It's six o'clock in the morning on the third day since we lost you, our beautiful Chiara Astra, at 22 weeks, long before you were supposed to be born. I woke to my own tears after all-night dreams of how we can preserve and honor the memory of your too-brief time in our lives. I gave all my ativan-tainted sleep over to this project and still emerged with nothing.
Two recurring memories I have right now are of similar things I have seen in nature that moved me, before I was a mother. When I was around 25 years old, I visited San Clemente Island in the Channel Islands off of southern California. I was living on Catalina island at the time, and this was a weekend adventure for the staff of the marine institute where I worked. We made some great dives and snorkeled with the sea lions in the colony there. On our very first dive, we dropped to the bottom in about 70 ft. of water and the ocean bottom seemed to be moving. Tiny, waving arms were squirming in every direction, a carpet of pale pastel. When we got close enough, the wigglers revealed themselves as brittle stars. Many hundreds of thousands of them covering the ground of the sea floor. Magical. I remember nothing else we saw on that dive.
But that is not the memory of the trip that keeps recurring in my mind. The memory I see is one from the land. One I saw through binoculars as I watched the huge colony of California Sea Lions make their way around the edges of the island. There were lots of cows and pups and big males, too. The sight that struck me most then and sticks with me during these days of my zombie-like grief is that of a mother sea lion carrying her dead pup around in her mouth. Even as I write this it breaks my heart again. Her need to still be close, or confusion at the pup's stillness, lack of warmth, and her inability to let it go, all filled me with great sadness, and perhaps some repulsion, too. It was on the edge of what I could understand at the time, and seemed more grotesque curiosity than relatable. That has now changed.
The second memory is of a safari at Motswari Reserve outside of Krueger National Park in South Africa. My husband and I were there in 2009. We saw so much, so many of the creatures we'd dreamed of seeing all of our lives. We watched a group of lions stalk and kill a warthog, and then sat within 10 feet in an open vehicle as they devoured it. We felt the breath and the breeze wafting from an elephant's waving ears. We sat by as leopard cubs nursed in a shady spot in the bush, wrestling with each other and receiving gentle corrections from their mother. All of these extraordinary sights are not the ones that stick out in my mind.
Here's the one that does: there was a small lake we would drive by, it was a good place to see animals coming for a drink. On our last day we heard a lioness, but could not see her. Our guide explained that this particular animal had been coming for days to the waterhole and crying out, calling to her missing cub who had been eaten by a crocodile a few days before. Her keening roar could be heard each day. It is this lioness, and her mournful, lost cries that stick with me now. I relate to them. I am lost. I am calling to a baby who is no longer here.