Imagine, if you will, that you and your wife had a baby. And for unexplained medical conditions, but certainly through no fault of your own, the baby died when she was six days old.
Imagine, roughly six months later, your only sibling, your brother, has a baby daughter. You have never had a particularly close relationship with your brother -- it hasn't been bad or strained, just sort of there. You call to wish congratulations. He, so excited with his news, does not use his filter to spare you information that would probably hurt. He talks at you for 45 minutes. I think this conversation hurts you considerably, because you bring it up a lot, and save for another brief phone call you make a week or so later, you decide for a while not to call him at all.
At Christmas, you call to chat and get wish list information. Your sister-in-law is extremely pleasant on the phone, even warns you that a Christmas card with a picture of the baby accidentally got mailed to you instead of a generic one, so please intercept it and toss it. Strangely, although you ask to speak with him, your brother is always "not here right now" or "busy." You send a lovely digital photo frame so they can display pictures of their daughter. They, clearly last minute in reciprocation as if they didn't expect anything from you, send you some books off your wish list.
Also at Christmas time, your father and his wife (aka The Asshats) stand you up at a memorial service for your daughter, their granddaughter. The very next morning, they send you a curt email explaining that they already have plans for Christmas, and flippantly wind it up with, "How was the Service?" You take a week to settle yourself, and send them a very mature, well-versed email stating how disappointed you are that they couldn't come. How sad you are that any of this had to happen at all. That you love them. They don't pick up your phone calls on Christmas Day. They don't pick up any of the calls you make a few weeks later when you start missing them.
You finally gather the nerve to call your brother and ask if he knows anything about what the deal is with your father. You have a pleasant chat with his wife for five minutes where you discuss things like getting babies to sleep. She says, "I'll go get him," and puts the phone down. And you wait.
For ten minutes.
You finally hang up and call your mother. Who tells you that your brother is angry with you (and most likely, your entire family) for "not sharing in the joy of his baby." But, you protest, I did! I called. I sat through a painful phone call to share his joy. I even called back. But: You did not send a gift. Your wife, usually in charge of these things, is still too bereft to visit the "Congratulations!" section at Hallmark. She is in no state of mind to surf through baby gifts for a girl. You decide you probably have a year, like weddings, and decide to put it off for a while. Besides, your other relative who had a baby the same week could care less that you haven't given them a gift; when you skirt the subject she gives you that look and arm gesticulation as if to say, "Seriously, are you fucking kidding?" Followed by the arm wave that says, "look at all this baby crap, do you think we need more?" Summed up, by looking squarely at you with tears in her eyes, as if to say, "you know it's not the gift, the fucking stupid pair of pajamas and stuffed animal we really care about, right?" You do not go to visit your brother and his baby. Not only would this be like pouring flaming gas into an open wound, but seriously: you have 4 pets to find care for, and you'd have to take your toddler on a mind-numbing plane trip to see a personality-less infant and make her miss her first week of school. You probably -- scratch that -- you WOULD NOT make this trip had Maddy lived and you had a toddler AND a six-month old to drag onto a plane. Certainly they will eventually bring their 3-person, petless family up here to see people soon enough, and probably when the baby is more interesting to be around anyway.
No matter. In a brief space on Tuesday night you find out that out of your immediate family of four, two are not speaking with you. Your wife, putting two and two together based on some conversations she's had with others, realizes but does not tell you, that your very own mother, the sole person left who will answer your phone calls, likely fanned the flames between your brother and you, her own sons.
This blog is not about Mr. ABF, it's about me. I am not going to interject what he must be feeling here, although I can guess. But this part is about me: I do not have the time, energy, creativity, or metaphoric capacity today to tell you just how much I love this man, but I will simply say that his loneliness this week has been palpable, and I feel his heart breaking like my own.
I am not one to believe in signs, and I don't even know what to make of this one: the morning before the evening Mr. ABF made this series of phone calls, he finally picked up the phone and called an old friend in New York he hadn't spoken to in a year. His friend reacted as though he had won the lottery, and Mr. ABF said he may have even detected a bit of weepage on phone, so happy was he. That same day, I received an email from a friend who hasn't written since her condolence card, to say she saw a job posting and thought of me. She mentioned Maddy in the second sentence. And that evening, while sitting on an empty line for a brother who never bothered to pick it up or even hang it up, friends from the midwest called on the other line and left a message. They also haven't called in a year, and their message, which I didn't discover until the following morning, said almost verbatim: "Just reaching out, wanting to know how you are. We'd love to hear from you if you get the chance."
On the one hand, these instances of reaching out and reconnecting with friends were as if the universe had sent us pillows, anticipating the evening's free fall and softening the blow when hit with the realization that others were summarily cutting us out. They reminded us that some people do in fact possess patience, sympathy, empathy, and thoughtfulness. On the other hand, these pillows put into glaring contrast the reactions of people who are simply "friends," and those who, you thought last week, were your staunchest supporters no matter what, your family.
How this effects Bella is very much about me. Mr. ABF and I are adults. Shit happens, apparently, and we will prevail. We have other people to fall back on, clearly, people who want to be with us, and we will fill our time with them. But Bella has lost a grandfather here, and his wife, whom she adores. They do not want to see her anymore, because of us. Apparently, I'm now convinced, Bella's grandmother was to some degree complicit in fostering the anger felt by Bella's uncle toward her own father. It is highly unlikely she will see any of these people, any time soon.
I am of the school of thought that a parent must tell the truth to their children. I did this before Maddy died, and was somewhat reaffirmed by the hospital counselor who directed me to give it to Bella straight up: don't hide it from her, don't use euphemisms. But these sticky family matters are, quite frankly, not what I think she should hear. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't know what I'd tell Bella if I did want to tell her the truth, because I don't really know why they're upset with us. I go through all the calculations, and use numerous theorems as I churn through the problem, slowly eliminating variables, watching the scrawl funnel down into an inverted triangle toward the bottom of the page, and I always end up with the same, simple, neat conclusion which I cannot fathom telling Bella should she ask why her grandparents don't visit her anymore:
They are mad at us, because our baby died.