The Garden of The Evening Star

by Lori Dwyer on April 2, 2012 · 18 comments

It’s the night of DPCon’12, and I’m so exhausted even red lipstick isn’t helping. At the equivalent to this conference last year, in 2012, I was two months out from Tony’s death and so disconnected from the world, it felt like a dream… a nightmare that belonged to somebody else.

It was one of the best days of my life. It was one of the hardest. I spoke, not particularly well. I retreated, disappeared into my room every hour or so, where I sat on the floor in front of the mirror and reminded myself I was real, I did exist, this wasn’t a dream. Somewhat back in some kind of reality, I regrouped, then held my head high and walked back into the fray. I spent a lot of that day mindlessly hugging people who desperately wanted to take away my pain and couldn’t; while I was struggling, mute to the words I needed to tell them how much they had helped, how they kept me alive, what they’d done for me. So I’d just squeeze them as I tight as I could, hoping they could feel it through my the weight of my arms around them.

I was my own living, breathing proof of survival that day, as I stood on a stage in front of 200 people and recounted the details of the last two months of my life. It was horrific. The conference itself was mind–blowingly amazing– a community that had existed only behind a screen suddenly come to life, moving and jumping and laughing and hugging and talking and meshing, the room pulsating with energy.

Best known image credit according to the Google God is here.

I spoke and it stung like fire, like baptism; but it was the balm to it’s own pain. It was watching a room full of people feel your suffering, and wishing they could take it away, just for a moment… if for no other reason than they just couldn’t stand to hear it in my voice anymore.

Today I witnessed a woman, beautiful and brave and as real as they come, tell a whole room full of people her story, share with them the day that changed her life.

It felt like watching a ghost of myself.

I began crying even before Kristie, who blogs at Hespera’s Garden, took the stage. The photos projected onto the screen behind her, taken by Fe from Heartfelt, an image of Kristie’s face crumpled in pain as she cradled the lifeless body of her stillborn son Avery… there is no pain that compares to a mother, sobbing so distraught that if there was a God, he must be deaf.

I watched as she faced a crowd of 200 people, some who knew what she was about to say, some who didn’t. With her, I took a huge breath, and I watched as she set her words, her story, the memory of her precious baby boy, and let them fill the entire room.

All those words, those big words that bring with them images of something so huge in its meaning you can’t quite find the adjective big enough– words that fall in line with ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ and ‘inspiring’– Kristie was the spoken essence of those words. The entire crowd hushed, no one whispering or shuffling or daring to rustle the almost sacred silence that had fallen over the room.

My heart broke with every word Kristie spoke. I was so proud of her, I thought I would burst. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I wanted to run to the stage while she was in mid-speech and hug her and tell her how brave she was, how we were all holding her in our hands right now as we watched her navigate between emotion and composure– an audience connected by gossamer threads of compassion, a net with which we would catch her if she should happen to fall, this woman who was brave enough to be vulnerable, generous enough to share her story and show her pain.

That’s brave, with no disclaimers, no opt–outs, nothing but yourself and your emotions and the truth. Being vulnerable, being real, exposing yourself at risk of being hurt… knowing that risk and taking the chance anyway. A leap of faith. Saying ‘This is me, this is real. I am giving to you of myself here more than you know, and it requires me to trust human nature enough believe that no one will kick me when I’m down, no one will rub salt into a wound they can see bleeding.’

That’s brave. That’s strength. That was Kristie, speaking with dignity and conviction and love for her children, a love that doesn’t abide by silly laws such as mortality or ‘getting over it’.

The room was dark, and I was glad for that as I sat, snug, between Miss Pink and Kell and watched Kristie do something akin to what I had done, twelve months beforehand, only better, with more passion, less of a sense of shell chock than I displayed in 2011. I heard the pain and trepidation in her voice, and I cried, lip quivering, attempting to hold my head back so I didn’t smudge my make up, as Kristie introduced herself, gave us her background.

“Then, on the 14th of July, everything changed…”

Change the date, and I spoke words almost identical to that a year ago.

And with that I broke. I leaned on Miss Pink’s shoulder and bawled. I sobbed, head in my hands, shoulders shaking, breath hitching. I cried for Kristie, for Avery, for me, for Tony. For Kirrilee and Ella. For Amanda and Greg, for Teni and Scott and Ianto, for Krysten and Payten.

I cried for all of us who are grieving, every person in that room, in this community, reading this blog, hearing this story… Every mother or father or wife or husband or brother or sister or friend… For anyone who feels, anyone with that pain, keening for the warmth that is now a space that cannot be filled.

Kristie spoke the honest, brutal truth, and it was beautiful. She spoke openly about the weight of a baby, not moving, being placed on her chest. Her voice lowered, and she described, hitches of pain throughout, how she begged her baby boy to please, please wake up, please. She screamed her son’s name, fresh with pain, into the space of that room and we felt a roll of thunder, a mother’s grief, come with it.

“Avery! Avery! Avery!! I have never witnessed anything so powerful in my entire life. It shook the room, stopped them. It was so real, so honest, so damn brave. Shock and awe and an infinite respect for a woman who had not only gone through this pain, but has the courage and the strength of will to share it, to release it into the universe; to not only honor her son, but to ease the suffering of others simply by giving them the knowledge that they are not alone, that someone else out there understands the desolate pain mixed with intense love that is grief

Kristie’s speech had become more than a story about a blog, about a woman, about a baby. Kristie stood and put herself bare and she told her story and it echoed of thousands of mothers, thousands of fathers, brothers and sisters; the story of thousands of babies who never drew breath.

Powerful. Brave. Amazing. We watched this woman, collectively in a state of amazement.

As Kristie finished her speech and walked off stage to a ringing mountain of applause; I recognised that tiny bounce in her step, the little bit of lightness, and I remembered the heady high of it. Of being terrified, but knowing that this– this ?- is nothing compared to what you have already had to do, burying someone you loved more than yourself. The filling, warming rush that comes of being afraid and doing it anyway and then being so damn proud of yourself; the adrenalin rush that would follow for hours.

I wanted to wrap Kristie up and hug her, and I did, as soon as I got the chance. I told her she was awesome, brave, amazing– I was so damn proud of her I could have popped.

Everyone who lives any type of life finds themselves grieving someone or something, at some point. But it’s made shunted and difficult, and it’s shamed and silenced. We put time limits on it (“Shouldn’t you be over this by now?”) and we discourage people from expressing their pain, because it just makes everybody uncomfortable (“You can’t cry for him, his spirit will stay stuck here on earth if you cry”).

People who are suffering through the loss of someone they love, foot in front of foot, second by endless second… we are difficult and messy, no one knows what to say to us. And there is nothing that can be said to eases that whole–soul, all encompassing ache.

No one likes to feel helpless, to be frustrated, to be unable to change something so painful. Those in mourning, screaming out their hands to be saved by people who can’t swim. As people, generally, we see someone else’s discomfort, their inability to handle what we have to say, and we learn not to talk about grief or loss or the chasm of longing it leaves behind. We stay silent, and when people ask “Are you OK?”, we lie.

I gave this Little Miracles card to Kristie, sealed. Apt.

Except when we don’t. Except for those people who are brave enough to take that pain, open it up to the corrosive oxygen of the world, and say– here it is. This is real. This is death and life and love and living. And I know you all have your own pain too.

There are not many people brave enough to speak about grief, to face the discomfort it causes others and still be honest, still tell the story of their pain and their loss and the short life of their gorgeous baby boy. It takes guts and confidence and balls and all kinds of awesome.

And every time someone does, every time someone is brave beyond the call of what any reasonable god should expect of them to begin with, and then chooses to be stronger still by speaking out and  showing others they are not alone… Every time that happens, the silence surrounding death and the unquantified shame in grief becomes a little louder, whispers start to come from the darkness. People in pain, who feel what we feel and who need to know that someone understands, even just a little bit, to return to them some emancipation of normality.

I love people who are brave. I love people who are honest. Kristie was both of those; and strong and dignified to boot.

I once thought that there could be no beauty in grief, no cause for any measure of reflection or salvation to come from that pain. Tonight, I saw Kristie through the eyes of the audience that witnessed my pain twelve months ago. And she proved me wrong.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Hespera’s Garden (Kristie) April 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Thank you to everyone who has commented… who have been a part of this ripple…

Thank you to Lori for paving the way for me to speak my heart…

I am glad I have her in my corner.. xx


Danielle April 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

Wow. Just wow……
I've not experienced grief quite like that in my life, but at 8.5months pregnant I could put myself there and feel a tiny piece of the pain your post describes.
Such beautiful honesty, such baring of your torn heart, it is cathartic, and empowering, but it s only one of many steps in the journey of healing.
I send love and light to all who go through this terrible loss. Thanks for the reminder of how every day is so precious.


Deb @ home life simplified April 3, 2012 at 8:04 am

Amazing that reading it again through your retelling I am choked up just as i was in that Melbourne room – it was such a raw and honest speech. I was one of the people who had not heard it before so it grabbed me and had me sobbing like crazy in that room and I had to go up to Kristie and hug and thank her for sharing.


Mirne April 3, 2012 at 5:41 am

I spoke about my grief, my pain, my misery, my sadness. I spoke about all of it. But most people didn't know how to respond. They all backed off. All of them … except one. She knew the pain of grief. Her fiance died an unexpected death … she knew about grief. She knew about people's response (or lack thereof). People like her are few. Only now, 2.5 years after my youngest son's death, am I appreciating how sensitive she was with us.


Melissa April 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Wow. Just wow.


Lisa H April 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I wasn't there. But, wow! Just, wow.


Kellie April 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Lori, this such a powerful post – seeing Kristie's story through your eyes. I have tears. I think you're all pretty darn amazing. Public speaking is tough enough, but to stand up and tell your stories is beyond words.


sarah braaksma April 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

the most amazing speech I have ever heard, just awestruck by her!


Omega April 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

You've described it really well.. it was the standout moment of the day for me. So much beautiful bravery.


Melissa April 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Beautifully written, Lori. I agree with you. I'm of the belief that there is, in fact, beauty in pain. It is in the intensity of the love we feel, so big it seeps out of us. There is beauty in managing to breathe in and breathe out. There is beauty in the strength you and Kristie had, sharing your loves and your hurt. And there is beauty in the way that we find those souls that not only let us share it, but open their hearts up to be moved and inspired and love you right back. That grieve with you and for you.

There IS beauty, Lori in you. In your loss. In Kristies. Doesn't mean I wouldn't change it in a heartbeat if I could. But I refuse NOT to see that there is a type of beauty and grace to it all. Even when it's so ugly we can't bear it.


deardarl April 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm

It has taken me 4 tries and a lot of tissues to read this. ….the first time I got to the picture of the house and the tears started. ….the second time, I got to your description of Kristie's bravery. …and then you mentioned me and Greg and I had to go sob somewhere my kids couldn't hear me. So powerful for me to read those words from someone else who knows….
Grief is raw and intense and the pain cuts like a knife. …and when we share it, we open ourselves up to those who would try and "fix" us instead of just abiding with us. Just being there. But we share so that we feel less alone and so that others feel less alone when grief hits them….


Being Me April 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Exactly. You were proven wrong! That is so amazing. I remember that moment… where I stopped cutting people off who were trying to tell me how strong I was for blogging the way I have. Now I say thank you. You must. Because it is true, no matter how much you don't actually want to be strong! Hold the lantern high, Lori, as Kristie has also shown it can be done xxxx (ok, ok, and me too… ;-)


mml April 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I never thought of it this way before. When we share our stories of loss, in the midst of everyone urging us not to, we are brave. Thank you.


Super Sarah April 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I have just relived those moments when Kristie told her story….. What a beautiful post Lori, thank you for saying so eloquently what so many of us were thinking after Kristie spoke on Friday, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, listening, weeping, feeling.


Joni Llanora April 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I missed out on the conference but heard & read a lot about this moment. Your retelling is so moving, I was transported & felt I was there too. I salute your & Kristie's bravery & strength.


Miss Pink April 2, 2012 at 11:54 am

<3 this.
The longer I live this life, the more I realise that there are no set standard rules. There is always an exception, always a justification, and always a difference between person, situation and circumstance.


Jennifer A. Hall April 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

Oh Lori, this is an amazing retelling of what you experienced there. And intense depiction of what Kristie has been through. I am in awe of both.


Debyl1 April 2, 2012 at 9:14 am

What a beautiful heart wrenching post.You are so right that people put a time limit on OUR grief.When I had a miscarriage with my exciting first pregnancy over 19 years ago I was made to feel my grief was not valid.It was not a baby and therefore I was not to feel sadness for long as my pain was nothing compared to others who had lost real babies.
Even the nurse,in a room full of all other patients visitors,stood at the end of my bed and said loudly "they will be coming to take you to theatre for a clean out soon"I was made to feel guilty for my streaming tears and breaking heart.I still do as yes there are others who have lost real babies and I shouldnt feel this pain.
Thankyou for making me feel there are all kinds of grief and our grief is real and it is ok to feel it.


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