Taking a Toll

There is, to put baldly, a ranking of grief when your baby dies. People assume that mum feels it the most, then dad, and then others. If the others get any attention at all, it's of a scant nature. Frankly, by the time most people have enquired after mum, they forget anyone else who might have been involved in this life. Everyone else is peripheral.

My mother was, to put it mildly, tickled pink to be a nanny. The day I phoned to tell her I was pregnant, "Good Morning Nanny", that was the day she put the sign on her office door:

"I'm not allowed to tell you that my daughter is pregnant, so I'll tell you that I'm going to be a grandma!".

When I got pregnant, well, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant, my mother announced her intention to join GANG. It's an initiative from the Stephen Lewis foundation, helping grandmothers in Africa, who, as a result of the scourge that is HIV/AIDS, are raising their grandchildren. Like all Anglican women, they run garage sales and pasta suppers and concerts to help the foundation. I've been eaten the spaghetti, I've been to the concerts, and I own a variety of useless kitchen implements, as a result of the garage sale.

It's funny, but I could tell you all the many things I've missed out on as Gabe's mum. I can tell you the little losses that quickly add up into big ones. I can tell you the things I looked forward to, and the pain that was mother's day. I can enumerate all the loss from the death of your baby. Perhaps, I think actually, almost certainly, grief has blinders. We are so wrapped up in our terrible pain, we forget that others lost something.

Last night we were at HomeSense. Looking around, poking. Nothing in particular. Debating the merits of an armchair - she thought it was comfortable, I thought it was horrible. We both liked the fabric.

And for just a moment, I followed her eyes. To the little boy things. To the furniture and bedding and toys. I watched her look. And look away. A lifetime of competing moments passed through her eyes, as I watched.

My mother did indeed join GANG. A kind and compassionate woman called my mother this time last year, and merely asked what job she wanted in planning the garage sale. No question of the semantics of joining, no question if this was appropriate, simply a request. "What do you want to do to help?" A question, that after the pain of grief, my mother found easy to answer.

And suddenly in HomeSense, I saw the terrible cost to a grandma. I could see my mother, as women crowded around, sharing pictures and stories, moving away to organize things. I could see her working quietly in the corner, moving away, leaving the conversation. My mother, for all her voice and strength, she wouldn't advocate. She wouldn't tell you that she's a grandma, unless you asked.

And what stories does she have to tell? While other women tell of presents, does my mother tell them of the blanket she bought? A first and last gift? When they tell the story of rescuing their daughters, of giving them a break, does she tell the story of taking a cab to the hospital, because she was too upset to drive? When they say that their daughters are exhausted from child rearing, does she say that her daughter is exhausted from grief and trying to get pregnant again?

My mother calls my son "our baby". He was born to not just Mr. Spit and I, but into a family. With a history and traditions and values, and now a future doesn't include him, and I'm not the only one who grieves. His tree is surrounded by 4 roses, and a set of tulip bulbs, called Wendy Love. She planted them with care last fall.

Perhaps it is enough to say that grief can take a terrible toll. And it is not specific about whom it hurts or when. Simply because no one realizes the toll, does not mean it is not there. Our baby. Our past. Our future. Our sorrow.