Driving home from Rochester, Mayo Hospital, almost two years ago, the pain of loss made the starless night sky even blacker. Tears flowed down my face unabated, and my mind clawed in vain to make sense of the evening’s events.
That night, five months into my daughter’s pregnancy, five months of riding the rollercoaster of excitement and hope, I witnessed the stillbirth of my granddaughter, Mila.
And, horrific as that was, I also saw her parents’ unfathomable love as they held Mila’s lifeless body and seared her features into their hearts. The tiny perfection of her face. The gentle curl of her fingers. The flawless skin untouched by earthly experiences. They read her bedtime stories and told her that she was a precious gift.
Eventually, when my daughter and son-in-law were able to say goodbye, a nurse came to take Mila away. My granddaughter was very, very, small, yet at that moment, we felt the weight of an emptiness that defies description.
The following days were muddled. What could I do, what could I say, that would bring any measure of comfort to my daughter and her husband? None of it made any sense. As soon as they knew they were pregnant with Mila, they did everything the doctor suggested. They did everything “right.” What happened?
The truth is we will never know. The autopsy was inconclusive.
As Mila’s grandmother, I grieved unapologetically. Although my upbringing ingrained the hiding of one’s feelings, the persistent hell of helplessness tore at me, and tears came quickly and often.
One day, while visiting my daughter, we talked about our pain. Was there something, anything, tangible that I could do? I wanted to get out of my head for awhile.
She said, “Maybe we could come up with a bench designed to memorialize Mila?”
And that got me thinking.
Yes. A bench.
A bench to rest and ponder. A bench to see what is and to remember what could have been.
What better place for a bench than in a garden?
What if we put in a garden that grew the favorite flowers of Mila’s female ancestors? Roses, lilacs, hydrangeas, peonies, phlox, honeysuckle, and asters. It would be a living tribute to those who have passed on, and yet who continue to influence us daily.
My daughter liked the idea.
And so, during this crazy summer of 2020–Covid-19 limitations and shortages included–we dug into the earth, placed the flowers, and felt uplifted. Even hopeful.
My daughter selected a white climbing rose for Mila, and one day it will reach for the sun and stars upon a trellis built by her grandfather.
It’s a small garden for now. A bistro table and a couple of chairs are filling in for the yet-to-be built unique bench.
In my mind, however, I already see the garden maturing. I will add a water feature as a reflective and peaceful element that soothes. I can smell Mila’s roses and feel the feminine ancestral nods of approval.
When the last wheelbarrow of woodchips carpeted the garden, my daughter and I high-fived each other as we stood hip to hip. It was time to toast our efforts with champagne.
The late afternoon sun dipped and dodged through the trees as we sat in Mila’s garden, sipping our liquid bubbles, and envisioned the future.
We weren’t ignoring the past. That wasn’t possible.
We were honoring it.
And then, as if mystically beckoned, a butterfly began to flit between us. It drank from the flowers in bloom and repeatedly swirled around our bodies. We felt as though the beautiful creature needed to be with us. Right then. Right there.
My daughter and I looked at each other and just knew.