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Memorial to Time: A Personal Essay

What is time? Is it my thirty years of age or Debbie's twenty-five? Is it our six-month courtship or our four years of marriage? Is it our two years of trying to have a baby or the three days Beth lived? Is it the nine months of pregnancy or the two months since Beth died?

Time is unreality.

What's wrong with Beth's breathing? Yes, Debbie, of course I'll go with her in the ambulance. Would somebody please call the Pastor? No, Doctor, there was no sign of any problem before.

A friend takes me to sign some papers. I should tell Debbie. Oh! Is she here at the hospital now? Oh, I see. Someone has gotten her a wheelchair. I look down at her and shake my head. I kneel beside her. She is numb. We both are. We go outside. An orderly lifts her into the car. She cries in pain. It has been only three days.

We walk into the house. We try not to look at the empty bassinet. I can't help seeing Beth's blanket still lying there. Friends crowd into our bedroom; earlier they had come to admire Beth. I don't know how they found out so quickly. I show them the poem I woke up to write at 5 o'clock this morning. That was before I went to bring Debbie and Beth home from the hospital.

I'll bet You were some Proud Father
The day Your Son was born on Earth!

Doesn't it seem like just yesterday
When Mary began her labor in the stable?
You were there with her through it all,
Giving comfort and encouragement
With the same Perfect Spirit of Love
That Mary was accustomed to from You.

When she contracted, You suffered with her.

Though You realized what trauma Your
Son was going through in being born,
You knew it wasn't right to interfere;
You had to let things happen as if
This Babe would be like just any other.

You watched the process You had created.
But I'll bet you never felt so involved before;
You were actually watching Part of Yourself
Be born for the very first time,
And You monitored the whole non-sterile
Situation and saw that it was good –
Good for a world that just couldn't seem
To understand or accept You any other way.

It's no wonder You sent Your angels out
To deliver the Birth announcements in person!

There are phone calls to make. Oh! What about Debbie's parents? They had called earlier this evening, but what motel in Wheeling are they staying at? Finally everyone is contacted. I'm thirsty. Is it inappropriate to ask someone to go get us a Coke? I don't know. I've never lost a baby before. People are still here. I am tired. Debbie is tired. Will they leave soon? Can we stand it when our friends all leave? Everyone is gone now. Turn out the lights. Try to sleep. Tomorrow will come too soon. Any sleep we can get will help. It's all so unreal.

Sleep is
A tunnel
God drills
Each night
To reach
From today's
To tomorrow's

We wake up early and eat some cantaloupe in bed. Debbie's family arrives. We go through every detail. Then we repeat the whole story. I know now that is necessary. Debbie's father unloads the car. Her brother, Greg, and I move all the baby things upstairs to the nursery and shut the door. Her mother begins a thorough housecleaning. Debbie's sister, Sally, tries to get her to move around more so she won't stiffen up. She is still much in pain from giving birth. Now she has nothing to show for it.

Someone calls from our Sunday School Department to say they will provide our evening meals for the next three days. That's right! Today is Sunday, isn't it? People come and go. Good friends with new babies seem nervous about being with us. We make preliminary funeral arrangements. My parents will arrive tomorrow.

Supper arrives, and we eat. It's a feast. Somehow it doesn't seem right. We have nothing to be celebrating. Greg and I go to the outdoor evening worship service at Long Wharf. The guest singer expresses concern for the young local couple who, he understands, has just lost a baby. Somehow I am not self-conscious about the people who are trying hard not to stare. They know I need to be there.

We walk home. Debbie is doing well under the circumstances. Her family's presence is a blessing. I don't really know how I feel. Beth was mine, but I didn't carry her inside my body for nine months. I just don't care about my own feelings at this point. But poor Debbie! I remember the birthday present I had written for her back when she was barely pregnant. I had not always wanted a baby. I had not always understood.

Three years ago
When the two of us
First met,
You were engrossed in
I should have realized then
How much you love children.
But I didn't. I noticed only
How much you loved me.

I – the only child – felt
Blindly satisfied in marriage,
But you felt blandly unfulfilled,
And I took that badly.
How could I have understood then
That my love alone was not enough,
That nothing I could ever say
Would fill your drive for motherhood?

You didn't push,
Though many women do.
You were patient for the greater part,
Waiting for me to grow in understanding,
Though it frustrated you to have to wait.

Now that the wait is almost done,
I understand, little mother-to-be,
That we'll soon both be fulfilled.

We sleep better tonight. But don't I keep hearing a baby crying near the foot of our bed?

Breakfast comes. We are in a daze. We will be for a while. Go into the garden. See if there aren't some ripe cantaloupes. Yes, let's go to the funeral home and make final arrangements. Watch out! There's a stop sign there. You scared me to...A viewing tonight just for the family? Yes, we want that. Our parents should still be proud grandparents.

Let's get a Coke. We stop to use a pay phone. Debbie's dad calls his boss. His boss knows only of Beth's birth. Home again. Debbie is busy with her mother and sister. Sure, why not? Go fishing at the end of our block. Got to do something. Can't think about Beth all the time. Wonder if she would have enjoyed the river as much as Debbie and I do?

Lunchtime. Then more time. Time to…to kill. The English language has such cheerful expressions. People come and go. Here. Got to turn down the volume on the telephone bell. Can't take that much noise right now. Greg, please don't let the screen door slam like that. My parents are here now. My mother's health….they shouldn't be here. Better for us all that they are, though.

Supper time. Another feast. More people. I'm sorry, but we're on our way to the funeral home. Can you come back later?

Beth is an angel now, yes, just as she was when she was with us in life. What else can we say? Tears now. Sorrow. Pride. Debbie, we succeeded! Yes, thank you, you did a fine job. Not have the casket open tomorrow when our friends come before the service? No, we want it open, please. We are proud, and so few of our friends got to see Beth.

It's time to sleep again, but Greg and I are down by the river talking. Debbie and her mother are talking. Maybe we're afraid to sleep. Lord, what will it be like on Thursday when everyone has gone home? We are both trying so hard not to question You. But we don't understand why You took her. We do not sleep well. We wake up in the middle of the night and talk each other back to sleep. But we wake up early.

Tuesday, August 24. Today is it. Oh, look at the flowers. Who's this one from? Bob and Felice in our Lamaze class? I'll bet they haven't even had their baby yet! I hope they have better luck. One by one, people come. The words are unnecessary. They sit in the other part of the room like a somber audience. I am surprised to see some of my co-workers. They want to say hi. They have to go back to the office so the others can come. Debbie, this is…Oh? Is it time to move these chairs back now? So soon? And these doors? Oh, I see. They'll be shut only while the casket is being closed. One more look. Wasn't she perfect? Lord, please let the hospital pictures be good! An angel, yes!

Time is adjustment.

It is Thursday, and we are by ourselves. Sandy and I have just gotten all the dishes back to the church so their owners can claim them. I dread going back to work next Monday. But I dread staying home between now and then. Our friends will stay in touch, but we know it's time to face things on our own. We go out before we really want to. We can't stay home by ourselves alone but so long at a time. At the grocery store we run into a "What did you have – girl or boy?" which is followed by a hasty explanation on our part. It hurts us both to have to explain. We eat out frequently. I gain back several pounds I worked hard to lose. I don't really care about that. Not now. I know I will care soon. I help Debbie get a part-time job. It keeps her mind off of Beth some. We go to see the doctor. He explains the autopsy report. Heart not properly developed. She could not have lived. Should have died at birth. A miracle.

A miracle, we keep telling ourselves. We should be thankful. At least we had Beth for three days. But Debbie cries a lot in the evenings, and I am becoming more conscious of the loss that was mine too. None of the kind words spoken by our friends can take Beth's place or bring her back. One month from Beth's birth date I write,

When you give up 
Something you love dearly
And do it willingly,
They call it a sacrifice
And pat you on the back.

When something you love
Is taken away from you
And you have no choice,
They call it a loss
And pat you on the back.

It is two months after Beth's death now. We are still adjusting. We will try again very soon. Nothing else will satisfy. But we must put everything into perspective first. We must let God lead. We must learn to accept God's will without first having to understand it.

In the night times of life,
When I strain at shadows,
Searching for Sacred Dreams
That darkness has hidden,
Despair gives way to hope,
For I have One Candle
That cannot be put out,
And I will use its Light
To continue searching.

Roger E. Bruner, October 1976

Kristi at the age of 6.5 hours
Note: Debbie was never able to get pregnant again, in spite of microsurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital a year or two after that, so we went through the adoption process and are quite pleased and satisfied to have gotten Kristi in 1987. Incidentally, Kristi likes to think of herself as still having an older sister, even though she knows Beth is in Heaven now.
Debbie and Kristi with the judge at the finalization of Kristi's adoption