I wanted to tell you about a strange, and I think blessed, thing that happened to me recently.
During the summer, we heard that the sister and brother-in-law of a friend of ours had lost their two-week-old baby. We’ve never met the parents – in fact they live in another country – and didn’t even know about the baby, but of course we were very sad for them and for all our friend’s family. Such an event is probably one of the worst things that could happen to someone. Certainly I think anyone who has had children feels a visceral curling at the idea of a baby dying.
This sad event stayed in my mind, and eventually I found myself drafting a poem. I knew nothing about the circumstances; I reflected that perhaps the baby had been born with severe health problems and had not been expected to live, but I decided that my poem would be about a baby who dies unexpectedly of cot death. Two other lines that suggested themselves to me were that the baby was a very calm and gentle soul, and that he looked just like his father.
About a month after the funeral, I sent my poem to my friend. She e-mailed me that she was “still recovering” from reading it. The baby had died of cot death, he had been extremely gentle and sweet, hardly ever crying but just squeaking. And she wrote, “how did you know he looked just like his father?”
How did I know? Well I didn’t, consciously, but what I replied was that I just try to keep the antenna up. (That’s something I heard Beth Nielsen Chapman say on a radio interview, and I’ve always really liked the metaphor.) I suppose it was one of those times when we are listening deeply, and we can hear / know things that according to mainstream science we shouldn’t hear or know. It’s not the first time I’ve “known” things, and I’m certainly not the only one this happens to. I think it’s another example, like those moments of thinking I know the strangers around me, of how we are all connected.
I feel privileged to have been a conduit for a poem that was able to bring comfort to my friend and also her grieving sister and brother-in-law. The main point that I was trying to convey in the poem is that even a lifetime of only two weeks still counts as a lifetime, and that this baby was a distinct person who will never be forgotten by his family. I’ve submitted the poem to a literary magazine, and we’ll see what they think of it, but it will always be very special to me because of the circumstances around its writing.