Friday, February 24, 2012

Lucy, Forever In the Sky With Diamonds

I was sitting in church watching my friend and her family, knowing that they were visiting briefly, and still mourning the death of their 22 yr.-old son who'd died the year before. Every old friend they hugged must have made the grief unbearable. We cried and I told her I had an idea for a poem about a shooting star because that's who Devin was to everyone. I have miscarried once and that grief was impossible. But having never lost a child I'd given birth to, I did my best with this poem to express what must be unfathomable pain. Today I dedicate this poem and post to Lucy Lenore Johnson, an ancestor of my husband, and her parents Uphard and Elizabeth, who may have welcomed Devin home.  
When I was young and full of hope, and dreamed how things would be,
Of how you'd brighten up my life, and how much you'd mean to me,
I thought of times still future bound, filling holes I never knew
Existed in this mother's heart, until I witnessed you.

Then I looked up. And much to my surprise I was aglow!
And I believed no one in the world would ever know,
The feelings of one tender heart, stretched to let in blazing light,
Changed forever in one cloudless, starry night.

          Then you were here so suddenly, I'd hardly time to breathe,
To take in all your beauty, all the mystery you'd leave.
But now you're gone, the light grows dim.
Alone I'm left to feel... your presence in my memory
Though far away so real.
Oh, I never knew the emptiness that you would leave for me
Would never leave again, or how hard life now would be.
To live and breathe without you, knowing you're no longer here,
But brightening anothers sky in some far distant sphere.

But I'll look up,
Remembering you crossed my life one night.
And I will wish
For strength to make it through another night.
I'll wish upon five million stars
That you could stay with me,
Knowing that's a wish that for now cannot be.

You are my shooting star for now, although that's hard to bear.
I'll hold onto what I have of you, and with each breath I'll dare
To risk to live another day with a leaking, rusty heart,
Holding everything together while it's falling all apart.
I'll hope a little longer that the day won't last too long.
Because the nighttime waits for me. I've known it all along.
Each tear I shed makes clearer stars that quietly appear.
Your name I'll whisper once again with hope that you are near.

And I'll look up, to trails of glory left as you were passing through.
And I'll believe
In future worlds where all the shooting stars I knew
Will someday stay
And seeing me will start
Passing to me pieces of my broken heart.
Betsy Cross

Does everyone matter to you no matter their age? Seems like an innocent, straightforward question. No? 

This afternoon I looked at the next in line of Uphard and Elizabeth Johnson's nine children when I was completely surprised by two thoughts.

I saw the birth and death dates of Lucy Lenore Johnson, child number eight. There were no records of her life other than those that documented those two universally shared human events. She was born in September of 1860, and died 16 months later. I was shocked that I wanted to skip writing her story.

But I looked at her name for a second time and was bombarded by the chills that warm you from head to toe along with every hair on your body at the same time. And for hours those sensations stayed with me as I concentrated on Lucy.

Lucy matters. Her story matters. The experience I had with her today compels me to tell it.

Her brothers and sister, ages 3 to 19, and her two parents spent time with her, held her, watched her roll over for the first time, and tried to cajole contagious belly laughs out of her. 

Did they laugh as she threw food at them and bathed herself in it before Mom caught on? Was it fun watching her navigate her way up the stairs and tumble back down landing in a heap of pillows? How many times did her chubby fingers grasp one of theirs when she was learning to walk? How many baths and diaper changes did they share?

For almost a year and an half her parents rocked her, walked her, burped and soothed her, never assuming there was a reason not to have another day with her.

Every day her curiosity and joys would reawaken them to a world they'd gotten used to. The swooping and chirping of birds, barking of neighborhood dogs, wind, rain, snow, thunder and lightening, and grass between toes and teeth would all be experienced for the first time through the eyes of their little girl. 

How many cheers were there over milestones like the Army crawl, the first tooth, or the moment she let go of nearby security and stepped precariously on her own for the first time? 

And who would ever forget the slow rise and fall of her chest as she slept angelically with clenched fists resting under layers of chin and rosy cheeks? And those legs? Could they be any fatter? What kind of hilarity did they enjoy trying to dress her as she flipped and squirmed to be free?

But one day she was gone and all they would have were memories.

Why come for so short a stay they must have wondered? A few of them were hit harder than the others because they'd already said goodbye to Edward who had died ten years earlier when he was four. Why another one taken so young?

What could Lucy, barely talking or walking, give to anyone during her brief stay here besides joy? Anything? Is that enough?

I heard and felt the answers to those questions as I asked them. 

While I washed dishes contemplating Lucy, turning periodically to watch my children wrestle, cry, rest, and recoup in the living room behind me I understood better as Lucy's presence seem to radiate through me.

Her gift was to come and to leave suddenly, leaving people to ask those questions and answer them for themselves. Her life was filled to overflowing with meaning and purpose. Bright, pure, innocent, unscathed, and submissive to the flow of Life, willing to be the cord that would bind the dead to the living, her need and desire fulfilled being assigned the blessing of being the messenger. Her life was never in need of time to become more. She came and left embodied in perfection and love.

Some would dig deep and receive her gift. But not everyone. They would struggle to overcome the sadness that took her place at the table. But hope would always be extended as an option.., long as they could be reminded to look back, look up, to remember, and to believe.

I am grateful to Lucy Lenore Johnson who waited 150 years to be thought about by me and to have her name spoken aloud again. To know that she came to give a gift to more than those who lived with her and enjoyed her way back then is something I am sure of now. 

Her present to me today was to let go of the future grief that I will inevitably feel as I say goodbye to those I love or the life I have personally lived, and to know that I mattered. 

How I mattered will depend on who you talk to. But that I was enough, even if I'd lived just a single day, is a miracle and a comfort that I understand for myself now.

Thanks to some time with Lucy.


  1. I wonder sometimes. I wonder if you can get stuck in a moment. Between this life and past lives - if there was such a thing as past lives. A moment where you cannot go forward because you had too much to lose or you had too little to make it worthwhile. I wonder for a moment and then light another cigarette.

    1. That makes me think of a child learning to walk. Some are so brave and risk everything for the thrill of freedom and the promise of having what they see in front of them.
      Others will wait and watch for months as they develop other skills before they'll finally let go. Maybe some are wired to want perfection, to avoid the pain of failure, while the rest forge forward because boredom is not an option.
      Me? When presented an opportunity to grow and I hesitate, that energy hovers like a burdensome cloud following me around like the smoke from a cigarette, obscuring my view, dulling my capacity to breath in the fresh air of the future. But I don't mind falling down a lot!

  2. Betsy, what a beautiful poem!

    Yes, everyone matters. No matter what their age you have those memories and I know that's what gets you through their being gone.

    My Dad died a year ago tomorrow and I have many, many memories. My husband died suddenly at a young age after we were together only 13 years, but there are the memories for me and my girls.

    I think it's the quality of how you spend your time with those you love over the amount of time you have with them that makes all the difference. When all is said and done that's what great memories are made from.

    I'm going to pint your poem for my Mom. I know she'll love it too!



  3. Jane,
    I'll be thinking about you tomorrow Jane. Thanks for enjoying and sharing the poem. I hope your mom likes it. The things we learn about each other as we share our stories amazes me. I didn't know you'd been married before for 13 years (I think that's a long time!). You have such a sweet and fun-loving spirit that makes everyone happy to be around you. I'm so glad that we met, and that you've been able to keep the goodness and joy of life burning brightly!

  4. What a great poem.

    While all life is precious; do you think the grieving was any different back in the 1800's where life could be much harder and you usually had larger families. It was almost like every man for himself and if you got sick and died young it was just a way of life.

    Way to bring some life to this young child however; interesting thought process.

  5. Bill,
    I've read personal stories that have humbled me about the universal nature of grief. At first, before reading from journals, or stories that included excepts from journals, I thought that the grief experienced during extreme hardships, or during mass mourning somehow diminished or lessened the pain..because "everyone" was going through the same thing, or life was just overwhelming as it was anyways.
    I was changed when I listened to the firsthand accounts and how it was never easy, and never got easier. That's a comfort to me in a way. Some may become numbed by grief, which is one response, but the depth of suffering and pain appears to be constant no matter the era or the circumstances.
    Thanks for making me think this one through.

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  7. Beautiful! The Lord does His best work in the midst of love.
    The addition of a child to a family leaves an eternal mark on our hearts. Enjoyed reading your observations, poem and exposition all echoing the journey of life here. Most of all, the post touched our souls as it touched yours and theirs connecting us to the source of Life. Beautiful!
    Thank God for the Spirit's beauty and Grace in all our lives. Thank you for the read Betsy. He does make all things work together for our good. Even through the death, grief and suffering, everything that is good and of love never fades or fails.
    Quite a wonderful touch to celebrate her life. The purpose and meaning of Lucy's and Devin's lives are still a tribute to His Mercy and love in the face of our very real human fragility.
    Your humility is deeply conveyed to the reader and the emotion expressed reads loudly. Honoring the memories and lives of those gone is a passion of mine too. All those experiences helped shape our lives and the world today. As a mom, our children's lives are permanently intertwined with ours.
    Praying for healing for your church family's loss. Your response of compassion I pray helps. God bless.
    My mom lost her brother in his twenties. They were very close and she talks of him often. The memories don't fade and their lives always impact ours.
    Well written piece.

  8. Donna,

    So happy to have met you! We are going to have fun in the family history center when you can get there! My favorite hangout with friends!! As you could tell it's pretty cozy and is a natural people magnet, Tough to stay focused sometimes, and as you could see, time passes way too quickly. Glad you and I share the same passion! You get it! It's going to be fun getting to know you and your "dead", too! LOL!


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