26 June 12
Elijah did not look like himself.
I’m afraid I may have startled the gentle police officer who needed me to positively identify my son’s body when I said I didn’t think it was him. And for a brief moment, I hoped that it was another woman’s baby. (Yours, perhaps? I’m so sorry — I’m ashamed of my weakness. I should be strong enough to bear this grief without wanting to place it onto your shoulders.)
Elijah wasn’t disfigured, he just wasn’t … alive.
His strawberry birthmark on the top of his head was gone. The tiny blood vessels were no longer holding blood, but if I looked closely, I could see a ghost of a trace of Elijah’s only blemish.
And then there were the three little blackheads on his right cheek. I had watched them develop and had refrained from squeezing them — a mammoth effort for someone like me who has the habit to pick at almost anything. That tiny constellation of dots confirmed my son’s identity.
That, and the two little teeth just poking through Elijah’s bottom gum. He had only worn those teeth for a day and managed to bite me twice with them. Each time, I screamed, and he screamed, and we comforted each other by letting him feed again at the nipple.
Someone had dressed him a red shirt and jean shorts. Did they know that I like red, or was it just the top item of clothing on a pile of brand-new baby-wear bought specifically for dead children? Either way, the red shirt was extraordinary. I felt blessed by the Divine touch.
I held him, tried to sing to him, dressed him something I had brought and cuddled him close. I know it is no longer Elijah. I know the body is empty — the sutures from the autopsy were a constant reminder. But for a few short hours, I had my son again sitting on my lap, wrapped in my arms, holding my fingers and receiving my kisses.
This morning I woke with a holy word bouncing around in my head: God comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble… with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. In old-fashioned language, it reminds me that I am learning compassion and receiving comfort in this time of grief so that I may be able to comfort those who come across my path in the future.
I’ve realised now that my current journey isn’t a walk or a marathon. It’s a really hard, really fast, double-dutch skip-rope session.
One turn of the rope, and I have to jump over the procedure for burying a loved one.
Another fast swing, and the rope is coming at my feet again: the procedure for visiting someone in custody.
A third swing, and I’m addressing practical issues like transportation.
Then the rope comes down again and I have to jump over financial hurdles.
Again and again, the ropes are whizzing over my head and back around. I will learn to pick up my feet at the right time, I will learn to jump high, I will learn to dance to a different beat lest I fall and get whipped by the relentless ropes.
Today, I cried. Tomorrow I probably will, too. The day after, perhaps, the sky will stop raining and I will see the sun.