FIRST FROST

In honor of Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, I share my own story of grief, written in 2013. This experience is one I will never forget, a tender memory. Even though I have 10 other beautiful children, one is still gone…

Summer is beautiful. The world is full and ripe and gorgeous. Everything blooms and grows and produces. There’s enough and to spare, until autumn. Then the first frost comes. It comes with little warning — a summer day, a warm night, a slight cloud on the horizon, and a weather forecast. If you miss the signs, you’re taken by surprise.

“What happened to the garden?” my daughter asked one morning. We looked out through the glass patio doors. Just the day before everything had been full and green, but suddenly the beauty was gone. We ran outside to see.

Once thriving squash plants were now lying, black, on the ground. All around us were wilted tomato plants, yellowed peppers and brittle beans.

“Our tomatoes,” said my son, picking up a squishy mess.

“We should have picked them all last night,” I lamented.

“Is summer over?” asked my younger daughter.

“Yes,” I replied. We shivered as we walked back into the house to eat our warm oatmeal.

The chill outside wasn’t the only sudden change. Hearts can also experience frost. Our lives have generally been summer — abundant, plentiful, warm and happy. But every life has some sorrow. It usually comes suddenly. We don’t watch the forecast or want to acknowledge the cloud on the horizon. It just happens.

Longfellow observed, “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

I may have seemed cold last month, but I was only sad. Sad when the doctor said, “No heartbeat.” Sad when an ultrasound confirmed the lifeless form. Sad when I had to break the news to my husband, who was across the country on business. We cried together on the phone. Sad when I tried to pretend that everything was OK, until he came home and we told the kiddles together.

“No baby?” Their shock was visible. “No new crib?” “No baby name?” The frost had come to our family. Overnight our dreams were wilted.

For a few days everything hung in the air, waiting and in denial.  Our tears had been cried, and there was nothing else to tell.  It almost seemed that summer might still be around, hopeful that it wasn’t quite fall.  But it was.  

One evening, during an evening out, I could feel it.  “It’s time,” I finally said to my husband, and we left our activities to go home.  

On the way we passed happy people talking, hugging, unaware of the turmoil inside of us.  “Every man has his secret sorrows,” I thought again.
Outside the sun was setting, gorgeous and brilliant.  A sign?  Even sunrises are inspiring.  Soon the world would be dark.  

We walked carefully to the car as more oblivious people hurried past.  Everything was heavy and tense now, but we still drove slowly, peacefully, thoughtfully home.  

Together, we walked in the front door, and in less than a minute a tiny being was there with us.  Just bigger than my thumb, and perfectly formed – ten fingers, two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, tiny lips, tiny legs, and a hand curled up by its cheek.  We gasped and cried.  The frost had come, for real.

When the children woke up the next morning we told them. It was autumn. Summer had really ended. They cried, too. It was a solemn day.

That evening we gathered by the apple tree in the orchard. The branches nearly touched the ground, forming a protective shadow over the earth beneath. We held a tiny box. Together we shared and sang and wept. Even the toddlers, too little to understand, could feel the bitterness.

How could this be? Our lives had always been summer. Always. Didn’t we have nine gorgeous children right there with us? Nine had come, all overdue — even a set of twins had arrived without a hint of trouble. They were our summer. But no matter the bounty of summer, frost brings a pang of loss.

The little box was put in the earth, and spontaneously the children threw flowers and petals on top of it. Then we covered it with dirt, and placed a tiny, heart-shaped rock to remember. Angel baby was laid to rest.

The days passed, and our sorrow began to heal — ever so slightly. One crisp day we went out again to the garden. There, not far from the little mound in the apple orchard, were the drooping plants and weeping tomatoes.

However, next to them were orange pumpkins, suddenly visible now and bright in the molding blackness. Everywhere tree leaves were golden and glorious. The mums, next to the wilted daisies, were brilliant with color — yellow, purple, orange. The grapes were sweet and full, the frost bringing out their flavor, and the apples and pears were ready without a moment to spare. Everywhere the deadness was filled with new autumn vibrance — life we hadn’t noticed before.

“Mama, look!” called my 1st grader. He was ready with his wheelbarrow and wagon to gather the fruits of fall.

That night we ate our autumn soup, drank fresh grape juice and ate pumpkin muffins. “I like the fall,” said my son. “Summer is nice, but you don’t appreciate it until the frost comes, and makes the world a different kind of beautiful.” I smiled. Where sympathy had been before, I now had empathy — empathy for anyone who had listened for a heartbeat, or held a lifeless child, or had a box under an apple tree.

“Every man has his secret sorrows,” and now I had mine. But just like the frost, those sorrows somehow made the world brighter. I looked at the faces of my children around the table — they were brilliant, like the mums and the grapes and the pumpkins, sweeter and dearer than before. Our frost had ultimately brought life. With a new song in my heart, I stood to serve the fresh apple pie.

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