Friday, September 10, 2010

"For My Sister" by Jean Marie Gelso

               A picture of a butterfly, simple and sad.

You could hear her sobs from down the hall. Loud and wailing, like an infant just out of the womb. Tears wet her face and it shined under glaring lights. She grasped whoever came next to her, weeping, fingers so tight they turned white. He never let go of her hand. Words and names tumbled out of her mouth. However muffled by her cries, their meaning reverberated out of the room, down the hall, throughout the building, soaking every soul.

             All in a piece of paper. Lavender and black, held up by masking tape.

He sat on the end of the bed by her feet. His gaze moved away from her eyes and traced down the lines and curves of her body. They passed her straining neck and milk-filled breasts, landing on her swollen stomach. His chin wrinkled as his shaking hand touched her, first lightly, but with growing intensity. His two vast hands glazed and traveled over what was lost. He toppled, bent himself down overtop of her and cried. He clutched her and wept. Their cries blended and harmonized, feeling the weight of their loss, mourning what now would never be.

             It had been cut out by a nurse with ordinary orange-handled scissors. She had cut twenty more that day.

"I'm a corpse house," she said. "I'm a corpse house." She was filled with and overcome by death. Questions of why and how plagued them, and could never be answered. "This was not what I wanted. This was not what I expected."

             Outside of the room he stared at the butterfly, outlined its wings with his fingers. His shaking touch yearned for whom he had wanted to cradle so badly.

She shook and couldn't think. The pain flowed through her body and out each limb, heavy and inevitable. He grasped her hand as she gave birth to death. There was no sound when it was over. They calmed. They embraced death. Looked at it. Loved her. Held her head in their hands and touched her tiny nose and chin. This was a death they already had a name for. This death was so much more.

             They were strong. Took the picture down from the door and walked out together, empty. Later they laid the butterfly down next to a wilting rose in a soft and expectant bed.

They dressed her in a knit ivory hat and a yellow cotton dress. They laid her down in a small white treasure chest and left a picture of them to keep with her forever. They lowered her into the ground with their own hands. They surrounded her with peach flowers. They do not say goodbye. They see her everywhere: In calendars, kitchen magnets, flowers, the empty nursery, the mirror.




(This prose poem was written by my sister, in memory of Sophie.  Marie, I love you with my whole heart.  And, after rereading this, my cheeks are rough with salt. It is hard to imagine that anyone could better capture what it must have been like to be at that hospital, waiting while I labored.  It hurts to read, because it is so honest, and it makes me feel vulnerable in a different way.  But it also brings the memories back in a way nothing else does.  It means the world to me.  I love you starey sista.)


  1. Oh my gosh... it's amazing.

    I'm the "Marie" in my sister's story and I am crying hard after reading this.

    There are but a few rare times that I have seen my husband cry. He was a pallbearer at my nephews funeral and after laying Logan in his final resting spot... my husband cried, like I have never seen before. I have never seen since.

    My gosh, thank you for sharing this.

  2. Ouch, such a deep wound to read about, I can only imagine what it feels like to actually experience. My love to you

  3. Rumour, thank you. Yes, it is amazing thing for me to have. And the details are all true, and things that I could have forgotten, if not for her. I know from my own sister and Bill's sisters that being the "Marie" is as hard as anything. I am sorry. I am sure Logan is loved tremendously and that your sister knows that. Love to you all.

    Lora, I'm glad you're here. I don't know what I'm doing. :o) And, thank you. My sister is an amazing person to put that day in words in a way I've tried and failed to do hundreds of time.

  4. "An" amazing thing. Pardon me.

  5. Marie, I have so many words. But they are a jumble in my head and look silly on the page. What a powerful thing to write, let alone share. So powerful that it moved me to physical pain. Sisters are one of the worlds best gifts; and the Gelso sisters are pretty amazing.