Dementia · Family · Grief · Life

Holding the Baby

Our friends Matt and Katie have a new baby. I was sitting here looking at his picture and blissing out on his cheeks – Is there anything better than fresh baby cheeks? – and I got to thinking about the last time they had a new baby. It was in the spring of 2014 and I remember this because right then, things was rough.

I was stressed out on all fronts and I was really, really looking forward to my trip to the East Coast in a few weeks, when I was going to be in a friend’s wedding and hang out and see some other friends for awhile. I remember saying at one point that for a week, the only bottom I’d have to wipe would be my own. (Potty training is a difficult time and may result in inappropriate poop comments from all parties involved.)

Mostly, it was getting harder and harder to watch the slow decline of my mom’s mind. I was just so sad all the time, and angry almost as often. Except I had this little reprieve once a week when we would go into our Sunday School classroom and either Matt or Katie would hand me the baby, and I would sit there and smile at him, or stand and sway if he wanted the motion, and pat his perfect, padded little behind.

Not actual baby. Free stock photo, because I don’t have permission to plaster their kid on the internet and I’m not texting to ask because they just had a baby and I am socially awkward but I do understand some things.

You guys, he was the bestest baby. They’re all the best baby, I know, but truly he was. Just this tiny unblemished warm bundle of humanity, content to snuffle against my chest for an hour. Paul, who is the most unrepentant baby hog I have ever met, never took that kid from me one time. I asked him why once and he said, “I just can’t. You look so happy.”

So I went on the trip and tooled around Cape Cod in the summer time in my rented convertible and I had a pretty good time until my sister called and said they had found my mom lying on the sidewalk between our houses. I went home. Instead of being in a wedding, I helped plan a funeral.

When we went back to church after, I was feeling pretty raw and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Sunday School where there were fewer people and they might expect things from me like actual responses to polite conversation. But Paul convinced me, or something, and I went in and sat down, and somebody handed me the baby.

I am certain I did not hear one word that was said in class that day. I sat there and held the baby and bawled. Paul put his arm around me, and Matt and Katie sat beside me quietly and somebody handed me a Kleenex and everybody shut up and let me be.

Sometimes I hear people say that they are afraid to go to a funeral because they don’t know what to say to the grieving, and I kind of understand this, but mostly I think it’s balderdash. It matters very little what you say (unless it is something like, “Well, of course he got cancer after he smoked all that time,” or “Buck up, camper!” in which case the bereaved would be entirely justified in punching you in the face). Just show up.

Show up, sit down, hand over a hanky. It isn’t complicated (although that doesn’t make it easy). Grieving people don’t need you to say something profound. They need you to be there, and to love them while they suffer. The loving them bit almost always looks less like a perfectly crafted statement of sympathy and more like action. Maybe bring a casserole. Maybe bring them a hug. Maybe hand them the baby. You’re smart; you’ll figure it out. And even if you don’t, it will matter most that in your glorious, awkward, fragile humanness, you just showed up.

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