Friday, April 17, 2009

My Brick



I originally had the idea to write something similar to this for an upcoming newsletter, but once we had the idea to start a Share blog, and it was decided by my coworkers that I would do some writing for it, this was a topic I knew I wanted to write about. Memory making, and preserving mementos, is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as someone who has had several early losses many years ago and has nothing other than the memories in my mind and heart to remember those babies by. Not even an ultrasound photo. After I came to Share as a volunteer seven years ago, I was inspired to start doing a few simple things, such as collecting angel Christmas ornaments, and I have a tiny angel pin and an angel Christmas ornament that a dear friend gave me. I also save programs from the walk and other Share events as well as anything I write for the Share newsletter, but other than that, I really have nothing. So over the years, I have sort of made it my personal mission to help the bereaved parents I talk to in my work at Share come up with ways to memorialize their tiny little ones when they may have little or nothing tangible. While I have done a few simple things over the years to remember my babies, by far the most meaningful thing I have done in memory of and in honor of them is to have an engraved brick at the Angel of Hope in St. Charles, MO.

Part of my job at Share has always been “Angel Keeper.” Honestly, out of all my tasks at the National Share Office, it’s always been one of the things I most enjoy doing. Over the years, there have been times when I’ve been asked to give it over to someone else to “lighten my load” a bit, and I never want to. I actually DID give it to someone else at one point, and I hated it! I have only missed one dedication ceremony in nearly 6 years…and that was because I was in Atlanta at a conference. Anyway, I send out confirmation letters when we receive the orders, plan the dedication ceremonies, send out invitations, oversee the engraving of the bricks to make sure there are no mistakes, and make sure the area stays cleaned up. I have even been out on a typical St. Louis cold/rainy/windy “spring” day scrubbing off bird poop with a brush and bucket of warm water the day of an event. Her head is above MY head, so cleaning her involves reaching above my head… the wind was coming from just the right direction to blow a lovely cocktail of bird poop, warm water and cold rain right into my face. Oh, yes, I am a loyal Share employee!

Like I said, I really enjoy this part of my job. Other than scrubbing off bird poop in the cold and rain; I’d be lying if I said I love that. Thankfully, that was a one-time thing. But, I always love the dedication ceremonies as it is so touching to see all of the families come and lovingly place their brick. They bring their living children, siblings, parents, cousins…they place tiny little urns and flowers next to their brick and take photographs. They gather their family around the Angel and take even more photographs. Adult children often purchase bricks for their parents who experienced the death of a baby many years ago when “these things” were not talked about. There are always many tears, but there are many smiles and hugs, too. Families have shared pictures, scrapbooks and other mementos at the ceremony. Bereaved dads help the families lay their bricks. A bereaved mom sings a beautiful song. And I always feel so honored to be a part of it all. Some of my favorite memories are when parents whose baby died many years ago have told us at the ceremony how they feel as if they finally have a special place to go to reflect on and remember their baby. It’s truly awe inspiring.

Unfortunately, the weather isn’t always the best. Sometimes, it’s hot and steamy in November; sometimes, it’s 50 and rainy in May. Sometimes, the weather is absolutely, stunningly perfect. Sometimes, the fall foliage is breathtaking; sometimes, the trees are barren and forlorn. That’s St. Louis for you. As Forest Gump would say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” But no matter what the weather is like, it’s a beautiful day in the Ben Rau Gardens at Blanchette Park in St. Charles, MO. It’s a beautiful day because families come to honor and remember their children who died way too soon.

Several times over my years at Share, Cathi, my beloved boss, asked me why I didn’t have a brick. In the most loving Cathi-way possible of course! I never had a good answer for her and would quickly try to change the subject. (I’m good at that!) I never wanted to tell her that I felt rather silly after so many years, when my losses were so early, doing something like that. So I continued going to the dedication ceremonies, keeping the thoughts of my babies and those of the special parents and friends I’ve met through Share in my mind and heart throughout.

Then, my dearest friend, who I met through Share five years ago, decided that she wanted to purchase a brick in memory of her daughter, even though she lives 1000 miles away from here. And she asked me why I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what to tell her either, because I really had no good reason. Again, I masterfully changed the subject. But eventually, I started thinking that maybe I needed a brick after all. Then, I started thinking of what I wanted inscribed on it. Actually, obsessing about it is probably a more accurate word than “thinking” about it. How in the world do you fit all of the feelings and emotions you have about tiny babies who didn’t make it…tiny babies who most people would think meant nothing…tiny babies who literally changed the course of my life in ways I could never have imagined at the time…how do you fit all of that into 3 lines of 15 characters each? Finally, after days and days of thinking, obsessing, writing things down, scratching them out, finally, I chose the perfect inscription. I filled out the form, RAN downstairs from my office with my check and told Megan, who at that time handled the money that came into Share, “Deposit this before I change my mind!” The inscription I chose was this:

BLESSED BY TINY
SOULS THANKS 4
YOUR MANY GIFTS

I don’t know why it was such a big deal for me to do this. I always tell parents to do what they think they need or want to do and not worry about what anyone else thinks. But most people who know me know that I’m horrible (REALLY horrible) at practicing what I preach.

But…I now am the proud owner of a brick at the Angel of Hope in St. Charles, MO. My friend and I laid our bricks privately on a beautiful Sunday last fall when she was in town for the weekend. It was a bittersweet moment, one of many, as we both know that if not for the heartache we have both experienced, we would never have met. It is also bittersweet to know that all we have of these babies who touched both of our lives and brought us together are engraved bricks around an angel statue in a beautiful park. No, that’s not all we have. We have our memories. And we have a remarkable friendship that neither of us can imagine not having.

And now, I love going out to the Angel even more than I did before. Our bricks are placed right at the entrance so I see them as soon as I walk up. Every time I see them, I have so many feelings wrapped up all together in one neat little package…feelings of deep gratitude for all I have been given because of five little souls (my four, and my friend’s daughter)…feelings of sorrow when I think of the many tears that have been shed over the years by all of the parents who have had to say goodbye to a precious child…and a feeling that I have joined the ranks of those who can say after many years, I finally have a place to go reflect on and remember the babies who are not here with me, but that I was so blessed to have grace my life. For a long time, all I could see was the heartache, but now, I really do think only of the many gifts they brought to my life.

It is never too late to do something to honor and commemorate your baby. Doing so may give you a peace in your heart that you didn’t know was possible.

-Rose Carlson, National Share Office Program Director

1 comment:

Pam said...

Rose, I just want to say how happy I am that you have your special place to remember your babies. I too, feel blessed having made all the friendships I have, through the lives and losses of my angels. I know I could not say that years ago in the first few, raw, months of my pain. It has only been with time and support of good friends that I have been able to have these feelings of gratitude for my painful experiences.

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