It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly six years since my son Derek died. Sometimes reminders fly at you from the most unlikely places. One such time was at a recent Poetry at the Farmhouse series.
When pet bugs die:
At the Farmhouse, poet Robert Fanning explained his son, at four, didn’t fully grasp the passing of his aunt until his ladybug friend died. The poem about that incident, from Fanning’s newest book of poems Our Sudden Museum, begins:
A Consideration of Potential Afterlives and the Ontological Interrelations of All Beings at Bedtime, or, The Ladybug Friend*
At the threshold of his bedroom, Gabriel stops
mid-skip and kneels, caught by some speck
on his floor: yesterday’s ladybug friend
who’d spun and leapt on a spear of grass
he kept in a cup bedside, now stuck stone still,
legs-up and half-crushed. At four, it’s all first
a matter of science; he leans like a mechanic
over a hood, inspecting this insect’s dead engine,
detached. But within thirty seconds, it’s instant
crime scene and trial, and I’m his prime suspect,
a slackjawed man of large feet and lumbering
who seems eerily indifferent to this leering judge
Things go from bad to worse as Fanning tries to placate his son with explanations that make him feel like “a salesman pitching glowing afterlives I haven’t even bought myself.” It’s a beautiful, touching poem that brought me to tears.
This is why:
At 2-1/2, my granddaughter knew the ladybugs that got inside the house sometimes died, although we weren’t exactly sure what she understood beyond the fact that they didn’t fly and often fell all apart. I remember one time she wanted to glue a ladybug’s wings back on so it would work again.
Shortly after her uncle Derek died (October 26, 2011) we talked with her about dead ladybugs and how they no longer flew.
Her eyes widened as if she’d just had the best idea ever, and she said about Derek, “I got a idea. How about we get some tape, and tape him arms back on and him legs and him feet, and then he be alive.”
Oh, dear, dear child. My heart broke. We explained that he was all in one piece, but he wouldn’t move or talk or be with us anymore. So then she had to go through each body part, asking us, “Do him arms move? Do him feet move?” No, we told her.
She grew quiet, as contemplative as a child of 2-1/2 years can be.
Her mother explained Derek was up in heaven now, watching over us.
A child’s view:
Fanning ends his poem:
The truth is, no one really knows where she’s gone.
For a long time we hold each other, staring at nothing.
In the end, we lift what’s left of the ladybug onto a tissue,
lay it on his nightstand. He hands me a yellow marker,
dictates the eulogy he wants written beneath her:
We love you. Please come back.
At Derek’s funeral, Lillian walked in to take a seat in the front, looked skyward, waved, and said, “I love you too.”
*You can read Fanning’s poem in full, and a few of his other parenting poems, at Stand Magazine
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
2015 Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters