of her past, I am struck by how each team looks as hers did. There’s the future softball scholarship winner at Virginia Tech on the mound; the stocky, fit third baseman with a gun for an arm; and the requisite one that doesn’t give a shit about ball but enjoys the camaraderie and uses the outfield hours she logs as opportune tanning moments. Through all the years that she was ill leading up to her death, I couldn’t see these girls for what they are. They represented a past with no future possibilities to me, and they broke my heart.

Now that she is gone, she takes her place beside them once again. She’s in every play at home plate. And each time one of them swings the bat and drops a high, hard one in no man’s land behind third base, I’ll see her trot off the field, casually toss her helmet into the dugout and glance my way just long enough to say with a look, “Did you see that?” Of course I did. That picture has to last a lifetime.

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© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Aside

The journey forward is tentative for those of us who find ourselves with a lifetime membership in the world’s least-desired club, the one made up of parents who outlived their children. The dues are endless, and they change from day to day, month to month, reflecting both moments of hope and despair, woven intricately together in a design guaranteed to surprise you when you least expect it.

Some arrive here at this destination suddenly, and with no preparation. Others, like me, spend years deluding themselves into thinking they’ve made peace with the inevitable. I went back to school to do my Master’s degree reasoning that if the worst thing happened, I’d be able to keep moving forward. When it did happen – the worst thing, that is – I felt the collision occur. It was me, grinding to a halt while my daughter’s foot from the other side pushed in opposition, the result an impasse between the two worlds in which we find ourselves. She won, though. I knew she would. So did she. I’m finished school and the project that kept me sane throughout holds the two of us together still, the glue that binds us while she and I figure out our new universe.

Now it’s time to graduate and as I contemplate walking across that Chan Centre stage at UBC, instead of dreading it I find myself seeking it. She waits for me there and just as she and her voice inhabited the theatre in life, I know she’ll watch the procession and convocation from her centre spot in the choir stall above with the same ear-to-ear grin she wore every time she sang there.

There isn’t a place on that campus I don’t see her. The Rose Garden? We met there every Tuesday for lunch and planned her wedding on warm fall days. The turnabout on Main Mall and Memorial? She sang ‘O Canada’ there to the Queen. I ducked out of Spanish class early to watch but when I arrived, they were ten deep. A very nice cameraman let me climb up his ladder to get a peek at her. There it was, that grin again. The pub at the SUB? Oh yeah, I picked her up there a few times on Greek Mondays, too tipsy to talk, asleep in the back seat, content that she was packing all she could into what she always knew would be a too-truncated life. She knew it, even as the rest of us tried to fool ourselves.

I told her I went back to school partly for her; to do at least one of the post-graduate degrees she wanted to do herself. We’re finished school now, she and I. When you see me take the eight-second walk on graduation day, look hard and you’ll see her, too. Look up, to the choir stall above the faculty seats. She’ll be front and centre. You’ll recognize her grin.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

Graduation

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Where’s My Kid?

IMG_2623_2There’s a secret known only to those of us whose children have died long before their time. It’s unspoken, yet understood. Once the obituary is written, the prayers said, the tidy crust-less sandwiches eaten and everyone who surrounded you with love goes back to their corners to lick their own wounds, you confront it for the first time. Where’s my kid? That’s where the real journey begins.

The months that follow kick the crap out of you. In and out of the proverbial rabbit hole you go, emerging when you must; retreating when you can, and still the question remains. Where are you? For some, like my husband, her father, the trip takes him back in time to the church pews of his childhood, where he seeks her in every hymn that is sung each Sunday. Sometimes he can hear her whisper to him there.

His place doesn’t work for me and I dig into string theory and quantum physics with a vengeance, its confounding numeric a welcome relief from the ever-present thrum of pain. If energy can be neither made nor destroyed, my daughter and I reasoned together, we just have to find where it goes to find each other once again. That lone goal drives me now.

I hear her voice in my head. I ask, she answers. I don’t tell everyone this for obvious reasons. Imagined or real? I don’t know but the conversation continues daily and with it the conviction grows that I am finding her, one tiny atom at a time.

She and I spent hours debating the merits of television psychics like Sylvia Browne and John Edward who, for a fat (and I mean really fat!) fee, will link you to your lost loved one. If they can do it for cash, we reckoned, we ought to be able to do it ourselves in the name of love. Imagine my shock when I discovered that after death communication has become big business in the grief community and I’ll admit, I struggle with that. Surely it’s not ethical or even wise for someone offering their services as a grief counselor to take a vulnerable individual to any spiritual place they may not be prepared to go. But I know that a parent that has lost a child will go to any lengths to find her and that alone opens the door to exploitation. I proceed with caution. I look for science-based explanations that rub up uncomfortably against spiritual theories and hope that the friction they stir in each other will lead me to the garden of Eden I seek – the place where my child now resides – the place where our conversation can continue ad infinitum. That’s where my kid is.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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