by Heather Carnaghan
I love a good metaphor like some people love a good movie.
I’m a lover of poetry and prose because of those visceral lines that are drizzled with delicious language and playful words that stick to the roof of your mouth as you read them. Yum. A good metaphor can make me look at a simple mosaic and realize that rebuilding after something has shattered can be beautiful in ways I never anticipated.
I’ve found symbolism in everything along this grief journey.
Today I attended a fancy luncheon at the state board of education. I wore a tiny orange fox pin that was almost hidden by the pink carnation corsage that the host pinned to my dress. In floriography, the study of flowers, meaning is often attributed to particular blooms. There is an old belief that pink carnations grew from the fallen tears of the Virgin Mary. The flower doesn’t drop its petals as it dies, making it a symbol of a mother’s undying love. "That's a funny choice for a celebratory corsage, " I mused to myself.
Yesterday I went to the thrift store. I wanted to find camping themed furniture for the new baby’s room, but froze in the parking lot as I realized that the last time I was here I was shopping for my daughter. Through tears I said aloud, “Everything is so cold and dark without you, Charlotte. ” When I collected myself enough to walk through the door, a display immediately caught my eye. A tiny ceramic sleeping fox sat atop an old fashioned wood stove (warmth) with a woodsy lamp stuck atop it (light). Coincidence? Perhaps, but I piled those three items into my cart and was able to continue my search.
Months ago, when I finally left my grief thick house and returned to the distractions of teaching 8th graders, my coworkers filled my classroom with foxes. Fox stickers, a fox pillow, fox cards. They knew that I had slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting a fox just after Charlotte died. The creature stopped in the middle of the road and stared at me for a terrifically long time before allowing me to proceed to the hospital. I learned later that two other family members experienced similarly odd fox encounters that same day, but in different cities. My oldest son happened to come home wearing a fox shirt the day we had to tell him that his little sister died. This symbol was so powerful to me that I (who had once said, “there’s nothing so permanent in my life that I would tattoo it onto myself”) had a little sleeping fox tattooed on my wrist so that I’d always have a symbol of my daughter present with me. Foxes hold meaning for me and my family.
So, when you text me a picture of the fox that runs across your yard, the tee shirt you found in Target, or the name tag for one “G. Fox” at your convention, what does the fox really say?
It says, “I don’t have the words to speak about something as horrific as the death of a baby, but I want you to hear the closest approximation of her that I can muster up.”
It says, “I can’t begin to know what you are going through, but I care about you enough to acknowledge that you’re going through it.”
It says, “ I think of you, and I think of her too.”
Fox sightings remind me that I am not alone in remembering my baby girl, and that I am lucky enough to have a community that surrounds me with love even when the right words are hard to find. Every loss parent has their own “fox”. For some it is a butterfly, a biplane, or a particular shade of purple. If you know a parent who has lost a child, ask what reminds them of that little one, then let them know when you come across it, no matter how silly or insignificant the gesture seems. (I still have a single paper plate that a friend saved for me because of the smiling fox printed on it.) Those signs and symbols let us know that you are thinking about us. They are our version of finding the high school graduate’s kindergarten artwork in an old bin of memories. They are a flicker of who our child was.
To see a few fox sightings by our friends (or to add one of your own!), check out “Charlotte’s Journey”.
Heather is a teacher, poet, writer, artist, and most of all, mother of four. Her three boys inspire joy in her life and writing. Heather's eagerly awaited daughter was stillborn in October of 2017, which focused her creative energy on grief and healing. She created and maintains CharlottesPurpose.com, a website dedicated to dealing with grief positively.