Filling the Gap

Filling the Gap

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Filling the Gap

Love builds bridges where there are none.

R. H. Delaney

Her name was Kim Lorraine, and in the spring of 1956, she died moments after she tiptoed into this world. She was laid to rest in France, where my family was stationed at the time. Kim was my sister.

No one knew the real cause of death, just that she had a very small head, and life would have been a brutal challenge had she lived. When the doctor detected abnormalities during Mom’s pregnancy, he confided his diagnosis to my father, adding that the baby would either be stillborn or not live very long. It was recommended that Dad keep the diagnosis to himself, because the doctor did not want to impose undue hardship on my mother. Back in the 1950s, that was the psychology of the times.

Even though Kim’s passing left a glaring gap between the first four kids and the last four kids in my family, none of us appeared to be affected by it. Life went on. My mother spoke of it only when asked about it, and even then she did so in short, unemotional sentences.

We were known as a family of eight, but it would have been nine with Kim’s presence. My standard refrain throughout my life was always, “I’m the seventh of eight kids.” It was easier that way. Kim gradually became the nonexistent family member as though she had never been born at all. Years passed before I understood the depth of Mom’s sorrow.

My first son was born at twenty-four weeks during the week of Christmas. Alone in my room and heavily sedated from the emergency C-section, I stared blindly out the window.

The phone rang. It was Mom, reaching out to me long-distance.

“You have a grandson, Mom,” I announced brightly, masking my bleak spirits. “His name is Cody Travis.”

“Oh, Jennifer, that’s wonderful!” she answered with enthusiasm in an attempt to hide her concern. “How much does he weigh?”

“One pound, six ounces,” I replied, my voice breaking.

“Oh, honey.”

Her response, simple as it was, spoke volumes. I could lose this baby.

Neither one of us dared say it out loud. As my deepest fear bubbled to the surface, tears stung my eyes, and I began to tremble, aching for her steady presence and her compassion and warmth. Only my mother, my beautiful mother, whose baby had been buried overseas so long ago, would understand.

“I love you, Mom,” I whispered.

“I love you, too, hon.”

Two days later, my parents wore scrubs in the NICU, absorbing the impact of the tiniest grandchild they had ever welcomed into this world. Watching my mother as she tenderly cupped Cody’s head, I wondered if she was thinking of her little girl. Perhaps she was envisioning a place like this, complete with aggressive technology, saving her daughter just as it had saved her grandson.

A few years ago, Mom received a necklace for Mother’s Day that featured little boy and girl stick figures with birthstones. There we were, all eight of us birthstone brats, dangling from a long gold chain. She wore it with great pride. The manner in which her fingers lightly trailed over each child touched me in particular.

Over one recent holiday, I handed Mom a small white box. The card read: “Mom, I just wanted to fill the gap between the first four and the last four.” Puzzled, she opened her gift. It was a girl stick figure with Kim’s emerald birthstone.

“It’s Kim, Mom. The baby you lost.”

Her eyes were moist as we hugged each other tight.

“You are so thoughtful,” she said softly.

Kim will gain her rightful place on Mom’s necklace. Right there in the middle, between the first four and the last four, will be her daughter, thus completing the family.

These days I tell people I’m the eighth of nine children. I do this out of respect for my sister. I do this out of respect for my mother, whose pain is locked away. And for all mothers who mourn the loss of their babies, I do this for you, too.

Her name was Kim Lorraine. In the spring of 1956, my sister tiptoed out of this world just as quietly as she entered it, leaving small footprints on our hearts.

Jennifer Oliver

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