I believe in the resilience of the human heart.
My niece Anna was born just days shy of her official due date. She had long dark hair and a bright pink mouth. She weighed a healthy eight pounds. She was beautiful and perfect. Except she was not breathing. Her heart had inexplicably stopped beating the day before, and my sister went through labor knowing that she and her husband would be saying goodbye to their daughter almost as soon as they met her.
Most babies are enthusiastically anticipated by their families, but Anna felt special. Our father had died unexpectedly just nine months before, and Anna’s impending arrival was a ray of sunshine in those dark days. Laura had an easy pregnancy and her husband Bill researched baby product safety like no man I’ve ever known. The excitement was infectious.
It was July 6 and I was in Maine. I had just been crying. It was hard to be there without Dad, in the place he loved most, the place we most loved to be with him. I was missing him, and angry that he was missing out on his grandchildren, my boys. I was a mess. Then the phone rang. “She’s dead,” said my sister. Routine weekly checkup. Bill was there; he never missed a doctor’s appointment. No heartbeat. “She’s dead,” she said again. It was an echo of the call that I received the previous October: “your father’s dead.”
What I remember next is logistics. Getting a flight back home. Flying back. Sleeping at the hospital. Holding Anna. The christening by the hospital chaplain. Trying to track down our mother. Manning my sister’s cell phone. Trying to find books on grief and names of support groups. Those hours and days are so clearly etched in my memory, but also a surreal blur.
At Anna’s memorial service, I read the classic “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney. At the end of the story, Big Nutbrown Hare tells Little Nutbrown Hare, “I love you right up to the moon and back.” That’s how much we loved all loved Anna.
When our father died, we lost our north star. When Anna died, we lost a part of ourselves. Our hearts were broken. My sister and her husband were broken. There simply is nothing worse that losing one’s child.
My mother used to say that love was not like bowl of sugar that would be spooned out and eventually used up. She told me this when I worried that she loved my sister more than me, and I sometimes find myself using this line with my own kids.
When the heart is broken, it feels like love has been all used up. But over time, if you are patient, if you hold your family and friends close, the heart regenerates itself, and slowly fills back up.
We will never forget Anna. Sometimes my boys, who never met Anna, cry for her and grandpa. But last year we welcomed my second niece, a delightful, bright, smiling baby girl who has reminded us all that there is always space in the heart for more love.
Isn’t the human body amazing?