In her sixth month, she started singing in her sleep. At first, it was a gentle rise and fall, just a simple humming. Gradually, over the weeks, it became a melody, soft and sweet, a soothing and comforting lullaby.
Sometimes, the singing woke her up, and the notes would disappear like morning mist, leaving her feeling vaguely empty.
In the still moments before sunrise, her husband would hear the singing while he drank his morning coffee, and he would wonder about the strange, lilting music.
Finally, the morning came when she sang in her sleep for the last time. By nightfall, she was writhing in fiery pain as the child sought deliverance from her swollen body. There was no singing, just anguished cries to God for strength and relief.
The hours became the second day, and then the baby was pulled from her exhausted body, both of them bloodied. But the baby did not breathe. He was quickly wrapped and taken away; she was left cold and bewildered.
She spent several days in a grief-induced haze, succumbing to the mind-numbing drugs they had given her in an attempt to heal her body. But she could still feel the pain in her heart, throbs of sorrow pulsing through her veins. Why did she still breathe?
On a midsummer day, she let herself be led to a grassy hillside, a raw gouge marring the earth, turned-up soil smelling damp in the heat. Deer flies gnawed at her legs, but she didn’t feel their stinging. The sun’s rays bore down on her back, but she was oblivious to their warmth. Instead, a chill was wrapping itself around her heart; she felt nothing but its icy talons.
There was no pastor, only an elderly deacon and a handful of ladies. A few words were spoken, and a hymn was weakly sung, its feeble notes whisked away by the breeze rustling in the nearby trees.
She was mesmerized by the little coffin. She tried to imagine the tiny boy within, dressed in a used christening gown and swaddled in a white blanket from Woolworth’s. She had not seen the baby, rushed away as he had been, and then she’d been encouraged not to see him at all. She tried not to think of his certain perfection.
As the ladies left, a few of them laid confident hands on her arm, encouraging her to repent of whatever had caused God to glance her way with such malevolence. She kept her eyes cast to the ground, receiving their accusations, guilt washing over her again and again.
When she went home, she shut the door of the nursery and sealed up her heart. The regret of not seeing the baby hardened her; she hadn’t even insisted on holding his lifeless body, a simple motherly act. She took small comfort in having sung lullabies to him in her sleep.
The years flowed and ebbed. Three babies came, babies that smiled and grew. They were her joy, but she guarded her love for them carefully, not to love too much or too little. Eventually, she stopped going to the cemetery, stopped taking flowers, and stopped thinking about the little headstone that bore an engraving of a little lamb. She never sang in her sleep again, and the songs she sang while awake were empty words.
Finally, there came a day when someone chose to look past her dead eyes and into her barren heart, where the rhythm of the secret singing still faintly pulsed. The faithful friend walked with her and held her, and gradually, the frozen hardness began to relinquish its hold on her spirit.
The same midsummer day came, and again, she let herself be led by the friend to the grassy hillside. The glaze of the headstone had been worn away by the snows of twenty-five winters, but the lamb remained. A ring of daisies grew around the stone, their yellow centers facing the sun.
She traced her son’s name and, with a sense of awe, felt hot tears burning down her cheeks. The pent-up mourning was released, pouring from her in a litany of anguish, a chorus of sorrow.
Then, the sound of singing came, with an otherworldly harmony.
Sing for me once more...
The angels sing and rejoice...
And she sang her acceptance with the final ‘Alleluia’...
Note: Italicized words from “The Funeral Liturgy.” The Book of Alternative Services of The Anglican Church of Canada. Toronto: Anglican Book Center, 1985.
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