Glutton for Life
I write this essay while I am still in the trenches and while my vision is still clouded. My daughter Eliana died six weeks ago today, and I write for the first time since her untimely death.
My husband Doug found her lifeless in her crib while we were on vacation. Doug let out a gut-wrenching wail that I had only heard once before.
In 1997 I lived in Chicago. One evening after returning from a night class, I noticed a thumping sound at my kitchen window. I approached and saw a mama squirrel with two of her babies nesting between the window and corroded screen. She had worked diligently that day to prepare this nest, to give birth and to nurse her newborn babes. Quickly, I lowered the shade to give them their privacy. Each morning, though, I would steal a peek at the squirrels, and smile as I watched the two babies grow from red, wrinkly rodents to two furry, active squirrels. This was the highlight each day for over a month.
Early one morning, I was awakened by a keening moan that came from an unknown place. In the haziness of the hour I searched in my mind to make sense of this sound. Then it came to me. I knew at that moment that one or both of the babies had fallen from my second-story window onto the pavement below. I knew that the sound came from the mother, but what I couldn’t comprehend is how an animal could connect with my soul in that way. How could she sound so human?
No one tells you that a squirrel will always remind you of the death of your child.
No one tells you that a nursing mother’s milk takes one and a half weeks to dry up and that on the last day the milk will pour in one final purge –one final blow to the grieving body.
No one tells you that you do find hope in your six and four-year-old girls, and that they will remind you of all the happy moments that Eliana gave to us.
No one tells you that the love from family, friends, neighbors, and community is what holds you together.
No one tells you that you’ll meet Francine, a woman who lost two children to cancer, and who will share with you the words that her son, Greg, wrote during his first diagnosis with a brain tumor:
“If you’re a glutton for life…then you better be a glutton for joy, for happiness and pain, for sorrow and suffering, for clarity and confusion, for ecstasy and misery because each of these … is a part of life and if you don’t experience … them when they come around, you ain’t living. …if you don’t want to deal, then seal yourself off from the world and be a hermit where everything is steady, safe, and boring as all hell. Passionate people don’t live that way and I’m passionate about life so I accept them all.” Greg died on March 1, 2004 at the age of 39.
Eliana died August 7, 2008 at 7.5 months of age. She was pure joy.
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