I climb in, turn the ignition and drive out our street, our city, allowing these wheels to eat up the distance. My stomach is a piece of dough. Pushed, pulled, beaten, flipped, flattened.
It is 4:10pm. I kissed them goodbye: one, two, three, at the front door. Then I climbed into the driver’s seat, alone, no chatter in the back seat, no husband fiddling with the aircon. Just me.
It’s warm for October and my cotton singlet top and sunnies feel deliciously summery, the sun still massaging warmth into my pores.
My striped red and white tote in the boot has a change of clothes, a pair of pyjamas, a book, my Bible and a box of muesli bars, because I don’t trust hospital food.
The road yawns ahead of me, wide and quiet, undulating from bush to townships to crops until I reach the coast and all its blue hopefulness.
You’re close now, it says.
I’m grateful for the kilometres between us, the peaceful preparation this plane has granted, making malleable the mishmash of emotions.
I’ve been reading about how beauty can be found everywhere, in the most unlikely places and spaces, including here where grief was all I expected.
Was the sky always so awake, so azure aware, knowing its wonder, knowing that life is equally as blue? And the curving descent to the coastroad, elegant as a sweeping adage, green pastures swishing like skirts baring sand to the observant.
That’s me. Every sense heightened, wanting, longing to hold every moment of this day as a jewelled memory to safekeep under glass cloche.
Slowing speed limits.
Unsure which turn to take.
The sign; Mersey District Hospital.
I pray in the carpark, although, to be honest, every breath of this day is a prayer for my sister and her fiancée.
James finds me and we smile, hug, walk the long grey corridors to Lydia’s room.
Thank you for coming, she says.
He’s over there, in the cradle. Go meet him.
It’s hot and still, silence only broken by a gentle breeze that rattles the blinds and the intermittent footfall of nurses doing their rounds, trolleys wheeled on clunking casters.
I take the two steps to stand over him, to pull his blanket back and look. Look… is this ok? It seems so irreverent to stand here, a voyeur to death like this, when I can hold no claim to the knowing of him.
Yet, the alternative, not to look, is surely more callous, a diminishing of his being. To look is to know, to acknowledge, to invite him into my trove of memories.
So I look.
I see every part of his 18-week-old body and shock melts into awe at translucent skin wrapped around two arms and two legs, around his tummy and rib cage, his face and the pronounced lobes of his brain.
Hello Jairus, I say, and lift a little hand no bigger than a pumpkin seed.
Veins thread blue down his arms and five perfectly formed fingers rest on my one fingertip.
He’s beautiful, I say, even while knowing that he’s not. He’s not and he is. Who he was and who he now represents is undoubtedly beautiful; life in its thriving, full and complex splendour. But I would be sharing a half-truth if I didn’t describe the decay, the pink halo of fluid seeping into the white sheet beneath him and the way his flaccid limbs can contort at strange angles. We lay them straight and smooth, more normal somehow.
Beauty is redefined in that Burnie hospital room where Lydia is later wheeled into surgery to remove the placenta that only days prior, had sustained the baby boy swelling in her pregnant belly.
Her wan smile knows the beauty too. For all the pain, she nods with understanding when I try to put into words the exquisite wonder in these ashes.
James goes home, has a shower, brings back sandwiches for a 9pm dinner. We watch the sun set out the window, the most unlikely hospital view to paddocks, ocean surging in the distance and a big, opaque sky. Cows suddenly come into view and we laugh at the absurdity of them grazing, slow and docile, oblivious.
We talk about normal things like how work’s going and the brand of nail polish she’s wearing, interspersed with talk of whether Jairus will be left for the hospital to ‘take care of’, or if they will accept the local funeral service’s offer of a free cremation. They choose the latter.
Every party in this scenario takes pains to give credit and meaning to the life that was – even if he didn’t have the chance to drag oxygen into his lungs.
A white coffin the size of an infant’s shoe box awaits and there are hand-knitted clothes that would be too small for most dolls. A local church supplied these.
The nurses come and go, always lingering at his cradle, changing his sheets, discreetly slipping a cold pack beneath him as we settle down for the night.
Lydia is tired. I am tired. James goes home to sleep and I pull out the fold-out armchair. A draught keeps me awake, listening to my little sister breathing. She is a mother, even though she won’t be taking a baby home this time. She is a mother and I recognise it now – the difference in her, the strength rising up from within where God planted it in her. Grief is often a part of the path to motherhood, but usually it is twined in and out and through with a beauty that can only be described as love and life and hope and other things that transcend understanding. What a gift.
What a day.
We also celebrated the birth of another precious bundle for Lydia and James; Louisa, who is just the sweetest thing! Praise God for babies.