For Meghan Ruby (Last Name Withheld)
I never knew you.
I first learned of you sixteen years ago when I was visiting my mother’s grave. I looked up from the bench where I was sitting in the cemetery and noticed a woman walking toward a gravesite in the distance. She knelt down, and her hands immediately went to work. Carefully and with great concentration she removed items from a bag and arranged them around your headstone. Exactly what items I couldn’t see from my vantage point. She was alone, and the wind blew through the trees in long steady breaths, tossing her hair. There was no one else in the cemetery. Just me and the woman. It was peaceful.
She continued for quite a while. It had to be done exactly right. Something must go here, something must go there. After some time she stood up, took several steps back, and admired what she had done. Although she was a young mother, perhaps in her late twenties, her face was that of a much older person--weathered from heartache. My loss had been terrible, but hers must have been unfathomable. As she stood in quiet contemplation, she brought her hands to her eyes and then quietly slipped away through the trees.
Minutes later, I wandered curiously over to your resting place. I was astonished. There were hundreds of polished stones in every color and variety surrounding your headstone. Glass butterflies were perched on sticks and dragonflies with spinning wings were placed carefully about. Little kites danced in the breeze, and tiny chimes tinkled. There were pictures, miniature china dolls, and pinwheels. Glass flowers. Bows. Fairies with glitter wings that turned slightly back and forth. A hand-painted sign read, “Butterflies rest here.” It was a breathtaking display. I wondered whether these precious things would be safe from thieves.
And then I read your name. Megan Ruby (---). You were seven years old at the time of your death, only months earlier. At the bottom of your stone was an inscription which read, “And with a brand new body, I will spread my wings and fly.”
A brand new body.
Over the years when I have visited my mother’s grave I have wandered back to your stone at least a dozen times. I’ve been mesmerized by the sparkling ornaments there. Sometimes rearranged, sometimes new, and sometimes old, but always meticulously placed. I have thought about your mother, the woman whose hands put these things here. Her hands were longing to braid your hair and correct your homework. Her hands wanted to cook you meals, pick up your tossed shoes, and zip up your prom dress. Her hands ached to clap at your graduation, adjust your bridal veil, and rock your first baby--her grandchild. Instead, her hands were teeming with unused energy.
So your mother arranged the stones and trinkets. It was work. Work in your behalf. The only work she could do.
Today, sixteen years later, I was at the cemetery again. I sat at my mother’s bench and chatted with my siblings who had come with me. And then I went searching for your stone. I couldn’t find it. Back and forth I walked through the area, reading the names inscribed. It had always been so easy to find before. It took some time, but finally...there. Your stone. It was entirely barren. The grass had grown over the edges. It was dusty and some of the letters had worn. There were no flowers and no trinkets.
And immediately, my thoughts went to your mother. And you know what? I felt glad.
Despite the pain of losing you, time had brought healing. She had either died and was now in your company, or she had found other ways to put her hands to good use. This is what you would have wanted for her, I’m sure.
As a mother myself, I can promise you this, Meghan Ruby. You are not forgotten. You were deeply loved. You had a mother who carried you through a terrible battle. A mother who wished she could have done so much more. A mother with love like this holds you in her heart forever and never lets go.
My daughter turned eight two weeks ago--a birthday you didn’t get to have. I am so sorry for this. I’m sorry for all the things you missed in your short time here. But perhaps it is the rest of us who are missing out. We struggle each day, while you are already free.
I am grateful for you, even though we never met. I will teach my little girl to embrace the time she has. And meanwhile, I’ll be thankful for busy hands.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
For Meghan Ruby (Last Name Withheld)