A kite bobs and darts, waving wildly in the wind. From the hospital window, I cannot see who is flying it; a line of trees blocks my view. But I picture a family: perhaps a son and father, or maybe a mom and dad with a daughter. The combination of parent and child doesn’t matter. Just a family — a happy family.
Dingy gray clouds hang low on the horizon, though above them the sky is blue. The wind blows other clouds — mounds of whipped cream — across the sun, creating shadows and light that play tag among the cars in the parking lot below. There must be a park across the street; walkers and joggers, bundled against the cold, traverse a path that meanders past the trees. It’s odd to see a kite in November; kite flying is for March. Yes, March winds can be as blustery cold as the wind today, but that cold carries with it the promise of spring, the promise of life. November holds no such promise, only the forecast of barren winter days. Aren’t they cold? I wonder of the family. I’m cold, and I’m not even outside.
The oranges, browns, and yellows of the autumn foliage splash against the gray horizon, looking like a modern day Monet. Burning bushes ring the parking lot in brilliant red. I’m surprised that anything can be so vibrant this day.
In the room behind me, my son and daughter-in-law are saying goodbye to their baby. Stillborn — stillborn — just two weeks from his due date. The grandparents, aunts, and uncles have said our farewells, passing the baby from one to another, kissing his cold brow, and hugging him to our chests, rocking him in our arms. Now we wait in the hall to give the parents their last minutes with their son.
The pregnancy had no complications. The doctor called it an accident: a cord-related, fatal accident. How could a baby have an accident, safely cocooned in his mother’s womb? Accidents happen on the street. People who jaywalk have accidents. People who run red lights, people who drive over the speed limit, have accidents.
When my cell phone rang Friday evening, I thought it was my husband calling to tell me the score of the football game: a contest between local cross-town rivals. A big deal in our town, though I had chosen to skip the excitement this year. But Caller ID displayed my parents’ number. Pushing “Talk,” I braced myself, expecting to hear that something had happened to my father. Funny, I didn’t think it might be my father calling about my mother, just as I didn’t expect my mother to be calling about my grandson.
“There’s something wrong with the baby. They can’t find the heartbeat.”
In the momentary pause, my own heart stopped, then ricocheted against my chest.
“Jeff’s trying to reach you. Jim didn’t answer his cell phone. When Jeff couldn’t remember your number, he called me.”
“Where is he?”
“At the hospital.”
“I don’t know.”
Several phone calls and torturous minutes later, I reached my son. Even as he answered, I believed he would explain it was a mistake. Would say the doctor had located the heartbeat. Instead, he sobbed. “My baby’s dead!”
Everything was fine at yesterday’s checkup. Last night the baby’s hiccups made Mama and Daddy laugh!
Babies don’t die.
But he had. Brock had died. Sometime between Thursday and Friday evening, the cord had wrapped around his neck. When Krista sat down to dinner and took a drink of ice water, Brock did not wriggle; he always wriggled when she drank cold water. Nothing. Fear gripped her, so Jeff took her to the hospital for reassurance, believing they would be sent home with smiles and relief. Instead, the ultrasound revealed no heartbeat, and the staff took Krista to labor and delivery.
Krista had delivered her son — a life-like doll — warm and pliable as clay. His little mouth was slack. Open, close. Open, close. For a moment, we could pretend that Brock was asleep — until we saw the unspeakable grief in Krista’s red-rimmed eyes and Jeff’s broken countenance.
Tomorrow will be the funeral; Jeff will carry his son’s casket to its burial site. We will all stand at the grave, our hearts shattered into jagged glass as we lay Brock to rest. The autumn leaves, so beautiful today, will lay sodden at our feet.
My faith tells me I will see Brock again, that God will comfort me as he has been faithful to do in other sorrows. I know people will send cards and food, give hugs and sympathy. That’s what people do when someone dies. I know some will avoid me because, unfortunately, that is also what people do in the awkward moments of not knowing what to say. I will go through each day, putting one foot in front of the other: preparing lessons, grading papers, cooking dinner, washing laundry. At some point, I will recover my joy.
But not today. Today I watch a kite soar across the sky as grief anchors me to the ground.