Saturday, 10 March 2012

In loving memory on my baby's saints day

In Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones, a mother is left to deal with life after the disappearance and probable death of one of her daughters. In meeting anyone new in the years that followed, if they asked if she had children, she would answer "two", but in her head she'd say "three." As a mother of three, but only two living, I often follow a similar pattern, for when it comes to early loss there's very little to say - especially in comparison to the continuing adventures of my obvious offspring - and while it takes little effort to bring even strangers to share in our joy, it's considerably less comfortable to share our pain, even once time and prayers have dulled the edge of grief. I can't say that's it's always the best choice, but it's certainly the easiest.

One of my intended blogging ideas was to share my children's birth stories in honour of their next birthdays. I'd written my son's some time ago, and I believe it's a story worth sharing, especially in a world that hears predominantly about birth in terms of pain and fear and medical emergencies, for his entry into this world was pretty much the opposite. My daughter's birth was not as peaceful, but just as powerful, and she ought to know her story too, and her coming birthday gives me a deadline for writing it. I cannot in good conscience, however, present these stories on such special occasions while keeping silent about the one I cannot tell. Even when there's so much I don't know about the child I lost through a very early miscarriage over three years ago, I do have something I can share and a date to share it on. And even if it isn't happy, it's good to remember.

I do not know what day my middle child was "born". It was our first month trying to conceive another child, and I do chart my cycles, so I have a ballpark of when that life may have begun. The date of my baby's death is no clearer; the blood tests that confirmed the miscarriage showed pregnancy hormones at levels so low that the child had probably been gone for more than a week, meaning the faint positive on my one pregnancy test told not of a very new life but of one so brief that it had already ended.  It was just one more of many things I do not know about this child, but if it weren't for such garnered knowledge on human procreation I may have never known at all. I very well may have mistaken that brief pregnancy as a late period and wondered why I felt so awful.

Given what I do know, I was left with an unhealthy choice: to brood over my loss and all the knowledge it denied me for the first half of every October, or to leave honouring my baby's existence to a whenever-maybe-never limbo-land. Thus, it was a great comfort to find a patron saint for my lost little one, for she had a life with a clear beginning and end, and is remembered on a particular day: March 10th.

We had named our child Anastasia Innocent. Picking a non-gendered name proved more difficult than I'd anticipated; we'd gone looking not in a baby name book, but the synaxarion, an encyclopedia of sorts that lists the saints remembered on each day of the calendar year. But as we read through the list for October, names that would never have to pass the test of the playground felt foreign to our Anglo-mouths, and how were we to remember if we couldn't pronounce our child's name? In the end the Resurrection proved the most fitting name, the time when we know we'll finally get to meet. And if it turns out that feminine Anastasia is really the less familiar masculine Anastasios, we pray he'll forgive us.

It was not until several months later that I stumbled upon St. Anastasia the Patrician. That Christmas, I had been given a book of daily Bible readings that also included a short write-up of one of the saints remembered on that day. So on March 10, I read about a lady-in-waiting in the 6th century court of Constantinople who had fled the unwanted advances of Emperor Justinian, first by entering a convent in Alexandria, and later by hiding in the desert under the name of Monk Anastasios. And so she lived out the rest of her days in prayer, her true gender and identity known only by the abbot who had provided her hiding place until after her death. More detail on St. Anastasia can be found here. She seemed a perfect fit for my own Anastasia/Anastasios, and she gave me a day to remember.

It never fails to surprise me how a life so limited can be missed so much. I suppose it's one of the many mysteries that love makes. I am so very grateful for the children I have been blessed to raise, much as I forget in the thick of things, and for the faith that has given me an avenue in which to process this grief. And I am thankful for this day, a mnemonic hook to hold my child lest she flee from my thoughts entirely or prove spiral for despair.

Memory eternal, little one.

2 comments:

  1. St. Anastasia the patrician works so well Rachel! I'm so happy that you have a day now to remember. (though I'm sure your thoughts and love will drift towards Anastasia more often than that.). *Hugs*

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  2. Thank-you, Rachel, for sharing your story of your little one.

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