Monday, November 12, 2012

Ashley

We met Ashley's dad when we went down to Arizona for the MISS Foundation conference. A good friend in Vancouver had told me about a friend she had worked with whose daughter had died  in a car accident when she was 18. My friend was worried about him, wondering how he was doing. Because we were going to a conference for parents who have lost children at any age to any cause, it seemed crazy not to try to meet him. I don't normally go on holiday to meet new people. But this wasn't just a holiday and I wanted to meet him.

We arranged to go for dinner and on the drive to the restaurant, I reminded Pete that his daughter's name is Ashley. We met at the hostess desk and greeted each other like old friends. Big hugs all around. When you meet someone else whose child has died, and you know the only reason you are meeting is that you have both lost the most precious thing in the world, there is an instant bond which I feel is unbreakable. We sat down and gave the waitress our drinks order. After she left, he said, "Our waitress is named Ashley." I stared at him. Really? That's pretty neat. Then he said: "The hostess, her name is Ashley too." What!? We just looked at each other. Then we started to laugh.

One of the first things he asked me is if Toren had visited me yet. Not your usual small talk! Normally I would say, nah I don't believe in all that. But actually, I did have some kind of answer to that question.

It took us several months to decide on a name for Toren. I thought that if we named him, it would make everything worse and that if he remained "Baby Boy", it wouldn't hurt so much. Those of you who know grief will recognize this as shock and denial. It's normal but it's also horrible. I've read that it's a natural process to let the grief in in increments as our brains feel able to manage it. Finally, we made the decision that he needed his name. We realized he had a right to his identity, the same as anyone else. And we needed to know who we were grieving. Toren Edward.

The name Toren had popped into my head in the last month of my pregnancy, when we were at a Tori Amos concert. I wouldn't have named a daughter Tori, but I liked Toren for a boy. When we got home from the concert, I googled it and saw that, whew, it could be used as a name. I read somewhere that it means ship's mast, maybe in Hebrew? Edward is a name in Pete's family and his mom had suggested it before Toren was born.

For a long time, even seeing his name written down would cause me physical pain. I couldn't use it and just kept saying "he" or "our baby". It did intensify the grief but though life became harder, grieving got easier, if that makes sense. It was so hard, but it felt right. Pete said that's how he felt about it too. Eventually it got easier to use his name and now I can't shut up about him. But the day we named him, that night, in the middle of the night while we were sleeping, music started playing in our room. We both woke up, sat up in bed and were completely confused about where this music was coming from. It was so loud. I finally pinpointed it to a musical figure my mom had bought at a thrift store for our daughter a few years ago. Pete doesn't remember it as playing particularly loudly that night, but I remember it as sounding like it was amplified. It was loud enough to wake us up anyway.

One thing about this musical figure - it's kind of broken. When you wind it, it doesn't reliably play. Also, for the few years we've had it, it has sat on a dresser in our daughter's room. But this night, it was up on a high shelf, near the ceiling, in our bedroom. I didn't move it and Pete said he didn't move it. On my mom's most recent visit, I told her this story. Her eyes got very wide and she said she hadn't moved it either.

You can rationalize it any way you want. The thing is broken, so at some point someone had wound it but it hadn't played and finally the mechanism started moving that night. Friends had come over and someone moved it to keep it out of reach of little kids. Who knows. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation. But still - you know? I now think of it as Toren's song. Whenever I hear it, it makes me so happy and so terribly sad.

So this is the story I told when Ashley's dad asked me if Toren had visited us yet. He gave me a look that said, Of course music started playing the night you named your son. He said he felt frustrated because although people had told him that Ashley had appeared in their dreams since her death, she hadn't yet "visited" him. I said our waitress is named Ashley, our hostess is named Ashley and you don't think she's visiting you?? We had to laugh at that one.

Ashley's would have been 23 this year. She was killed by a drunk driver. I think her dad said she was planning to go to university so she would have been finishing that up and then maybe she would have gone travelling like so many other young people do at that time in their lives. Or maybe she would have started work right away to save up some money. Her dad misses her terribly every single day.

After our dinner, he emailed me her photo. Beautiful girl. I enjoyed so much hearing all his stories about her. After five years, he has many stories about "signs", but even more than that, I loved hearing about when she was a young girl, and she and her dad would go into one of those kitchen stores, wind up the egg timers and run out of the store giggling together as they all went off.


Figure at Tohono Chul Park in Arizona

4 comments:

  1. Hi. I've been reading through some of your post. I'm visiting from marchisfordaffodils. I'm so sorry you dint have Toren here to hug and kiss. It is such a hard life without one of our children here. Giant hug to you. I wish I was close enough to go to a miss conference.

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    1. Hi Renel, thank you for your words of support. Sending a giant hug right back to you. Maybe one day we will meet at a MISS conference. Good group of people there.

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  2. From Ashley's dad:

    "It was five years ago tonight that we lost Ashley, and it still seems just like yesterday. I still have the memory of the moment she left the house for the last time...she looked beautiful!

    I miss you Mouse. xo"

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