We buried Halia wrapped in the blanket my sister had knit for her on Thursday, three days after her birth. At first, I thought I wanted her buried at my parents' farm. I pictured her rejoining the earth under a beautiful tree, as simple as could be, but we learned that it's very complicated to make a family burial ground. Instead we opted for our synagogue cemetery, where I had never been. The rabbi assured me that it was beautiful, and she and our synagogue administrator went there to find the most appropriate plot. They found one other baby buried in a corner of the cemetery: Baby Golden, 1971. Halia would join Baby Golden after all these years to form a baby section.
It was a hot day. I wore the dress I had bought in a hurry for Nana's funeral 7 years earlier and a pink stone necklace. We asked a small group of people to be there with us. My sister and her now-husband traveled to be with us too, and they took care of getting G to the service from the day camp he was attending. He didn't want to come but the advice I had received was that it would be best for him to be there. He and I shared a long hug graveside, but otherwise I was so grateful to let others care for him on that day.
I'll never forget arriving at the cemetery, seeing the cars parked along the line of trees, walking slowly out to the far corner where the little white coffin was waiting for us. The coffin was so small but it was so, so much bigger than our tiny girl. As I walked, I thought, this can't be real. I can't be walking to bury my child. I have long since feared this kind of moment, but even in my nightmares, I didn't imagine such a tiny coffin.
It was a beautiful service. Rabbi Elyse had found just the right words. We sang songs and James, my mother, and I all gave eulogies. Frankly, I don't remember it too well. Did my dad speak too? I was just so numb, so shocked, so filled with utter disbelief.
Here's what I said that day, in a clear strong voice:
In our family, we have a tradition of giving a fetal name. We suggested to G that he might like to choose the name, and he promptly selected Eagle or in Latin haliaeetus leucocephalus, Halia Leuco for short.
As it turned out Eagle never made it beyond the fetal stage, and we learned she was a girl shortly after her stillbirth. When it was first suggested to us that we might give her a name, Halia immediately came to mind, as we had always thought of that as the more feminine-sounding part of the Latin name.
After returning from the hospital, I looked up Halia in a baby name book, and learned that it is a Hawaiian name meaning “In loving memory.”
Halia was and is a hope, dearly held, unfilled perhaps but embodied fully by her definite presence within me for 21 weeks.
I know from G that there were certain aspects of his temperament that were apparent to me when he was still a fetus. Over these last few days, I’ve been reflecting on what I learned about who Halia was from the short time I had with her. I think that she had a certain gentleness about her. Several times I was surprised to find myself ready to express strong feelings through art or music or movement, only to have them come out in much gentler ways than I anticipated.
Over the last few weeks, I had also started to give Eagle a nickname of Thumper because she would thump inside me, many little kicks. G tended to have more definite kicks, but Halia was a thumper, gently thumping away with a quiet rhythm.
Her Hebrew name, Nashira Tikvah, also means Eagle Hope. The Hebrew word for Eagle is Naysher, and in its feminine version, Nashira, also means “Let us Sing.”
Shortly after her birth, before the dawn of the summer solstice, I sat quietly for a half an hour just listening to the chorus of birds singing. I felt enveloped by great wings of song, in that gentle growing light. The blessing of Nashira Tikvah.
And here is what James said:
I stood a week ago
after sleepless night
at the welcoming gulf
first time at the ocean since receiving this blessing
an encircling ring
expanding its enclosure for your growing blessing
momentarily keeping me from the waters
deep anxiety, surfacing fears
for my loved ones, the difficult pregnancy, the unstable shifting sands, of the ring slipping, carried away
yet, my strong yearning brought me
to wade, swim, melt in the rolling warmth
gold spinning in turquoise delight
preparing me for a more solid return
to face, the further unexpected
beauty, loss, purpose that you have brought
in my commitment and love
to your mother and brother,
my deepening role in our household, for G, as parent
as a loving husband
your hidden presence stirring us in many ways
toward awkward self-sufficiency growing in G
creating stronger family bonds for us all
the need for care of self
what remains too is the unfilled desire
to have seen you alive, in this world, safe and healthy
my joy and delight that I was imagining that would come from a little girl
to know you longer, in your gentleness
and so I have come here,
holding these loving thoughts, to thank you for these gifts
full in my curiosity to receive what you have to offer next
And then, the service was over, and it was time for us to bury her. Both James and I felt strongly about this part of the service. As painful as it was, we wanted to shovel the dirt. We each took our turn, as did everyone there, and then James finished the job. Every last shovel full. I watched him, grateful for his strength and his determination to take care of his child, heart swelling with love and grief.
I was surprised to find that I made this collage on the day of the burial. I don't remember anything about what I was thinking as I made it, but I have come to think of it as a depiction of James and me together having to let our Halia go to a place out of sight, beyond our reach. What comforts me about this collage is that Halia looks big and strong and capable. She is ethereal yet fully formed. And I also find comfort that I am not alone but with her other parent, together in this difficult journey.
Day 25 of 31, 21 Cheshvan 5774