When I first considered going to this event in 2007, I was petrified that I would turn into a blubbering puddle making a spectacle of myself and causing great alarm to my family and Bella who was then three. I decided it would make me feel a bit more edified if I took along the names of all the children I knew from my friends in the computer -- written down on scraps of paper in my pocket. They would balance my load, remind me I wasn't alone.
And they did.
Every year I ask if there is a name I can carry with me, and so here I am asking once again: If you would like me to carry your child's name with my own and my now rather modest stack of names in my pocket to my event, please leave it here in the comments. If you don't want to print your child's name here, feel free to email me at tashabf at gmail and I'll take it from there. If you've responded in the past, I still have your child's name. But please go ahead and double check and make sure. Please note that these names are not read out loud nor are they really a part of the ceremony I attend. I write your child's name on a scrap of paper, and the scraps go into a bag which gets put in my pocket. When I'm there listening to all of the other names and watching the flickering candlelight, I know your names are close to my hand and heart, keeping me company. When I come home, they go into a bowl next to a candle for a few nights until they get overrun by Christmas -- and then I make sure to safely put them away until next year lest a neighbor accidentally place a dip and some pita chips by the bowl thinking the tableau was set up for something else entirely.
After Maddy died, a friend of ours sent us Elizabeth Edwards "Saving Graces." It sat on my coffee table for months, Edwards' flawless skin and slight smile staring up at me from the cover. When I finally had the strength to pick it up, I did not start at the beginning -- I skipped right to the chapter "Raleigh," which begins,
I've now come to a chapter that I knew I would have to write.
I knew I had the right one. I read about how the policeman came to their driveway and told them their son was dead. I was awestruck at their ability to celebrate his next birthday. I breathed a most enormous sigh of relief when I read that Elizabeth Edwards, somewhat famous person, had also collapsed into a teary heap at the grocery store. Following this chapter was a chapter -- an entire chapter -- on how the internet helped her through her grief. I had only started blogging, but I thought maybe, just maybe, this lady is onto something. She seems pretty together now. I could only hope that the invisible legions within the computer could help me as well.
Barely three months after starting a blog, I wrote a post about presidents who had lost children. I began by pointing out that a few of the people currently running for president -- including John Edwards -- had lost children. I had heard through the grapevine that Elizabeth Edwards was internet savvy, but clearly that was an understatement: Apparently she must have had a search set up to sift through anything that popped out the name of her family and her son that notified her immediately because shortly after hitting post, I got a comment.
From Elizabeth Edwards.
She wrote a beautiful metaphor about how life is like a blackboard, and when your child dies, the blackboard is erased and it seems as if nothing will ever be important enough ever again to expend chalk and space upon a square. I got that. She claimed over a decade later her board was filling again, and that she still grieved, but it wasn't all the time, and not as painful as in the beginning. It was hard to fathom the metaphor; in part because I was still so, so far away from realizing it, and in large part because I was so moved that she used Maddy's name. She typed out her name.
I was still so blinded and rubbed raw and my blank chalkboard was in pieces at my feet, so it was all I could do to try and respond without resorting to profanity (although from what I hear, she would've been ok with that). She seemed so . . . hopeful. So . . . . ok. Would I ever be? That woman on the book jacket seemed a million light years from where I stood.
It is three years to the week of that post, and I already see what she means. All I need to do is glance at my real calendar to see that even trivial things like bookclub are once again making me feel, well, alright about life. (It's this Friday, and we're selecting next year's books, and I'm just atwitter.) And even where it's not filled, metaphorically speaking, I'm holding that chalk just above the surface wanting to write something. I'm ready. I'm ready to put something down, dammit. I think.
A week or so after that post I went to my first candlelight ceremony at Children's, and perhaps it was presumptuous of me, but on one of my scraps I wrote "Wade." Elizabeth Edwards would never know, but I figured she took time to write my daughter's name, the least I could do was the act of writing out her son's. It came with me that year, and will again on Sunday. Just because his parents are kinda famous, I thought, doesn't mean he's any less missed. And I'm sure his parents fought to keep his memory alive as much as any of us.
I'll always remember Wade. And you too, Elizabeth. And you too.
Please let's all raise our chalk to a woman who suffered way more in her life than any woman should, and did so with staggering grace and dignity. She was a champion to many women for many reasons, but for me she'll always be the woman who took time out of a campaign schedule to write my daughter's name.