Hey Jude — Billie Jean

The women of my grandmothers’ generation were iron clad. These women endured under the direst of straits and in the worst of times and emerged 70-plus years later smiling and most likely wondering what we were so upset about with our video games and our Lisa Frank notebooks and our Saturday morning cartoons.

My father’s mother, full German, was raised in Ulm and Berlin during and after WWII. She and her family were not Nazis. In fact, they were sympathizers to war victims and often gave away food and resource to help those without. Tried for treason among other things, her parents suffered substantially during the war. Post-war, well, it’s likely to assume that my Oma’s elementary school days were consumed just being thankful you had food and a roof.

My mother’s mother, full southerner, was born in Tupelo and lived throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee before settling in Mobile. I knew her as Memaw. Her name was Vonnie Lillian Opsal. She had dark, auburn hair and blue-grey eyes, plump cheeks and thin lips, and a figure for days. The plaque over her grave says she was born in 1912, but that’s a lie. She was born in 1915; I have the erased and re-scrawled documentation to prove it. No, she lied about being born in 1912 so she could marry at a scandalously ripe teen age to a guy named Curtis.

I like to envision she and Curtis were young lovers…full of innocence and stupidity, like most sweet first love. They were kids playing house and the reality of adulthood swooped in like a thunder strike. Shortly after marriage, Vonnie got pregnant. She was a married ingénue in the late 1920s, and she was pregnant. Curtis had a job with the railroad. It wasn’t much, but life was good. At least they had real love.

When he left for work in the morning, Vonnie was already in the kitchen, barefoot, swollen with child, her flush belly swaddled tightly with an apron. She and Curtis kissed. She smiled warmly as her dear husband left for work, already anticipating his return, as brides do.

He never returned. Curtis was killed in an accident at the train yard. The news he was dead was more damaging than if she’d been clubbed. The oxygen in her lungs compressed, and she couldn’t breathe. He would never come home. She was dizzy. Never would she hug or hold or kiss him again. Lights flashed. Gone forever; dead. A bright light and then nothing.

Time elapsed like a dirge and, then, it was time. The baby. She was there, at the hospital. Then came the twilight sleep, and when she awoke, “I’m sorry ma’am but your baby was born still.” No, she heard the baby cry, but years later, she swore she did. It was a girl, she was told. She never saw or held her baby girl, who she called Billie Jean, and she never believed –not fully—that the baby had died.

I grew up with a wisp of the story of Billie Jean in my ear, and it was never from my Memaw. This story descended to me through my mother. Memaw was a woman of her generation. You didn’t dwell on these losses. You didn’t let them cripple you. You sucked it up. You had…responsibilities. Except, really, she didn’t. She was on her own, bound by loss, my Memaw, at such a young age. A dead husband and a still baby. I regret that I was never able to ask her and to hear her side of this (likely) defining aspect of her life. My grandmother, Vonnie, was my favorite person, truly. The woman effervesced; she lived, and was she ever inspiring.

Her other two children, mom and Aunt Linda, came nearly 13 years after Billie Jean. Their father was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, and Vonnie went toe to toe with him like it was her job. She worked in a restaurant on Mobile’s Dauphin Street that she later purchased. It was called The Home Kitchen. Yet still later, she remarried a seaman who was often deployed. Unconventionally, not only was she a divorce, but she also never begged or groveled or needed a man. My mom’s stepdad never paid child support, and Memaw never sought it. The woman had scars as deep as gashes, but you’d never have known it. The only indication I ever got was when I was a toddler, and she persistently advised to “never let a man take advantage of you.” She was like a ship, ironclad. Made of steel. She deftly sliced through turbulent waters, and if it compromised her an iota to do so, only God would know it.

Having lost Jude, I realize that being destroyed from the inside-out doesn’t defeat you. It imbues you with resolve, a fervor to thrive and survive. I’ve been reduced to ashes on more than one occasion; though, losing Jude was and is still the most significant trauma of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I fully “get it”, but I can’t worry about if I do or don’t or if I’ll have a nervous breakdown one day. All I can do is polish my armor and be a fighter like our grandmothers were. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Of course, it does more than that. It defines us. I miss Jude with a passion every day, and lately, I’ve talked about him to many people. I still have my time that I’m cry and when I’m sad, but when I talk about him…I’m just happy. How does such a harrowing loss become a source of joy and strength? I mean it when I say that only God knows and that God is indeed mysterious in his wonderful ways

Aside:

My Memaw was a blessing to me. When I was born in 1983, “Billie Jean” was the number one song in the nation. It’s really more of an irony, but it’s sentimental to think that my departed Aunt Billie Jean was already looking down on me from heaven and that she is holding my Jude and singing in his ear, “Hey Jude….”

 

Jude,

It’s been 17 months since you left me, and you’re still so much a part of me and so real to me. I’m sad that I don’t have new pictures to share of you or to see how you’d look at Eilie’s age. She’ll be four months tomorrow. Four months. Hard to believe. She’s such a happy baby. She smiles all of the time, and boy, I bet you’d have smiled, too. Like a champ. I saw a baby at the park today. He smiled at Eilie. He had brown eyes, too. All I could think was how much he reminded me of you. You’re so loved, darling, and you’re so missed every day. I love you now as much as I loved you the day you were born. I love you forever and for always. You’re always my baby, and you’re always with me. You’re my joy, my baby boy. Keep heaven warm for me.

Love, Mommy

Hey Jude — Thinking of You

Hi, Sweetheart.

Today was four months since we first brought you into this world in a most unconventional way.  Your little life was lived in such a strange place compared to most, but I refuse to believe it was any less significant.  You’re so very special, darling.

Today at church, Father David gave us a hand-woven blanket shawl made to comfort us when we are lonely for you.  We decided to get a paver stone for the church in memory of you, too.  I hope others will see it and wonder about the life of Jude Delcambre.  I often do.

Today, Lillianne pointed to a photo of you and your daddy that sits on our bookshelf, and she said Jude.  Your sister is so smart and special, darling.  It amazes me how delightful she is, and it hurts my heart so much to think of how special you and she would have been together.  Mommy doesn’t blame God nor is mommy upset with God, but mommy can’t help but wonder why….especially while she sees everyone else having babies and babies close in age and such.  That’s not to say Mommy isn’t happy for the other babies and families; it’s just to say that mommy feels sad because she misses you so very, very much.

I can’t help but think hard of you sometimes, Jude.  When I say hard, I mean that I think of you in the kind of way that makes me feel like I’m being vacuumed into a pit.  The depths of my pain and despair and loss of you are boundless.  I want to scream and cry and write and run and paint and hurt and float away for the misery that wells within.  There’s a depth of suffering that I know that I don’t know how I contain other than the hours in the day in which to feel and to have steam expire and I simply fall asleep on principle.  If It weren’t for that, I think I could go crazy for pain.

Of course, because i love you, and I know you want and deserve a well mommy, I don’t, and i won’t go crazy.  I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep hoping.  I’ll keep being good to daddy, and I’ll keep being good to Lillianne.  I’ll hold you in my heart.  I hope that we will have more siblings to know about you and to be impacted by you, sweetie.  I want you to know how special you are.  Even though I can’t hug you with my arms, I hug you every day in my heart, and you know it’s a big, tight squeeze.  I wish I could hug you with my arms and kiss you and feel your warmth and your smile beneath my cheek.  I wish I could hear your giggle.  I can’t even imagine it, but I imagine you love me as much as I love you.

Every time I see a red bird, I say your name, Jude; I say it out loud. Our neighbor told me that red birds were our loved ones coming from heaven to check on us.  I like to think that’s so, and if so, thank you for coming so often.  My baby boy, I need you, and I miss you, so thank you for the birds.  Thank you for the sun and the wind.  Thank you for being you, exactly as you are.  Wait for mommy and daddy in Heaven.  I love you and miss you.  Happy four month birthday, darling.  You’re my little world.

Hey Jude — “The Little Things: A Mother’s Rambling Thoughts”

(Written 1.21.2015)

It’s the little things that seem to get to me.

 

I’m a little more than thrown by the fact that it’s almost been a month since we lost you. We haven’t even passed your birthday yet. I’m confused by how I feel. I don’t cry as much as I would like. I miss you, and I know I miss you because things are different. The silly little things that I was excited about before I had you –like, being able to have a glass of wine or getting back into shape, don’t matter at all to me anymore. I would never exercise or have another glass a wine again if it meant having you with me, sweetheart.

 

It’s funny –in a way that’s not funny at all—how the things that I thought were exciting and important for after I had you don’t matter now that I’ve lost you. When I think of your little angel face and your soft skin (still covered in little peach fuzz to keep you warm) all I can think of how nothing else matters.

 

I know you’re watching over us from heaven, and I know you see Lillianne grow and say new words every day. I remember when Lillianne was a baby, your Auntie KK said she wondered what Lillianne’s voice was going to sound like. I know you can see my heart and that you know it’s the most wonderful sound in the world to me. Mommy wonders often what your little voice would have sounded like. What words would you have said first? What would be your favorite words? Would you love Elmo, too? Would you have toddled after your big sister? Would you have cried when she cried like when the baby who would’ve been your friend, Cate, cries when her sister, Sophia cries. My angel boy. You would have been so sweet; I just know it.

 

I miss you so much my little angel heart. I think about your Uncle Adam a lot, too. You and Lillianne would have been the same age apart as Uncle Adam and Mommy are. I think about Uncle Adam when he was five and in kindergarten. I can remember his little cheeks and pointy chin; his shining eyes and hopeful expression. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings; he cared about everyone. I wonder if you, too, would have been as kindhearted as Uncle Adam. In the thoughts I have about you, I believe you would have been.

 

I’m sure you are thinking that I’m making a mistake in thinking of only how perfect you are and would have been. I promise I’m not so silly as to assume that you, too, wouldn’t jump on the furniture like your sister or wouldn’t throw your food when you were tired of it. I know those things would have made me tired. I wonder if I would have had less patience with those things had things been different.

 

I’ll never know, will I? I know that losing you made me realize how silly getting tired or stressed or frustrated over little things – a messy kitchen or unfolded laundry or having to get up 10 times a minute to keep your sister off of the furniture—truly is.

There’s no hyperbole for what I would or wouldn’t do to be able to have a few moments with you. Knowing the life I’ll have to wait a lifetime to meet (you, my son), I don’t feel like I can be bothered being upset over anything. I realize –and it scares me so much—that there are no guarantees for anything. I am not guaranteed to have your sister forever…or your father. I’m not guaranteed that you’ll have any younger siblings that you can watch over from heaven. Darling Jude. I don’t know if I did or how much I did take it for granted before, but losing you has exponentially impacted my desire to not take any of life’s moments or the people I love most for granted. Life is too short.

 

It’s ironic, in a way, that it’s the little things that matter least and the little things that matter most. Or maybe I’m saying that wrong. I just know that small things have become even smaller. Things that seemed like they mattered have no relevance at all. Little moments like reading a bedtime story to Lillianne or watching her dance around with her guitar dog toy thing rather than tidying up matter so much more than they used to. I always recognized that those moments were fleeting and enjoyed them, but I could have enjoyed more of them, and I could have enjoyed them better.

 

If living in regret weren’t such a frivolous undertaking, I would feel ashamed for how much I looked forward to your sister falling asleep when she was an infant, so I could have some personal time. I know you know that I enjoyed my time with her and that I loved her and held her and took care of her, but I know you also now know how I looked forward to her falling asleep, so I could have personal time.

 

Oh Jude. The perspective I gained is immense, but the cost is even more so. It breaks Mommy’s heart that I didn’t have the ability on my own merits to become a smarter, better, and wiser person without losing you. I promise I would have been a good mommy to you if you could have stayed. I would have loved you more and more everyday, just like I did when you lived inside of me and just like I do now. You’re my “son” shine, sweet boy. Thank you for the light and for helping me see the difference between the small things and the little things. I love you, Jude David Delcambre.