BY HEATHER CARNAGHAN
My grandmother, Teresa Elizabeth, passed away when I was in high school. You were named for her. She was the first person that I really loved who died. My grandfather used to visit her grave often and, if we were in town, I’d ask to go with him. Each time, he would clear her grave of debris and place his calloused farmer’s hand on it sadly. He’d stare at her name, shaking his head as if he didn’t believe it could be carved there in granite, even after so many years. There would be a long quiet moment and then he’d say, “you’ve missed so much, Tee.” Tee was her nickname, for Teresa without an H.
I remember thinking how sad it was every time my grandpa said those words and how quickly they meant more and more loss over time. I never thought that I would whisper those words to my little girl. I never thought they’d mean missing out on the feel of your weight sleeping on my shoulder or introducing you to your brothers.
The hurt of my grandmother’s death is softened by reminders of her life. The memory of her sparkling blue eyes as she laughed is a pillow that I fall back on when I miss her. When she was so sick that she couldn’t stand on her own, my grandfather draped her arms over his shoulders and danced her down the hallway humming their favorite Glenn Miller song. When he dipped her head back and kissed her, she giggled and those eyes sparkled one more time. You come from a long line of devoted people who love with a tremendous depth.
There is nothing soft about losing you, Charlotte; I have no memory of your laugh or knowledge of your gaze. Stillbirth is full of so many unfinished edges. Those ragged shards snag my heart and steal my breath unexpectedly at every turn. I try to smooth them over with my own love for you. I write your name in the sand, the snow, the dirt. I remember how long we spent agonizing over a perfect name before I painted it across your nursery wall and how each tiny piece of clothing in this closet was picked just for you, my game-changing girl. In three months, I’ve written your story and lamented my own in verse, I’ve taken on projects and counseled and grieved with other mothers. I’ve completed two dozen random acts of kindness in your name and tried to heal my own heart by patching hearts for others. I've talked and cried with you on long hikes in the woods, some as startlingly cold as your skin. Soon I will return to my classroom, brimming with children and life. Returning will present new shards that I try to soften with love and an attempt to siphon some good from this goodbye.
I will always clear my head of debris on this date and miss you. I will touch your urn, shaking my head in disbelief, and miss the time we were promised. There will always be love, but also a melancholy I can't shake. It has only been three months, sweet girl, but already, “you’ve missed so much, Charlie.”
Heather is an educator, 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.