We sold our house last week.
There was nothing particularly earth-shattering about it. Houses are bought and sold every day, and we hadn’t lived in the house for several years. When we moved to the suburbs a few years ago, we chose to rent it out instead of dealing with the tumultuous post-bubble real estate market, and so for the past six years, various groups of twenty-somethings have called our house home.
Although we had great tenants over the years, for the most part, I was thrilled to call it quits with my role as landlord. And yet part of me—a loud and unshakable part of me—was unsettled and sad. Part of me was tempted to make the two-hour, round-trip drive into the city to say goodbye—not to the house, but to the patch of dirt in front of it.
Nearly seven years ago, we planted a tall hibiscus in the middle of that small mound of soil. Desperate for a little color around the house, we splurged on hundreds of dollars’ worth of gardening tools and plants. We filled huge planters with yellow, orange and red flowers that we couldn’t name and set them on both sides of our front door. We planted tomatoes along the side of the house. And we surrounded a tall hibiscus with countless multi-hued impatiens. If a flower was colorful, it went into our cart and eventually into the ground.
Just sprucing things up a bit, we said. But we both knew what we were doing. We were mourning.
A week earlier, we had stared at the quiet ultrasound machine, silent but for the static swirl. There was no thrum-thrum-thrum-thrum, no tiny heartbeat that sounds like a thousand stampeding horses. Only the static and the ultrasound tech’s steady breath. Appointments were scheduled, and a few days later I walked into the hospital carrying a dead fetus and walked out missing a little piece of my soul.
As my husband gardened under the hot afternoon sun, I stood back and watched, willing my sorrow and sadness to be buried along with the roots. And without any intention or acknowledgement, the planting and the pruning became a sort of funeral, the hibiscus a headstone.
With the soil packed down tight, I thought we could just move on. But the months that followed were some of the darkest of my life. With the economy tanking, Matt became consumed with job stress. I fell into a cycle of despair and anger, alternating between rage at just about everyone and everything and an emptiness the depths of which I had never before experienced. And I settled into a holding pattern that revolved around fertility treatments, cycles and single lines on pregnancy tests. Yet every time I passed that hibiscus plant, a raw and ragged peace washed over me, if only for a moment.
A year later, we moved and the plant died. In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t have survived even if we had stayed. The soil was rocky and infertile, the spot lacked sufficient sunlight, and my gardening skills are sub-par, to say the least.
There are so many things to remember about that house. Bringing my oldest son home from the hospital on a cold October morning. Saturday night dinner parties in our tiny kitchen. Dancing in the cramped living room. Bedrooms that were too hot in the summer, a basement that was too cold in the winter. Playdates with new friends when at least one of us would end up in tears, consumed with the fear and doubt and exhaustion that come with first-time motherhood. But of all the things that I remember about that house on Nelson Street, of all the happy and sad memories, that flower—and the wood chips that took its place—is the one that stands out the most, the thing that still carries a visceral and illogical mixture of emotions.
The plant may have been a memorial to our pain and grief, but over time, it came to symbolize our strength and resilience. Despite our pain, or maybe because of it, Matt and I grew infinitely closer as a couple during that time. And out of the compost of that flower grew a love and appreciation unlike anything I had ever felt before. Out of those roots grew an unshakable hope and an inexplicable faith.
A few years ago, when doing a little clean-up work around the property, I noticed that a semicircle of bricks still surrounded the place where the flower once was. I stopped in front of the place where the plant had once grown, whispered goodbye to our sweet angel and said a prayer of thanks for our younger son, who was born a couple of years after this dark time. I didn’t linger, but I did pause. I remembered, acknowledged and then walked away. I moved on.
And yet, all these years later, as I awaited confirmation from our lawyer that the sale had closed, the only thing I could think about was that hibiscus plant, the bricks surrounding it, the sorrow buried in the dirt and the hope that sprouted out of it. Nothing about this reaction made sense to me. I rarely think about the miscarriage—or that flower—anymore, so why was I so shaken? Why was I so conflicted? Why did I feel a little like I was mourning all over again? And why was I sad to say goodbye to something that represented such a dark time in our lives?
Nothing about the way I felt was logical. Truthfully, my grief didn’t seem logical back then either. Society tells us that miscarriages aren’t something to grieve; we don’t talk about them, mourn them, or honor them—at least not in the same way we do other losses. It wasn’t meant to be, well-intentioned people tell us. It wasn’t a healthy fetus, the doctors explain. It will happen when the time is right, the optimists say.
Despite all the logical and scientific reasons for a miscarriage, however, I felt an unidentifiable, inexplicable and almost illogical feeling of profound loss at the time, regardless of any rational silver lining that was put on it. I suppose any raw personal truth—love, grief, hope, mercy, faith, fear, forgiveness—is glittered with a mysterious and almost irrational sheen. That’s what makes the human condition so magical and beautiful and hard to understand sometimes.
We leave pieces of ourselves all over the world, and my grief is in the dirt in front of that house on Nelson Street. But as I left pieces of myself here and there, I have also carried things with me. And, from that patch of dirt on Nelson Street, I carried hope, gratitude, resilience and courage.
Maybe it isn’t so much about what we leave behind, but what we carry with us that matters.
Goodbye, house on Nelson Street. Goodbye, flower that once was and patch of dirt that is now. Goodbye.
But, sweet angel, I will always carry you with me.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.
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