On Grief and Time. And Our Elf on the Shelf.


She leaned in close to the red stuffed Elf that was hanging onto our paper towel roll.

“Tomorrow is a weird special day. It’s our brother William’s birthday. He’s two. In heaven. So you might see mommy crying or daddy crying or me and Abigail sad or something. But it’s ok. So don’t be worried about us. We just need to do that. It’s kind of weird, but it’s part of his birthday day. And a cake. We’ll make sure to have a cake. So don’t eat it ok??”

Her little sister laughed, said “Noelle” like a child actor in a scripted 90’s TV show (where did she learn that?) …

A love letter to old friends and a New city.

It was my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I was living in a tiny Brooklyn apartment with a man I loved and had only known for two years. We had gotten married on August 30th, took our friend’s beat up mini-van up the East coast for a week long honeymoon, made it back in time to pick up this friend’s band on the Lower East side by midnight, and then got dropped off to all 220 square feet of our new home.

For the first few weeks we had almost no furniture other than our mattress and a new love seat. We had purchased both by returning some wedding crystal we had received from well meaning wedding guests. The ones who pictured newlyweds going home to a house. Or at least an apartment big enough to have cabinets designated for celebration drink-wear. Our apartment had two cabinets above the counter top and two cabinets below it. The ones on the top held our cups, plates, bowls, and a few serving dishes. The bottom cabinets were designated for the mouse and ant traps. …

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The hospital social worker looked my husband and I in the eyes. Our bloodshot, tired, wet eyes.

“You had no control over his death. But you do have control over what else will die with it. Don’t let that be your marriage if you don’t want it to be.”

This was our final session together. We were preparing to be discharged from the hospital after the birth and death of our three day old son. I had clothes on for the first time in a long time that I was suddenly very aware of. Loose cotton drawstring pants worn over my hospital grade netted underwear that was worn over the dressing covering my fresh c-section scar that crossed the very bottom of my stomach. A loose cotton shirt fell over my tender middle and a cotton nursing bra held my chest underneath. …

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Should I get bangs?
Or maybe a tattoo?

I think I’m mad at my husband?
For what again?
The dirty socks on the floor?
Yes, that’s it.
The fight we had two years ago?
Oh right, that too.

I’m hungry
Or at least I think that’s what this is?
This pain in my stomach.
The one I’ve felt all day.
I’ll pop some popcorn.
I’ll open this bag of chips while I wait.

What’s that show everyone’s watching again?
The one I can’t miss.
The one I have to watch.
Is it this?
Or maybe this?
Or this? …

I know what these mothers want because I’ve been one

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Photo: fizkes/Getty Images

The other day, a friend asked me what she could do for her friend who had just lost their baby. I’ve been asked this before, so I said what I normally do: “Just be there for her” and “maybe make her a meal.”

Here’s what I really wanted to say:

Always use her baby’s name, if it was given, when you talk about them. We love to hear our children’s names being spoken out loud. With confidence. Like you believe they were really alive.

Send her a text. Every day for a little while and then every so often after that. Tell her you love her and that you’re thinking about her. And that she doesn’t need to text back. We may want to be alone sometimes, but we always want to know that we’re not. …

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Part III

Our son
his middle name
belongs to my grandfather
who gave it to my grandmother
and then on to my father
who gave it to my mother
and to me and three others

The name my grandfather carried with him
down the streets of Chicago
the one he clung to
through his father’s death
and held tight to
as his mother left

The name he introduced himself with
when he met his love
that day she opened the door
put water on the stove
and invited him in to keep warm

The name he wanted to give to her
but first
had to carry off to fight
across the ocean
on a foreign…

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Part II

Our second daughter
her middle name belongs
to her father’s grandmother

The woman who raised his mother
and three others
on the farm
just over the hill
near where the rivers meet

The woman who married a man
who kept her on her feet
as they worked side by side
to keep their land
and family
and alive

The woman who raised the cows
and took the stray dogs in
who fed the chickens
and the sow
who took great care
in her care
for all these living things

The mother who raised the goats
and made her own money
that sent her daughter to college
off to the city
to follow a…


Kathleen Dawson Clancy

Short stories and poems about motherhood, grief, and life. Follow along @kdawsonclancy on instagram.

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