Shattering the Silence: Three Minus One

18669335Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss by Sean Hanish

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure note: I am one of the contributors to this anthology.

In July 2009, my first pregnancy ended. In July 2012, my second pregnancy ended. There will be no others. Those experiencesas well as the years of baffling infertility that preceded the losses, the attempts at adoption, the anger and hope, resolution and relief, the sense of a life unfinished and unfulfilledhave shaped me as an adult. They have affected me as a woman, a writer, as the mother I will always believe I was meant to be, as a wife who shares forever-grief with her husband.

In 2005, the wife of writer-director-producer Sean Hanish gave birth to a stillborn son. In their journey through sorrow and healing, Sean wrote the screenplay for a film. That film, Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein, premieres worldwide on Lifetime Network, Saturday May 17, 2014, 8:00 p.m. EDT. Return to Zero. Sean’s original intention was to see this film distributed on the big screen. But realizing he would reach a vastly greater audience on a solid television network, he signed on with Lifetime at the Rome Independent Film Festival in Italy earlier this year. Bravo, Sean. Congratulations for your brave and beautiful work.

In tandem with the release of the movie and in the spirit of shattering the silence surrounding neonatal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage, Sean and Brook Warner, editor of She Writes Press, conceived an anthology of prose and poetry written by women and men affected by child death. Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love & Loss is the result of their collaboration and ourthe contributors’journeys.

This collection of essays and poems speaks of pain and loss so profound, you are left breathless. Yet there is also incredible beauty, joy, and redemption. The writing is extraordinary, each voice unique in its expression of universal themes, experiences, and emotions. The relief to know one is not alone is profound.

In just a few lines Heather Bell’s poem, Executioner, captures the absurdity of grief–the acknowledgement that life goes on, even as yours is falling apart, and the strange, sad ways people reacttrying so hard to empathize, to understand—yet botching it all, bless their hearts:

And the baby is dead but
we need lettuce in the house, maybe some bread
for morning toast so

I am at the store touching the potatoes at the spin,
the slim wrists of carrot. And the baby is dead so

this entitles humans to talk about their dog’s death,
or gerbil’s. This means I am expected to sympathize at

their loss. Because all death becomes, somehow, equal

Gabriela Ibarra Kotara reveals the Masters of Disguise that grieving parents become after the loss of a child: “I am that cautionary tale. No one wants what happened to us to happen to them.” In Address Book, Meagan Golec reflects on how her friendships have changed since her child was born dead at 38.5 weeks. Elizabeth Heineman’s What to Do When They Bring You Your Dead Baby in the Hospital is a tender, beautiful, elegiac prose-poem that I read over and over, wanting to sink inside her words. Marina del Vecchio, Silent Miscarriage, Shoshanna Kirk, To Balance Bitter, Add Sweet, and Susan Rukeyser, Our Bloody Secret, made me realize for the first time that I was not crazy for wanting to miscarry in my body’s own time, even though it took weeksthe first timeor left me writhing on the floor for hours, hyperventilating in painthe second timeand that searching in the mass of blood and tissue for signs of your child’s body is horribly, gruesomely, okay.

All this death and loss is not a thing you talk aboutnot in polite company. Not with strangers and rarely even with friends. But death brought me to life, as it were. The deaths of my children brought me at last to the page, to be the other thing I’ve always known I was meant to be: a writer. Isn’t that strange and awful and wonderful? I can’t fulfill one destiny, but in its denial, I am walking the road of another. My essay Their Names touches on the discovery of another way to create life.

Miscarriage affects an astonishing number of would-be parents: an estimated 30% of pregnancies ends in loss. Mercifully, many of these occur so early that the mother doesn’t know she was pregnant. But many of us spend weeks and months planning for and anticipating life.

Stillbirth occurs in 1 of every 160 births in the US and neonatal deathdeath within the first 28 days of life1 in every 85 births. Shocking, isn’t it? It’s probably happened to someone you know. If and when it does, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” and a hug would be a beautiful gift. Offering Three Minus One would be a precious gift, as well. Parents in mourning need to know they are not alone. This book offers all the right things to say and do and feel and not feel. It is an embrace of compassion and empathy.

N.B.: The following readings by contributors from Three Minus One are scheduled in the Seattle Area (* I will be reading):

May 9, 1:00 p.m. Pacific Northwest Writers Association Cottage, Gilman Village, Issaquah

*May 22, 7:00 p.m., Third Place Books, Roosevelt, Seattle

*June 15, 3:00 p.m. Elliott Bay Books, Capitol Hill, Seattle

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The sweeping up the heart/And putting love away

Again this year, for the third bewildering time, I have said goodbye to a friend. I have mourned a life that graced the world with compassion and integrity. I have felt anger over a light extinguished far too soon. These friends – Tom, Peter, and Will – celebrated all the wondrous things the world offered, embraced circles of friends with boundless affection, explored this earth from the peaks of the Himalayas to the deserts of Namibia, choose careers that touched the lives of countless individuals, and displayed mercy by providing loving homes to abandoned dogs and cats. They each reserved a special place in their hearts for the least among us and showed the best of what we can all be.

Tom. Chance and coincidence put us back in touch after the many intervening years between 1988-when we were students at Central, and 2008- when Brendan and I made our home near your Fremont neighborhood.  I remember the day at PCC when you shared with me your broken heart at the loss of your beloved Lucy. A few months later we too lost our little Lucy-girl and you understood, without having to say more than “I’m so sorry,” how profound is the pain of losing a canine companion.

The world came to right when you found a home in the heart of a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman and her sweet blue heeler, Josie. It was a joy to watch that romance blossom and a comfort to know two worthy souls had found one another. The neighborhood was devastated by the sudden and senseless accident that stilled your vibrant life. I still catch sight of you in Fremont, strolling along Leary Way with your easy, open gait; I hear your voice in the store, that warm bass bidding hello to the many friends you encounter. Know that you are missed, that there is a beautiful girl who will carry you forever in her heart, and that we, your many friends, regret the beers at Brouwer’s and the runs at Alpental that we will never get to share with you.

Peter. Oh my heart. How lovingly Brendan spoke of you and Randy and how he marveled at the bond that formed the moment he met the two of you at the language center in Amboise in 1988. By the time I finally met you and Randy in Paris in 1996, you were a part of the story of my marriage because your friendship with my husband shaped so much of his character.  You both loved and celebrated him unconditionally. Your commitment to each other showed us what a loving relationship should be; how two very different souls with different ambitions and goals could unite and support one another; how conflict and challenge could make a relationship stronger if the heart is allowed to lead.

The two weeks we spent together hiking in the hills of western Ireland were magical. You and I, ever the Type A’s who tolerated no dawdling, would charge ahead on the path. Randy and Brendan, with their patient and reflective characters, would pause to enjoy the views and catch up when it was time for a pause chocolat. We chattered about books, about food, about politics and travel, our words tumbling together as we delighted in our kindred spirits. You talked about taking an early retirement after many successful years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Brendan and I hoped to lure you and Randy to the Land of the Long White Cloud and we talked about creating a peaceful life together in the New Zealand countryside. You and I planned out the menus of our bistro- an intimate venue that would feature regional and seasonal delights with a Provençal twist. Our men would do the heavy lifting behind the scenes, I would manage the front-of-house, you would be chef de cuisine. We believed in butter and flowers, in the right stemware and linen. We would have played with recipes, trolling markets, changing menus, flirting with the same delivery drivers and fishmongers. I idolized and adored you.

For two years you struggled as your health deteriorated. Not even the world’s most skilled physicians at the Oregon Health Sciences Institute and the Mayo Clinic could determine exactly what was tearing down your organs. Finally, after endless tests and changing regimens of drugs, countless hopes raised and dashed, they found the rare sarcoma against which you were powerless to fight. But to the very end you chose your own path. You let go when you were ready, not when the disease determined it was time. You were only 54. You and Randy should have grown old together, we should have grown old with you. There was so much more world to explore, so many plans to make.  The sun dimmed when you left this world.

Will. My sweet, irreverent Southern man who was at once bon vivant with a Ph.D and a just-folks boy from the hollers. You would be the last to admit your own extraordinary courage. As a young man growing up in South Carolina in the 50s and 60s it was unimaginable that you reveal your true self. How painful it must have been to live a secret, though there is no doubt you loved your wife and cherished your little girl. You served in Vietnam, an experience you rarely discussed. You would never allow anyone to label you as a hero. But you were. The courage in revealing your sexuality was rewarded when you met the love of your life, your darling Michael, who was your companion for over twenty years.

Will, you saw something in me when we met in Athens, Ohio in 1995 at the very start of my career in study abroad. You reached out to me in complete trust and never-ending affection; you became my professional champion, very quickly my friend, and for a great, crazy, whirlwind four years, my boss. I don’t know of any other man outside of my husband and my father who rewarded me with unconditional love the way you did. How many people ever end a business phone call with their boss by exchanging “I love you’s”? How many bosses would play hooky from work to take their charge to London’s Camden Town flea market or a gay pride parade in Paris? My God, I was so blessed. The little gifts you showered on me are among the few things I’ve carted with me around this world: the antique French shoe-shine box;  the Degas knockoff I couldn’t stop coming back to at Covent Garden that you bought for me on the sly; the lavender sachet with its embroidered “W”; the silver fish fork with the bone handle; the wooden coat hanger from a French farmhouse. We shared a love for South Asian writers, Roxy Music, Paris, and you always, always made me laugh. I am so glad I was able to say “I love you” one last time, when we both knew it would be the last time. You are my angel.

So much loss.  I have felt the sadness of my mortality; the terror at the thought of losing my life partner; the sorrow in not being able to relieve a loved one’s pain; the regret in acknowledging the body’s fragility; the paranoia of watching out for that split second when one decision instantly ends a life.

So much life. I cannot give physical life to these cherished men, but I can give life to their memories with my tears and my words. I can feel again and forever the love with which they graced this mortal world and try to measure up to their integrity, courage and generous hearts.

Emily Dickinson, “The bustle in the house”
THE BUSTLE in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,—
 
The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.