About the Author

Jean Baird

Books by this Author
The Heart Does Break

The Heart Does Break

Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning
also available: Paperback
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By George Bowering
Winter is come and gone,
but grief returns with the evolving year.
—P.B. Shelley, Adonais
Every year, as September gives way to October, my wife, Jean Baird, feels a bleakness that comes with deep loss. She wanders a little, tears in her eyes that make it impossible to handle sewing needle or keyboard. She sometimes gives way to sobbing when she needs to be alone, and she has to have someone with her as autumn makes its way.
On the morning of October 3, 2006, we were wakened by the bedroom telephone in our home in Vancouver. The dread that one often feels at such a moment multiplied as I saw the emptiness in my loved one's face. I knew what it was about. Jean was shaking, sitting up in bed, the telephone in her shaking hand. She said, "It is just not getting through to my brain," and I knew for sure. I held her, feeling necessary and useless. We humans are forced to hear the worst things possible.
Jean's daughter, Bronwyn, twenty-three years old, was dead in a car crash in southern Ontario. Her aunt Jane, Jean's best friend, had to identify her niece from a photograph the police had shown her, and then telephone Jean.
That day we were all insane. While I hurried to the travel agent to buy plane tickets, Bronwyn's brother, Sebastian, went to school and Jean spent more time on the telephone. Then, while I went to the high school to bring Sebastian home, Jean cleaned up the kitchen and read her email. We were all crazy.
Jean was just too ordinary. I waited for her to scream or fall on the floor. Sebastian at least put his fist through a wall. "I don't know what I should do," Jean kept saying. I thought about Middle Eastern women who are photographed wailing and clutching at air when a family member gets killed. Over the next few days Jean said such calm things as how fortunate it had been that it was not a two-car accident. A few times she disagreed with the sentiment that the loss of a child is the worst possible bereavement. She had encountered people in lifetime comas following brain injuries, other people reduced to immobility. But how could she imagine that anything was worse than this? I thought that she must be in that famous denial, but I worried; I loved her so. I'd thought that crazy meant berserk. But now I know that the serene Mary in Michelangelo's famous Pietà is completely mad.
But over the following year Jean had to have the sanest head and strongest heart in the world to survive the idiotic things that people said to her in the way of commiseration. You have another child? Oh, good. Then it isn't so bad. You must be very happy to know that Bronwyn is with Jesus in Heaven. Time will heal your pain. You should start living your normal life again. I know exactly how you feel. When a new soul comes into the world, it has already chosen a day for leaving it; you have to accept her decision.
Some of these wise thoughts and others just as sapient came from family members.
I sometimes feel that I should describe the terrible treatment of this woman by people who should have been trying to help her. But I want to respect her privacy, and give her a refuge in a time when solace is not possible. I also remember that she was treated well by her long-time friends in Port Colborne, Ontario, and by the young people who were Bronwyn's good friends. These young folks allowed her to give to them, a true exchange, because their loving mournfulness sustained her for that first week in a world that threatened to be empty. It was Thanksgiving week, and meaningfully so as friends her own age gave her food and a place to sleep and a car for her husband to drive about the Niagara region. You may imagine how precious those things were that week.
When the strange ordinariness was over and Jean did manage to break down, her best friends just let her. Just let her. They did not cajole or demand, as the thoughtless will, that she "pull herself together." Sebastian needed time with his and his sister's old Port Colborne friends, and we did not have to know what he was doing day and night, only to hear his voice on his cellphone from time to time.
And sure enough, as a year passed, and then a second year, the bereft mother did not "get over it." Sometimes the horror came unexpectedly, and Jean needed some time to suffer, and maybe a hand to hold. When the earth finished an orbit, and October 3 was approaching, Jean felt the sorrow and lonesomeness and compassion for her daughter almost overcoming her. The time of year does that to you. It is not a year later; it is that day again. Grief returns with the evolving year, indeed.

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