Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crossing Borders

When we went through U.S. customs on our way to Arizona, the guard was very chatty. Friendly, but very down on Phoenix. He couldn’t figure out why we were going there. And he proceeded to tell us all the things he didn’t like about the place (included in the list: his wife’s family is from there! Tee hee.) I could feel it building inside me – the desire to tell him WHY we were going to Arizona at all. It got stronger as Peter politely listened to him talk about sports teams and restaurants. Finally, standing behind Peter, in a small voice I said, “We’re going to a conference.” He continued talking. Oh man, he didn’t hear me, argh! I stepped out from behind Peter, and said in a louder voice, “Actually, we’re going to a conference.” Without interrupting his stream of talking he said, “Oh, what kind of conference?” I told him it‘s a conference for families whose children have died. I said our son died in January. The guard’s whole demeanour changed. Big, long pause. He finally seemed to look at us, each one of us in turn. And I looked at him. I could see he was searching for what to say, so I helped him out a bit. “So that’s why we’re going there. The conference is in Tempe. We thought we’d go a few days early and have a little vacation.” I felt like all the bluster and masks were stripped away when he asked for Toren’s name. Then very genuinely, “I’m going to pray for you folks.” I told him how much I appreciated that. It was then I decided to show him Toren’s photo. I took out my phone and showed him the screen. He was stunned. I had told him our “son” died but I don’t think he was expecting to see a picture of a little baby. I didn’t do it to shock him, but to help him know who we really are and who he was praying for. And I did it because I am a proud mama who likes to show people photos of my children. That part didn’t stop when he died.
I’ve heard it from many parents of stillborn babies. They wonder if they should talk about their children, show photos, bring people “down” with their sad story. What I experienced the day I showed my baby’s photo to a customs guard was sad, yes, but it was also two people having a real conversation about real life. Some awkwardness but more importantly, a connection. Who knows what could come out of that conversation for either of us. I can’t do anything about the sad part and wouldn’t want to. It is  sad. But it’s also our family. And maybe interactions like that help me and everyone around me be less afraid of death, grief and an awkward conversation. Grief is a lonely place but we proved that people can meet you there for brief but genuine moments.

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