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Monday, January 18, 2010

Knitting and crocheting for my many pregnant friends has been a real joy for me. I've scrolled through dozens of patterns before picking just the right one, then slowed myself down while stitching them up, consciously reflecting on my friendships and hopes for the future as the project grows larger and larger.

I've happily finished each off, adding a "handknit with love by carrie" label and bouncing over to the UPS Store to mail them off. I imagined the parents opening the packages and the little one cuddling up in the garment. All the blankets and cardigans have filled me with optimism and joy.

All but one.

I met my friend Jen G. on the first day of seventh grade. She sat in front of me in Mrs. Pripstein's earth science class, a stick of a girl in a matching denim shirt and skirt with crazy blond curls. She'd just transferred from parochial school, and I recognized her from church. She asked me what I thought of Jason, the guy she suddenly found herself "going with." I informed her that his oversized sweater, covered in a garrish brown and white pattern, was horrible beyond words. We've been friends ever since.

Jen never cared what people thought of her, and I was jealous of that. She loved George Michael when that wasn't really OK and wore frog clips designed for toddlers on her shoelaces. If someone stared at her, she'd pretend to pick her nose or make a kooky sneer. Throughout school, we had typical teen-age adventures. Stifling giggles when Carlo Ross's dad fell asleep during Mass. Saving up our dollars then walking downtown to Derby's for lunch, singing Wilson Philips songs. We went camping and canoeing and were both really mediocre at field hockey but played passionately anyways.

She's also just a really kind person. She befriended a black family at church because she was afraid they felt left out in our overly white, prejudice-filled town. She went into drug and alcohol counseling and chose about the hardest job I can imagine -- helping inmates in prison break their addictions.

We haven't lived in the same town for 15 years now, but Jen's mom jokes that when I come home, we seem to pick up the same conversation from months earlier. Just start right in like we'd seen each other for coffee the day before.

Even when Jen told me she was pregnant, she picked a peculiar way. "What are you doing for New Year's?" she asked me in June. "I have no idea. I might work, but I guess I might be off. Are you having a party?" I replied.

"Yes," she said. "At the hospital. Having my baby."

So by October, I hadn't even started a blanket for her son. I had bought the yarn, knowing for some reason that I wanted to make something white and angelic. When I got the shocking text message that she'd given birth in October, months early, I immediately started making the Little Star Afghan.

Cooper weighed only one pound, six ounces when he was born and endured many surgeries and close calls. I tried to crochet as fast as I could, desperately wanting to get the blanket to Jen. But at the same time, was hurrying a sign that I was losing faith? That I thought there might not be a miracle? Was crocheting a blanket for a baby that might die, for a baby who might never get the blanket, just morbid? Or was it a symbol of hope?

Some days, after getting a heartbreaking call from Jen, I couldn't look at it. Other days, when there was good news, I'd spend an hour working furiously.

I had just finished the blanket 18 days later when little Cooper lost his fight to live. It was a Friday morning, and I literally had just packaged it up. Jon and I would drop it off on our way to the gym, we'd decided. But after lacing up my sneakers, I heard the horrible news from Jen. As we cried, I angrily picked up the package with the blanket in it, hiding it under some magazines and a lower shelf of a coffee table. I couldn't look at it.

Later, I brought up the blanket with Jen. I told her that this probably sounded so silly and trivial, but that I felt horrible that I didn't finish it in time. I didn't want to believe there was a deadline, that I needed to hurry. She understood why I was sad and told me that it was OK, that he had been given a blanket from Project Linus. That's what he was buried with. I asked her if I could send the blanket anyway, that maybe she could just keep it somewhere, knowing it was made with love for Cooper. She said she'd like that.

I've found that people don't like to talk about infants dying. Who would? It's horrible, basically the worst thing that I can imagine. But little Cooper touched so many lives in his 18 days. I know that I'll never forget him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was such a beautiful and touching post. Most people don't talk about the death of an infant, and would rather pretend that child didn't exist at all. It's not meant as an unkindness but to spare the parents more pain.
When you loose a little one, especially one who had so little time here- there aren't many tangible things to remind of the love and joy you had for that little one.
Thank you for thinking of your friend, and reminding all of us that we need to remember those little ones.

10:58 AM  
Blogger KnittyLynn said...

Thank you for introducing us to both Jen and her lovely son Cooper. With this post you've help him touch even more people.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful Carrie. i'm proud of you.

marie in florida

1:25 PM  
Blogger Stacy said...

I have a friend who lost her son about the same time. He was 21 days old. It's so sad and I just am glad your friend has you to support her.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Kristyn said...

You're friend is very lucky to have you. I am so thankful everyday my son is healthy - so many parents out there are not as lucky. I will be praying for Jen and her family.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

That is so, so heartbreaking. But congratulations for being brave enough to talk about it. The blanket is beautiful, by the way.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

I think it's appropriate that the blanket is a star, since that is often a sign of hope. Hope that that your friend will find healing, especially with support from friends like you. How beautiful.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Maureen said...

I wanted to tell you how touched I was by your post. I lost 2 pregnancies this past year - one at 5 months and one at 3. I found that people don't know how to situation and their first instinct is to just to avoid the subject so that no one feels uncomfortable (either them or the grieving parent.) I really like that you didn't do that and that you made something from the heart to acknowledge his life and to honor your friend.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous florence said...

I feel so sad for you, for Jen and little Cooper.

6:02 AM  
Blogger momwhoknits said...

I don't even know you or your friend, but I am totally crying reading your post. How beautiful. I agree with Maureen, when my sister lost her baby she said that when people avoided talking to her about her baby it made her feel like she didn't ever exsist and therfore her pain wasn't real. So she really appreciated the acknowledgement.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Christie said...

Much love to you and your best friend. My heart is breaking over the loss of little Cooper.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Veronique said...

How terribly sad. My baby was only in the NICU for 3 days, but being there was gut-wrenching. We saw one family who had just lost their baby, and the whole NICU was crying.
I think it's great that you sent the blanket to Jen.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

He might not have been here for long, but I think it's wonderful that you knit a blanket for him, that you loved him for that time. I am sure that Jen will always treasure that blanket. Thank you for sharing the story. It's a lovely blanket.

3:25 PM  
Blogger SJ said...

I read your post while holding my five-week old daughter in my arms and cried a bit. Thank you for sharing this very sad but very touching story. Jen is very lucky to have you as a friend.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, and what a wonderful, loving friend you are! Jen is lucky to have you in her life.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Cassandra said...

Very lovely post. My heart goes out to Jen.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I pray healing mercies to Jen and her partner and all who love Cooper.

10:15 PM  
Blogger kr√≥kusz said...

My sister's son died in his way out to our world, 4 days ago. He went to heaven instead of coming to us. I never met my first nephew. My sister never could see her baby, only his dead body.
I am really sorry.
Rest in peace, Copper and Matyas.

10:05 AM  
Blogger The A.D.D. Knitter said...

Carrie, you are such a loving friend--so glad you and Jen have each other. You're right--talking about infant death is really hard, and good for you for honoring little Cooper.

2:07 PM  
Blogger jen said...

Carrie! i want to thank you so much for remembering Cooper and me. i want to thank you for being such a wonderful friend. i can never repay for you the love you have given both of us. Cooper was an amazing little boy! i know that we will never forget him. i also want to thank everyone for the thoughts and prayers on this blog. i am blessed to have so many people praying for a little boy they never met. i know one thing we all have a little angel in heaven watching over us. till i meet him again, i pray for strength to get through each day! thanks again Carrie for being a wonderful friend!

7:56 PM  

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