This is the draft of Danielle’s dramatic interpretation (DI) that she will perform in front of judges and students at school debate tournaments. Basically it’s a book that she has condensed down to an eight minute monologue / performance. She’ll have to recite the whole thing from memory dozens of times throughout the next debate cycle. She is so awesome. I’m so proud.
WARNING: keep a box of tissues handy. If you’re anything like me, and I know I am…
How I got to this point, how we all did-Lorne and Sam and me-began three years earlier, on April 18, 2002. There is no hyperbole intended when I say that was the worst day of my life. Had you asked me the day before, I would have told you that I was one of the happiest people I knew. With my eight-year-old son Sam and my five- year-old daughter Grace, they would climb into Sam’s bunk beds at night. Sam on top, Grace on the bottom, and we sang Beatles songs until they fell asleep. That’s what we did one April night…Forty-eight hours later, Grace was dead.
A friend of mine with a chronically ill child once told me that a hospital’s walls are lined with mothers’ screams. Mine began there, in that ER. There is a room off the pediatric ICU where families wait for news. A chaplain came to us there, Then a social worker. I knew that they were the staff in the hospital who prepared families for death. I could not stay there. Instead, I kept running through the automatic double doors to the doorway of the trauma room where Gracie lay vulnerable on a gurney, as people worked on her hour after hour. Eventually, I lay down right there, in that doorway. A nurse found a chair for me and pushed it into the corner of the trauma room and ordered me to keep quiet. As she lay in the ICU, the nurses told us to bring in some of her favorite music. My husband ran out to the car and grabbed 1 from the tape deck. Then he put it in the hospital’s tape deck, and we climbed on the bed with our daughter and sang her “Love Me Do.” Despite the tubes and machines struggling to keep her alive, Grace smiled at us as we sang to her.
(At one point a doctor looked at me and said, “This is going to be the longest night of your life.” So many times after Grace died I have wanted to call that doctor to tell her that she was wrong. In fact, that was only the first of months and months of long, endless nights, gripped by fear and grief. Nights that seemed endless. Nights that only led to mornings without Grace there.) Suddenly, I woke up to blaring lights and foot-steps racing into the room and shouts. I jumped from my chair, stumbling. “What’s gong on?” A nurse met my eyes. “We’re losing Grace.” She said. Then the doctor yelled for someone to get the mother out of here. The mother…Me. I found my husband and the two of us watched helplessly from behind a pane of glass. Over the intercom a voice called for a cardiologist. “Grace Adrain is in cardiac arrest,” the voice crackled calmly. I beat that pane with my fists. I screamed, “Gracie! Gracie! Gracie!” so loud that my throat remained dry for days afterward. A day and a half after I carried her into the ER, Grace died. At her memorial service, Sam stood in front of the hundreds of people and sang “Eight Days a Week” loud enough for his sister, wherever she had gone, to hear him.
If watching your child die is a parent’s worst nightmare, imagine having to tell your other child that his sister is dead. Although I am certain that he cried, that we all cried, what I remember more is how we collapsed into each other, as if the weight of our loss literally crushed us.
We had to find a plot for her. We had to make decisions in the days after she died, when I could still not believe that she had died. Who could believe it? Five years old. Beautiful and funny, and smart. And healthy. People came with questions that needed answers: What music did we want played at the service? What facts did we want in the newspaper? Did we want a viewing? Could we send clothes to the funeral home? Which Bible verses did we want read? Who would read them? Did we want a party of some kind afterward? Where did we want to bury our five-year-old daughter? “Here.” My husband said, and he drove me to that beautiful cemetery where a few weeks earlier he had taken Grace and Sam bike riding along its graceful, curving pathways beneath just-flowering dogwoods. That is me the last afternoon I went there on my own: warm sun, the smell of dirt and flowers and heat. That is me, stepping from my car, walking on wobbly legs toward the spot that we chose. It is a blanket of dewy grass, freshly dug, freshly covered. That is me, the woman who is throwing herself on that spot, flinging her body down, and clawing at it, weeping. Dirt under my nails, grass in my mouth, hair wet with tears. That is me, vowing never to go back alone.
Grief is not linear. People kept telling me that once this happened or that passed, everything would be better. Some people gave me one year to grieve. They see grief as a straight line, with a beginning, middle, and end. But it is not linear. It is disjointed. One day you are acting almost like a normal person. You maybe even manage to take a shower. Your clothes match. You think the autumn leaves look pretty, or enjoy the sound of snow crunching under your feet. Then a song, a glimpse of something, or maybe even nothing sends you back into the hole of grief. It is not one step forward, two steps back. It is a jumble. It is hours that are all right, and weeks that aren’t. Or it is good days and bad days. Or it is the weight of sadness making you look different to others and nothing helps.
Time passes and I am still not through it. Grief isn’t something you get over. You live with it. You go on with it lodged in you. Sometimes I feel like I have swallowed a pile of stones. Grief makes me heavy. It makes me slow. Even on days when I laugh a lot, or dance, or finish a project, or meet a deadline, or celebrate, it is there; Lodged deep inside of me.
(Grace was born the Year of the Rat. Those born in the Year of he Rat are sharp-witted and funny. They are charming too, and considered good luck.)
It was exactly two years after Grace had died. It was summer that my husband and I camped out together on a beach in Maine and he said, “I have the craziest idea.” “So do I,” I told him. “Let’s have another baby,” I said. And he said yes. Then we cried. Not a baby to replace Grace. Losing her had made it clear that she was, indeed, irreplaceable. But a baby to bring us joy again. To fill the long, sad hours when Lorne was a work and Sam was at school and I was left alone with my grief. Once we began researching our possibilities, something settled in me. Somehow, adoption felt like the absolute right path for us. After talking to friends, and friends of friends, about their experiences adopting, we decided to adopt a baby girl form China . It is hard to explain how, in the midst of such overwhelming loss, I somehow knew that finally there was hope waiting for us again. Even knowing this was restorative after feeling so hopeless for so long.
The call we waited almost a year for came on a rainy January morning. I was in Boston , comforting my lovesick cousin, when my cell phone started to ring. For the first time in almost three years, something like joy was creeping at the edges of my heart. I started to cry. “I’m looking at the picture of your daughter,” Stephanie said. “She’s adorable. And she looks really healthy.” And then Stephanie said:
“Her birthday is April 18.”
“Is there a problem?” Stephanie asked.
Lorne and I had enlisted the opinions of both Sam and Lorne’s fifteen-year-old daughter Ariane in the selection of the baby’s name. Somehow we had come up with Mamie when Sam asked why we couldn’t use Grace’s middle name, Annabelle. “It’s the prettiest name in the world,” he added. A name to honor Grace, a name we all loved. I looked at that face looking back at me and saw that she was indeed, Annabelle.
We will never know Annabelle’s story. We only know this: the date they gave her as her birthday-determined by the age they guessed her to be on September 6, 2004; chosen as an even number because even numbers are lucky-that birthday, is April 18, the same day that Grace died. Annabelle, like me, was born the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys are intelligent and are known to have a great sense of humor. Monkeys and rats are said to be the best of friends.
I have had five Mother’s Day’s without Grace now. And on each subsequent one, I think of her. And I think about this woman I will never know. I, of course, thank her, and praise her strength in doing this seemingly impossible thing: giving her daughter to me. She will never know that I have her daughter because I lost Grace. She will never know the road I traveled to get her. This Mother’s Day, I lay in bed feeling that strange mixture of grief and joy. Down the hall, I hear Annabelle’s high, squeaky voice and Lorne’s lower one. I picture Grace in her smudged glasses, her tangled hair, her wry smile. I feel tears building in my eyes, even as I hear Lorne and Annabelle’s futile efforts to make Sam wake up. Then there are footsteps, and Annabelle is at the side of the bed, clutching a pink rose.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” she says, grinning.
Annabelle lifts her arms to me and I pick her up.
“Mama,” she whispers.
“Daughter,” I whisper back.