Today my nephew is one month old. My sister-in-law holds little Isaac Blue up to the speakerphone and he coos. My husband laughs. “Do you hear the baby?” he asks as I pass carrying groceries. Green cabbage and tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and ribs I’ll make for dinner. An Iris droops heavily over the porch. “Baby Blue,” I think.
Exactly 29 days ago their father died, and listening to my husband and his sister, imagining them as one family clustered here on the phone together, impossibly smaller, brings tears to my eyes. Death really is this quick, this permanent. And yet—we are still here. And it’s almost time for dinner.
A friend asks me later if the pandemic shelters us from grief, whether we’ll feel it stronger when life resumes. I wonder. Is our grief frozen like the rest of the world, or is it a current running underneath; is nothing really frozen at all?
My husband’s family is Croatian—a proper memorial means we’ll burn a fire for three days or maybe five. Everyone will drink and tell stories and drink some more. Maybe in July, when it’s safe again. Or maybe in the fall.
Croatians (judging by my husband’s extended family) are stoic people—wry and somewhat cynical, though utterly full of life. When we found out Brad, my husband’s father, was dying, his sister (Aunt Kendra) told us a memory she had of her own father’s funeral, everyone somber and gathered around the old quarry they—Brad, Joel, Kim, and Kendra—learned to swim in as children. How her mother brusquely said, “Enough of this crying,” and Joel threw their father’s ashes in the water, urn and all. She told us they were all laughing as they ran alongside the open pit, keeping pace with the urn, throwing rocks to sink the thing. “It sounds terrible that we laughed, but it’s how we were,” she said.
At night I stroke my husband’s hair as we fall asleep. The barber shops are still closed so he cut it himself. We start to drift off and I am moved to say, “Baby, I’m sorry your father died.” He pushes himself up on his elbows and cradles his head in his hands. “Everything makes me think of him,” he says.
Everything carries me to you,
As if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
“If You Forget Me” is a famous love poem—I don’t think Pablo Neruda was inspired by something like this, but these words were made for grieving.
Maybe the pandemic is less like a barrier, something solid and unmoving, and more like a maze or a mirror or a palindrome. Each event is a piece of a whole and everything carries us back to Brad. “I just have to see that baby,” he kept repeating. On a Saturday Issac Blue was born. We were all waiting, clustered around the phone. His cry echoed through tinny speakers and glass. The next day, Sunday, Brad died.
“Do you hear the baby?”