When Skies Are Gray: A Grieving Mother’s Lullaby

Excerpt from When Skies Are Gray: A Grieving Mother’s Lullaby, by Lindsey M. Henke

Before she was born, I called for her. It’s like I conjured her out of the air. Unable to fall asleep next to my husband Nick on a cold dark December night, in our one-bedroom condo, a few months after our marriage, I whispered my request aloud. I asked the gods, the winds, and the heavens I didn’t believe in to bring me a child. By early summer, as I sat in my new office in the therapist chair across from the client couch where I provided counseling for those struggling with addiction, I felt her move. At first, she moved like a butterfly in water, softly batting her wings together to push the amniotic fluid back and forth like ripples turned to waves washing upon the shores of my skin from the inside. Over the weeks, her wing flaps became acrobatic rolls that made my uterus her flying trapeze, and then months later, by late autumn, had evolved into the jabs and kicks of a miniature karate kid. She was always moving, sometimes small, sometimes strong, but all the time persistently present. Forty weeks pregnant on Christmas Day, I felt her kick again.

I placed my hand on my watermelon-sized belly to focus on her movement. Like clockwork, a kick, a jab, then a pause, and finally a slight roll. She moved within me as my eyes drifted to the sliding glass door that opened to our deck, where snow had piled inches high on its railing of our new, two-story suburban home. The cold scene outside caused me to crawl closer to my husband under the crisply clean covers of bed. Struggling to sit up next to Nick, I awkwardly positioned myself to face him. My huge belly covered in maternity pajamas rested on my criss-crossed legs.

“Are you happy?” I asked earnestly.

Looking up from the page he was reading. His greenish-brown eyes met mine before he replied with his answer I already knew, as Nick was dependable and predictable to the point of bordering on boring, but in a good way.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” he answered, wrinkling his prominent nose with his smile. Reaching for my middle, he placed his hand on my belly and brought his bristly face to my stomach. His stubble scratched my skin as he spoke sweetly to our child inside.

“We can’t wait to meet you.” He whispered softly as if singing a baby to sleep, “You can come out anytime now.”

I brushed my hand through his full head of soft black hair, kept short and clean for his job as a naval intelligence officer. With his head lying in the place between my breasts and belly full with our baby, I was calm, which was out of character for me. I let myself settle into a state of momentary ease, twirling his fine strands through my fingers, as I eavesdropped on the start of what I imagined to be one of many conversations between a father and daughter.

Nick was right. We were happy. We had been from the beginning. Our love story, like so many others in the late 2000s, started online. My tagline was, “A little salty but mostly sweet.” His was, “Looking for an adventure,” which was exactly what my twenty-five-year-old self was seeking at the time.

Our affair of the heart was an easy one. When Nick’s warm eyes first locked with mine, his brows raised in pleasant surprise, and a smile widened across his fair-skinned face, revealing his bright, white teeth that contrasted against his bright-blue collared shirt. In our first glance, like in every good fairy tale, our adventure had begun. While playing putt-putt, I asked Nick all the inappropriate questions, as I was known to do. No longer wanting to waste time kissing more frogs, I barraged him with inquiries.

“What are your thoughts on the welfare system?”

“I think it has its place.”

Good. “Democrat or Republican?”

“I would call myself fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

Okay. “In your profile, you mentioned you were Christian; do you still go to church?”

“I’m a retired Lutheran.”

My agnostic heart swooned.

Over a chain-food restaurant dinner of salmon and steak, we talked about books, his favorite, Man’s Search for Meaning, while I professed, I couldn’t pick just one. My love for stories was one reason why I wanted to become a therapist. Admittedly, I could have answered his question more honestly but held back because I was embarrassed to admit the book that had led me to meeting him.

For Christmas a few months before, my Aunt Mary had given me a copy of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of travels to find herself. My forty-something aunt, always perceptive, noticed I had become melancholy over the past year. Within the span of a few weeks, I was fired five months into my first job out of college, dumped by a friend’s ex-boyfriend I was wrongly sleeping with, and most devastatingly, my grandpa died. I fell into a deep depression.

My aunt, recovering from cancer with her prematurely wrinkled and worn, pale face framed by her once-black, now-growing-in gray hair, watched as I thumbed through the book as others opened Christmas gifts. “I think you’ll like it. It might give you some perspective.”

I was inspired by Gilbert’s candid struggles with life and the shadow of depression that can sometimes loom large over it. Her book gave me permission to allow myself a do-over for my previous lack of direction, and I enrolled in a graduate school therapy program to help myself and others address those demons that sometimes lurk inside.

Secretly though, another part of me wanted to be a writer and chronicle my own life in a similar way as Gilbert did, but as a twenty-five-year-old, soon-to-be masters-of-social-work student, I didn’t have any real story to tell or the cash to travel the world to create one. I decided instead to start online dating, with the intent to write a book about all my crazy dates that would end, most likely, in noteworthy disasters. The title was to be Lindsey’s Month of Love, but the book never came to be because my first date with Nick was the last online date I’d ever go on.

Looking back, I could say it was love at first sight, but at the time I was hesitant to believe it was true. Maybe I was afraid that if I did, I would jinx it. I think Nick was too, even though he didn’t believe in things like luck or hexes. Years later, I asked him why he ended the date so early our first night, giving me a hug instead of going in for a kiss.

He replied, “Because I didn’t want to ruin a good thing.”

Nick and I might have been tentative at first, but everyone else in my circle knew he was my Prince Charming. I’ve been told there’s a shift that happens in the aura of a person when they meet their special someone. Even if you can’t see auras, as I can’t, you can still feel the movement in a person’s energy when they fall in love. Maybe it’s in the way their new lover’s name leaves their lips, or in the micromovements on their face as you catch their smirk turn into a swoon.

My mother claimed it was the sound of my voice when I said Nick’s name; my sister probably saw changes in my aura (she’s into that stuff); friends noted how much more I smiled since starting to date him.

One late summer’s evening, early in our relationship, while washing dishes after dinner in my apartment kitchen, I started humming the melody of You Are My Sunshine when Nick walked into the room. A warm flush crept across my cheeks as I faced him. I continued anyway, with a change to the lyrics. I sang to him in my off-key voice, “You are my boyfriend, my online boyfriend—” He rolled his eyes as I giggled through the rest and finished with,

“Please don’t take my online boyfriend away.” My stare fixed on his as he moved closer, and I asked instead of singing, “You’re not going to take my online boyfriend away, are you?”

Scooping his arms around my waist, he held my gaze and paused. Both of us wondered what the other was thinking. He pressed his lean muscular body against mine. Like puzzle pieces, I fit perfectly nuzzled into his neck. His minty breath was warm against the skin of my nape as he whispered in my ear, “Never.”

Pulling me tighter to him, he kissed my parted lips, softly, slowly, and longingly. It was then that I felt the shift in my own aura and knew what everyone else already saw. He was the one.

We did everything the “right” way. When a pseudo-perfectionist (me) and a rule follower (him) fall in love, life proceeds as planned. One year after our first date we whispered, “I love you.” Check. Two years forward, we moved in together. Check. Three years went by, and we were engaged. Check. Four years passed, and we were married. Check. Everything worked out in order, just like the nursery rhyme I had sung as a child foreshadowed. “First comes love, then comes marriage . . .” Then, five years later we bought a house and on move-in day, I couldn’t wait to share with him our newest adventure. “Then comes the baby in a baby carriage.”

I was pregnant.