Saturday, June 28, 2014

It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.

Last year I saw one of my kindergarten classmates in line at the grocery store.  Easily I recognized her face, filled out by womanhood, and I asked if her name was Krista.  We had light and awkward conversation. Though she didn't remember me, I remembered her and especially the button she swallowed in gym class.  I walked her down to the nurse's office that day because she was scared, but otherwise fine.  A mother now, Krista laughed and said she didn't recall the wayward button either, or what she had for breakfast that morning.

I have always had a knack for remembering things that didn't matter. Things that weren't even mine to remember.  A second grader named Jill had the best, best handwriting in my class.  It looked like a fourth grader wrote it.  In high school, my best friend's license plate was CK9 13M, and the only thing memorable about that is perhaps the fact that it is long gone and I still remember it.  Also, there's Bill Clinton's birthday, which whether you like him or not, is August 19th and I know that forever because my class celebrated it the first year of his presidency.  Now every year on that day, I indifferently recall that he is, in fact, another year older.

While none of this is seemingly important, I share it with you now because I need you to understand something sacred to me.  Since 2008, I have had the extremely sobering and humbling honor of sculpting for families whose children have died.  I just typed two words that no one ever wants to see in the same sentence, and these families are living it.  I have to get the trigger warning out of the way because this post is going to turn very, very sad right now and if your heart is not in a state where you are able to read about children dying then I need to strongly urge you away from this blog entry.  I'm about to describe what my job is really about, and it's not about clay.  It's about wobbly first steps that will never be taken, unwipeable noses, laughter that will never chime but bells hung over gravestones do.  I work in real, palpable, contagious heartache every day and let me tell you... It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.  

There are families I've sculpted for over and over again, so many times that they've filled entire curios and bought second cabinets to keep up with their expanding collections.  I've never met them in person but I've felt their hugs over and over again, and they've felt mine.  There are others who have come to me only once, maybe twice and shared the fragility of their hearts, the names of their children, and the quiet longing for ways to keep a legacy alive.  My inbox is a treasure chest unpryable to the faint of heart.  The messages I receive are heavier than gold,  private as pearls.  They are silver linings peeking from storm clouds.  And among my favorite, the brightly colored jewels of rainbow blessings.  What parents share with me about their babies that touch the stars too soon is the most beautiful and tragic pain that they will ever experience. Again I'll say it.   It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.  

Not everyone who orders from me returns, but many do, and sometimes it's years later.  I'll open my inbox and see a message that begins with something like "My name is ___________ and a couple years ago you made a sculpture for me of my angel, who was born still."  What you don't realize is that as soon as I see that name in my inbox, even before I click nervously to open it, my heart is pounding as I wait to read how I can help this mother again.  My thoughts whisper "Please let these years have treated her gently.  Please let her not have lost another child.  Please let Cullen have sent his mommy a rainbow."

That's right.  Cullen.  Gracie.  Aidan.  Tayler.  Twins Emma and Chase.  There's Wyatt, whose mommy can never see an elephant without thinking of him, and because I know that, neither can I.  There's Declan, who I sculpt for every year as his angelversary approaches but I think of him so much more than that.  How often?  Every time I pass a playground.  There's Rylan, his eyes were clearwater blue and he's the reason that at a swimming pool I don't take my sight off not only my own children but everyone else's, because I know his mother never wants another family to experience the depth of loss that her own family staggered through, and I owe that to her for giving the gift of Rylan to me. For sharing her precious child with me.

Spring arrives yearly, not lacking the usual cliches.  "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb."  So did Joshua, who's mother pained through 36 hours of labor to finally hear him roar, but then later that month he slept like an angel, so deeply he became one in the silence of the night.  His mother wept uncontrollably when someone cut the butter lamb that Easter.  I know you're probably crying reading this.  I'm sorry about that.  I'm crying too, but honestly I cry all the time - even when people say simple things like "April showers bring May flowers" because inside my heart I know that for babies like Aurora, April showers are really mommy's tears as a birth date approaches and Casey continues to mourn the day she said hello and goodbye in the very same breath.  And I know that like Molly, some of May's flowers never fully bloom.

Daffodil's also come with Spring.  They are yellow.  They are Alexander.  Purple?  Nothing short of royalty.  Purple is Carleigh.  Purple is Michelle. Purple is baby after baby, same color, all different lives and legacies.  Just like every other hue in the entire rainbow.  Your babies have colors, and I remember their colors when I remember their names.

Peanuts are not a food to me.  Sure I eat them, but that's not what I think of when I hear the word.  I think of the parents I've sculpted for that suffered early losses, and how they've named their child after the tiny treasured shape in their sonogram picture.  The cute little nicknames parents give their babies in womb become their names forever.  I know babies named Poppy, Tadpole, Jellybean, Blumpy, Ricecake, Kix, Cubbers.  And speaking of cubs? A mother bear on average only has 2-3 per litter, but the Mother Bear I know has six cubs.  Six pink and blue Baby Bears that she never met outside her womb or knew the genders of, and I cannot see a mother bear on television without imagining six little bears trailing behind her.  Ever.

Independence Day is coming in just a week's time and people will be lighting up sparklers.  All I think of when I see them is the brightness in Addison's eyes, how vibrant it dazzled.  While everyone is enraptured with the fireworks each year, my thoughts are very, very far away, still stuck on the little sparklers and how quickly they go out, before anyone holding them is ready or expecting them to.  So instead my thoughts stay on Addison's family, and how her Nana loves her bigger than the world.  There is no month that approaches, no place that I go, where something doesn't remind me of an angel along the way.  I'll be in the costume aisle in the children's department and next to wands and glittering crowns I see fairy costumes and immediately think of the pictures Selina shared with me.  Mazzy wearing her butterfly wings.  Mazzy wearing her hula skirt.  Mazzy wearing her mommy's eyes.  Selina and I have not chatted in years, since I made her first and only sculpture for her.  I don't think she will ever see this blog but if she does I want to say... Selina, please don't be surprised that I remember Mazzy in her fairy wings.  Mazzy is not only memorable, she is never-forgettable.

I know a darling dog named Mickee.  The only time I met her is when I sculpted her, but because I sculpted her, I can say comfortably that I feel I know her.  Like Mickee, I've sculpted her owner as well, whose name is T'Keyah and she was only 7 when she ended her brave and beautiful stay on this side of earth.  Mourning alongside her family was this little copper dog who loved her so deeply and fretted her passing so severely that on T'Keyah's birthday 4 month's later, Mickee crossed over to join her in Heaven.  Because that is how heart stopping child loss is.  Mickee's picture is saved to my computer, and every time I see this face, these eyes, I am brought to tears with my heart so high up my throat that I cannot even swallow.

I have sculpted sisters Lily and VernaAnn time and time again.  Their mommy Allison once said to me "It is so special to me that you always remember their names and how to spell them." I read that and thought, if only she knew what an honor it's been to remember her daughters, to know their names.  If only she knew that I kissed their little clay baby feet every time I've ever sculpted them.  If only she knew how I quietly followed her on Facebook throughout her entire rainbow pregnancy, and while she was in labor I waited hardly able to breathe until I knew Micah did too.

Ohhhhh the rainbow babies.  How I hope and hope and hope they come for those who are dreaming for them.  How I follow these pregnancies with every update though their families hardly know it.  I have watched parents like Katlyn and Andrew's hearts break over and over again while Heaven earned star after star after star and then...           a positive pregnancy test.  A belly that keeps growing.  A miracle incarnate,  Jonah was born.  And now???  Oh. My. Heart.  Jonah is not only in a big boy bed, Jonah is a BIG BROTHER.  Double rainbows!  Rainbow babies thrill me to the core.  Just like when Vayden sent Varen, and Aiden sent Nygel, and JoJo sent Zyon, and Valentina sent Sammie, and Jasper sent Samuel, and Joshua sent Acacia and then Sophia tagging along right after.  The list goes on and on, I cannot name them all in a blog post but I carry them in my heart.

When I sit to work in the morning, I start my day with rainbow babies because I need that.  I need to see them before I can mentally prepare for what will come to me throughout the day.  My first stop is almost always baby Abby, nothing goes better with my hazelnut coffee than the look of awe and wonder that never leaves this child's face.  I am telling you, her expressions are the faces you'd make if you just saw an angel, and I know every day she sees two of them.  Two seraphim sisters are shining on her, of course her mouth is a cheerio and her eyes full of marvel.  Of course I need to look at her before I dare look inside my inbox, where I know what's coming.  Where I am personally on a permanent trigger warning every day and with the pain of that burden I am also brought the extreme privilege of learning your childrens' names.  Their stories.  That they once were.

This is what a regular shipment looks like for me before I start packaging. Don't count the wings, your heart will break.  These all belong to families that are watering flowers at grave sites with their very own tears.  If that is not sobering then nothing else is.

I never want to make another angel sculpture in my life.  I never want you to need me in that way, no one should have to need me in that way and yet thousands have and thousands more will as time crawls slowly among us bringing tragedy in its course.  When you need me, I am so extremely sorry for that.  So deeply honored.  So indelibly touched.  And if you needed me before, and need me again, and nothing feels comforting, please at least come with the reassurance that you won't need to remind me who you are, that your child has died, and that I've sculpted for you before.  I know many of you live every day in a silence of disenfranchised grief and some of your losses are minimized or unacknowledged but that does not happen here.  Not with me.

If I can remember the useless things that never were mine or even  important to me, like Krista swallowing her button or the birthday of a president I was too young to vote for, then with extreme reverence I assure you that far greater is my memory of you and your child, and the experience of watching your baby form in my hands.  Because sculpting for you isn't my job, it's my life calling, and when you share your child with me I remember, because... It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.


Anonymous said...

The fact that you make it so personal is what draws us to you. You were there in the first raw days and months of my grief- sculpting a remembrance of my Cullen to rest upon my chest, and for that I am forever grateful. Thank you for sharing not only your own story of TMO came to be, but also the sobering reality of what you witness each and every day.
Love and light- as always

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I've wanted to order from you for a long time, even have had a picture saved of one of your pieces for years. A blue woman, with the torn empty belly with a red heart in it and her hand on her head.

Because of this post, I WILL order from you, soon.

Elena Strode said...


Nicole said...

Thank you so much for remembering. It means the world to grieving parents. Your words, and your works of art, are unforgettably beautiful. I love that your fingerprints are forever on the sculpture I have in my bedroom.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I see my baby's name or not but sadly i see many many that i know. You never ever cease to amaze me Dana with your eloquent words and your generous soul. Thank you for remembering my baby because not only is it importan to me that people remember her but that they actually THINK OF HER <3 It warms my heart to know that people (YOU) thought her life (short as it may have been) was important and although we may not know as of know but that it had/has meaning. <3 So if by chance I have never told you before ... Thank YOU for all you have done for me & mine , thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for myself , all these other families , and all of our babies "Gone Too Soon" <3 Dana you ARE a blessing ! Thank God for you
Vicky & Tay

Zoo Keeper said...

Your passion for your sculptures and mama's like me is what keeps me coming back to grow my collection of angels. You gave my loss a voice and for that I am forever grateful and blessed. Thank you. Forever grateful, Alisa ❤️

Julie Peck said...

I can't believe that I'm just seeing this, but sweetie you have a very special place in my heart. You are such an amazing, beautiful person. I'm so grateful for your time and effort & everything you do for myself and everyone else. You& Your sculptures have helped me and my family with our losing Jojo & also growing together. Thank you for everything you do & for making a special place in your heart & home for our angels and our families! Lots of Love <3

Julie Peck said...

I can't believe that I'm just seeing this, but sweetie you have a very special place in my heart. You are such an amazing, beautiful person. I'm so grateful for your time and effort & everything you do for myself and everyone else. You& Your sculptures have helped me and my family with our losing Jojo & also growing together. Thank you for everything you do & for making a special place in your heart & home for our angels and our families! Lots of Love <3

April Clark said...

Thank you for this post. I hope to one day order one or maybe two of your pieces as well. In our house we have had Sunshines, the loss of the life of baby William too soon and unexpected joy of his Rainbow brother Tommy who is always happy. This is a beautiful post and I hope you know how truly thankful I am as one of these mothers that you do what you do every day. God Bless.

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