Dear Charlotte

It is tradition in our family for me to knit a blanket for every baby born into it. I’ve made a bunch of them now – starting with blankets for my own daughters, and then Hank. I’ve showered them on nieces and nephews, and a grand-niece and a grandson, and every one I have knit has been an epic. A blanket made just for them, never to be repeated again – with motifs and meaning that is unique to that one person on earth, as special as they are. I knit them for months as the awaited babe bakes away, and every stitch I knit in them is another little wish. Be happy, be healthy, be your own self. Be brave, be funny, be fierce, be all you, be mine.

When I give the blanket to them, there’s always a glorious photoshoot of the recipient nestled in all that love, and… I write them a letter. A missive explaining why I knit them what I did, what the motifs in their blankets mean, and what I hope for them, what I hope the future holds for them, and I tell them how very, very welcome and loved they are, and how happy we all are that they’re here. You’ll find some of those letters here on the blog. Dear Elliot, Dear Maeve, Dear Frankie, Dear Luis…

I love this tradition. In a family that values handmade things as part of our culture, the blankets feel like treasures to me, and they’ve always been treated that way by the parents of the babes, and by the children themselves, when they get big enough. They all call them “my blanket” and I have never doubted that they are the closest thing I can knit to an amulet of protection – my love between them and the world. Wrap yourself up in that, kiddo. You’ll always have me.

Of course, I knit Charlotte a blanket, and it was blocked and folded and waiting for her when she arrived, and there aren’t words to tell you how much I looked forward to wrapping her in it – the lace around her little face, her fingers curled like little blossoms against the wool and silk. We took Elliot’s blanket pictures when he was a week old and Meg and I had agreed that’s when we would take Charlotte’s. Those first few days are just too hard to scramble fancy photoshoots in matching clothes into the mix. We’d wait, we said. The blanket stayed folded, there was no need to rush.

Yesterday, Charlotte would have been four months old. Meg has been asking for almost all those months for Charlotte’s blanket to be photographed and for me to write about it, the way I did for Elliot, and I have been stalling, or maybe it’s unfair to say stalling and it’s really been more like… trying, because of all the items left behind in the wake of that babe’s life, it is the blanket that hurts me the most.

Meg and I speak often of the inner conflict we feel around remembrances of Charlotte. I know it is different for everyone -but for me and Meg, some things have begun to bring us comfort. The pictures and videos of her, or remembering the delicious anticipation of her birth, recalling the joy I felt holding her in my arms, these are things about my little granddaughter I don’t want to forget, and while it makes me sad to see or think of those things, they are balanced with a sweetness and happiness that makes it worth the agony. Other things have remained intolerable. My Ravelry queue, still full of everything I was going to make her is still exquisitely painful to me and I haven’t been able to open it – not after I opened it once without thinking and was confronted with it all. Similarly the tiny clothes I made for her that she never wore are unbearable. It’s funny, but I don’t feel that way about the wee things that we did dress her in. They don’t make me as sad at all, but the unused ones just break my heart.

For me, that is the difference. Remembrances of Charlotte don’t make me sad, but the things we didn’t use are gigantic reminders of the colossal rip off that is infant loss. So it is for Megan I think – we’re on mostly the same page with all of her pictures and belongings, with one difference. Charlotte’s blanket. Meg feels connected to it, often holding it and finding comfort in something that was so fiercely and individually Charlotte’s – a symbol of how desperately loved and wanted she was. Me? I’m the jerk who can’t quite look at it long enough to write the post my daughter wants.

Today – it’s been four months since Charlotte’s perfect day. The day in between the day she was born and the day she died – the day that we all just snuggled in and looked at her and passed her arm to arm and smelled her head and showed Elliot how he could tell that she loved him already, because she was holding his finger in her wee fist, and we let the feeling of tremendous luck and gratitude wash over us. Charlotte was safely arrived, healthy and beautiful, and carrying my mum’s name. It felt like a healing of a kind – one out, one in, the family seeking level like water. Meg and I whispered over her tiny body, marvelling at how she was a girl. It feels a little sexist, doesn’t it? To say we were happy she was a girl? Our family is an undeniable matriarchy – I think it started when my grandfather ceded all familial power by heading off to war, and my Grammy took charge and it’s been down to the women since. There is something special about being a woman in our family – to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, most of us became the men we wanted to marry, and we have a long history of wonderful mothers and powerhouse aunties and sisters and some (okay several) men who have opted out of doing anything amazing with their roles, and it’s left the whole family valuing women more than is strictly reasonable. I love Elliot more than I can possibly tell you and I don’t think having a girl is better than having a boy, but I had only daughters myself, and there was something about Meg having a daughter that lit us both up with a connection. Charlotte would be…. like us. A mother maybe, an auntie, a sister.

This is what I was thinking about while I knit her blanket. That she would join a long line of incredible women that Meg and I would tell her about as she grew. She would have me and Erin of course, but… we are the matriarchs now- it would be only stories that she’d hear about my remarkable Mum and spectacular Grammy that would inspire her. I resolved to start telling that story with her blanket – the story of the women she came from.

The centre of Charlotte’s blanket has little trees of life (I know, obvious – sorry. I get a little romantic about babies) and a border of diamonds because they have four sides – and Charlotte was the person who took Meg, Alex and Elliot from a trio- to a quartet. Meg and Alex will forever now have two children. The four little nupps in the centre of each diamond are for each of them.

Around that centre is ring lace. This is the only element that has appeared on most blankets that I knit – it’s a signature move, and is meant to symbolize the family that surrounds the child, whole and intact, as protectors and help.

Outside that, my favourite. It’s an old victorian lace pattern that’s roses on a trellis – it’s a theme of four again, but this time, it’s for my mum. Anyone who knew her couldn’t help but associate her with her garden, and her love of roses. Roses are like my mum too – and I imagined explaining to Charlotte that my mum was like a rosebush. Not like a rose, you understand, but like the bush. Beautiful soft blooms – and strong canes and thorns. Bonnie (the elder) was soft hearted, but it came with a wicked fierceness that I wished for my Charlotte Bonnie (the younger). There are four roses on each trellis, the same number of children my mum had. Me, James, Ian and Erin.

Beyond that – it’s my own Grammy. Kay McPhee, mercy she was a wild woman and she died when I was a teenager and I still sometimes think about her fingers in my hair as a I go to sleep. She was larger than life, and more beautiful than I can say, and if anyone ever tells me I am anything like her I feel so proud. She was like a willow. Strong, but flexible. Remind me to tell you all about the time she had me fake an illness so she didn’t have to go to a business dinner with my Grampa. Genius. (We got caught.) This panel of Lilly of the Valley is her favourite flower, and it grew all the way along the side of her house, and when I was a little girl she used to encourage me to lie on my tummy in the grass and stick my nose right in it. I recommend the practice. Lily of the Valley also appears on Elliot’s blanket – so a little nod to sibling solidarity there.

The border is the only bit left to tell my Meg about, and it’s the only thing that’s exactly the same as Elliot’s blanket – well, that’s not true. I used the same yarn too so that they’re in the same family – just like Elliot and Charlotte. It is Print ‘o the wave, and meant to signify the same thing it did for her brother. The water we all love to be in and near, the water she was born from, and into, and the wave of love that carried her here to us. It is the part that is Megan – the strong woman that Charlotte came from. There is much that I could say here about the strength I see in my daughter right now. I always knew it was there – but she’s shown more grace though the last four months than I could ever have hoped for. I am grateful that Charlotte had such a good, strong mum. I grieve that she didn’t get more.

I have not found a way to write to Charlotte. Maybe that is for her mother to do, or maybe I am just too much of a realist to write to someone that I know will never read it, and besides, I wrestle with some demons yet. When I wrote to Elliot, I wrote about how content I was as a grandmother- how the fear and terrible worry of being a mum gives way to experience, and that in that there is so much joy. I worried about what might happen to my girls, I wrote- but after they grew up, largely without incident, I thought there was nothing to fear, I could enjoy my grandchildren with a joyful unafraid love that leapt like little fish in the sunshine and made my heart feel like it was made of sparkles. How many times did I reassure Meg, how many times have I told her not to worry, not to be afraid? I was so wrong.

I think it is natural when someone dies, when there is a tragedy like this, that you search for the meaning, purpose and value of it. I think that too because Charlotte was so little, and because forty-eight hours is a pretty short lifespan, that the urge to look for the gift or transformation that her life offered is powerful, and there is an attempt to give weight and motive to a life that couldn’t generate it with time, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that is.
I do not believe that Charlotte was here so briefly for a reason. I don’t think (and cannot tolerate) any idea that Megan and Alex have had to suffer like this as part of a grand design. They are good parents and made no mistakes and so I can only think it was an accident of nature that took her – like a terrible flood or a disaster that no-one could see coming, and no-one could stop, and I don’t feel like we are supposed to figure it out, but I can see that it’s going to change all of us.

Megan wrote the other day that she feels that this has taken her innocence, and this – this is Charlotte’s legacy, in a very good way. I have spent my entire adult life trying to learn how to be brave, and in particular how to raise brave daughters – and I do not think that was a waste of time at all, but this whole thing, not getting a chance to write Charlotte a letter, to wrap her in her blanket, it has reminded me that maybe when it comes to love, it is perhaps a good thing to be a little bit afraid.

I know now that anyone I love, any person, any moment can be struck by lightning, and since Charlotte came and went, I have tried to love the people I do a little more fiercely. I say I love you more often. I try to bite my tongue a little harder, to pay more compliments, to show more patience, to say yes a little more often, and I see Megan do the same. Can someone who lived only forty-eight hours change this many people? I think, as I look at my tiny granddaughters big blanket amongst the bleeding hearts, that oh, my Dear Charlotte, maybe so.

I’m so glad you were here. I miss you.