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Grieving Life

March 9, 2013

One of the last things I whispered in my father’s ear before he took his last breath was a promise: if I ever had a son I would name that son after him.  We had never spoken about my having children, or even getting married, for that matter.  My dad took everything I did in stride, supporting without interfering or offering unsolicited advice.  His approach made me feel confident and strong—and loved.  English major?  Fine.  Graduate school?  Fine.  Even more graduate school?  Fine.  Catholic vegetarian fiancé who talked so fast and so smart in his Philly accent that my dad had trouble understanding him?  Fine.  All fine.  So even I was a bit surprised when those urgent words tumbled out of my lips into his dying ear, delivering a promise that he would never have asked me, or expected me, to make.  I suppose it was my way of telling him, on his way out of this world, that he wasn’t leaving it entirely.

Six months after my father died, five months after I was married, I became pregnant with my first child.  I went into labor on my thirty-first birthday, and my son was born the next day.  I cried when I told my mother that he was a boy.  His middle name is David Spinner, my father’s name.  He is a good, kind, honest soul, just like my father.

scan0012I had known my husband less than two years when we married, and a good part of those two years were spent in a long-distance relationship, commuting back and forth between Connecticut, where I was toiling away on my doctorate, and Philadelphia, where my husband had grown up and where he worked as an editor after graduate school.  My husband’s mother had died suddenly from cancer, too, a few years before he and I met.   Unlike some couples, who enjoy a number of child-free years in their early marriage, racking up alone time and adventures, my husband and I did not.  It’s nothing either of us regrets; it just is as it is.

Still, I think we were both surprised that I got pregnant so quickly.  I joked at the time about my “bastard genes.”  Weren’t my sister and I the product of a woman who had gotten pregnant when she hadn’t wanted to?  I cringe now at my own joke.  I hate the word bastard.  I’ve never considered myself one.   No, this first baby of mine, I came to believe instead, was my body’s way of handling grief.  It was making a life to cover for a terrible loss.  It was making a life that was wanted.

Less than a year after my best friend Karen died suddenly in 2011, I became pregnant with my fourth child.  I’m due in a few weeks, on Easter.  This time, I was actively trying not to get pregnant.  In fact, in one of the last conversations I had with Karen before she died, she warned me to be careful.  “Your fertility gives one last gasp on its way out,” she said.  She was teasing, covering for her own annoyance that she was on blood thinners in the ICU, unable to get out of bed, and having her period.  “Oh, don’t you worry,” I said.

A few days later, she was dead.  Eight months later, I was pregnant.


I know it’s absurd to believe that my body creates a baby every time I grieve, because I grieve. But as my belly swells again with life, I can’t stop thinking of my father, or Karen, or my birth mother.  Yes, my birth mother, pregnant with my sister and me, not too long after her own beloved father died suddenly from a heart attack.  My birth mother, pregnant again with the son she did keep, months after giving birth to my sister and me.

These aren’t bastard genes that I’ve inherited from my birth mother.  Maybe they’re loss genes instead.  In the face of sadness, as long as they are able, our bodies turn to life.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2013 8:32 pm

    Jenny, your writing always, always moves me–intellectually, emotionally, even physically. Thank you for your words. (Do you know, we sometimes get mail addressed to Karen at our house, even now? Seems like such a strange, strange thing, like a whisper from the void.)

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:39 pm

      Thanks so much, Diane. I had no idea about the mail! What a whisper indeed. Thanks for sharing that lovely idea.

  2. March 11, 2013 3:08 pm

    Such a beautiful thought – the body creating life from loss. Grief is a necessary part of a full life. I know I feel joy so much more because of the sadness of my loss and grief. Thank you for sharing this.

    Earlier this morning I found an email conversation I had with someone else when Karen was in ICU. We were to present at a conference together that weekend and the email was working to cover the details knowing she would recover. I’m so sad that I didn’t go see her while she was in the hospital. And, I’m sad we didn’t take the trip to see the Allentown DCI show we had talked about taking. My son is a percussionist and we talked band and cats (I’m a cat lover, too) when I worked for her in Women’s Studies. She is certainly missed.

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:42 pm

      Thanks for your comment, KC! Didn’t you end up with one of Karen’s (many) kitties?

  3. MIchelle Rogers permalink
    March 10, 2013 3:06 am

    such a blessing. I am sure Karen would be very proud. She loved kids.

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:40 pm

      Karen would think I was completely crazy! But she would be a favorite aunt to #4 anyway. 🙂 Thanks, Michelle.

  4. March 10, 2013 1:37 am

    Love it Jenny! Just when I had said you weren’t writing any more on your blog. I know a couple of other women who were adopted who are very fertile and claim that it is I. Their genes, but I like your explanation much better. Having met up with you just a few months after Karen’s death and hearing you talk about her, I think that the overcoming of death with new life is most fitting, especially with a child due on Easter. God bless your wisdom and courage. Thank you for sharing. Peace!

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 11, 2013 9:40 pm

      And Bach’s birthday, too! 🙂 Thank you, Judy–as always.

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