Why I Love the Gift of a Heart of Stone

by Sara Barry

“Here,” my 11-year-old neighbor thrust a bag at me. I looked at the birthday cake on the side, confused. It was over a month since my birthday.

“You don’t get to keep the bag. Or the scarf,” he said. I peeked in the bag and the “something” was wrapped up in a gold scarf. Whatever it was, it was heavy.

His mom shrugged. She didn’t know what it was either. So I reached in and pulled out the scarf covered item and slowly unwound it. I felt rough stone, and before I felt the shape, I knew.

Heart stone.

My Henry garden is dotted with heart stones small and large. So when he found the stone down by the river he brought it home for me. Later he placed it up in the garden for me among the other hearts there.

My heart stones come from the river we visit often and the beaches where I grew up. They came from a trip to Maine that first summer after Henry died and local trails just this summer.

The stones range in size from finger-tip dots to chunks big enough to need two hands to move. They are scattered everywhere. Henry’s garden, yes, but also my desk and dresser, the window sill in front of the kitchen sink, the mantle, the cup holder in my car . . . Every where I turn tokens of love.

I don’t remember how we started collecting heart-shaped stones after Henry died. The first presented itself to me, the heart shape showing up in the jumble of irregular shapes beneath my feet. It felt like a message, a hello from Henry, a reminder of love in the depth of grief.

They kept showing up on our walks and outings. My husband seeks them out, searches for them, though the last one he found he stumbled upon. He was traveling a trail he’s walked often this spring and summer, thinking about Henry when he tripped on it. “I probably walked over it a hundred times and never noticed it.” But he noticed it that day.

I love the ones that find you. I don’t seek out heart-shaped stones, but when I find them I pick them up, slide them into my pocket, the stone heart a talisman against my tender heart.

A few years ago, another boy, shyly thrust a hand at me and deposited a stone. This one tiny, but beautifully shaped.

“This is for you. I found it at the Cape,” he muttered before retreating. I love these gifts, both the token and the love inherent in them. And Henry remembered.

In the early days, I needed signs—the flash of a cardinal or the appearance of a heart-shaped stone. These days, I don’t need them, but I still smile these little reminders, these little hellos, these little messages of love.

Heart stones and cardinals are my Henry signs. Ladybugs, dragonflies, and red tailed hawks show up for other babies loved and missed. What shows up for you? Do others share their sightings or findings with you?

Is the Time Before Your Baby Died a Bittersweet Memory?

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry


The sun was bright in my face, the soil warm and soft beneath my bare feet. My belly balanced on my thighs as I leaned forward to pick up a clump of dirt. As I shook soil from the roots of weeds, the memory came as it does each year.

Planting holds muscle memory for me. Each year as I prep the soil to plant the earliest seeds, I remember May 2007, when my belly full of life balanced on my thighs, when leaning forward was a little harder. My neighbor did the hard work that year of digging and turning the soil with a shovel. I squatted and broke up the clumps with fingers and hand tools, tossing the weeds into a wheel barrow.

 

This year, like the last  eight, I remember that hopeful me, planting seeds for a garden I wasn’t sure I’d tend (I was going to be busy with a new baby after all). I remember that hopeful me waiting for new life, both a fuzz of green sprouts and the baby I had known for nine months but had yet to meet.

For the past eight years, the smell of freshly turned soil, the feel of dirt underfoot, the shaking and tapping of root-bound clods of earth brought me back to those last weeks before Henry was born. I’d remember the hope, the anticipation, the expectation—and how much went unfulfilled. What do you do with hope that gets stunted like that?

The earliest prep work in the garden with all it’s connected hope became one of the strings of bittersweet memories that followed me through the years.

But this year, as I bent my face away from the sun, clearing away weeds earlier than ever before, that muscle memory came back to me. But I stayed in that moment where I was squatting and leaning over my big belly. I stayed in that place of hope and expectation that all would be OK, and I realized what a gift this memory is. That moment is not tangled with beeping monitors at the hospital or the anxiety of waiting for surgery. It isn’t a moment of joy and love wound tight with fear. It’s love. It’s hope. That’s it.

Sometimes, I get tired of telling my story. I feel like I’ve felt it all, said it all before too many times. And then something new catches me. A new memory, a new angle, a new understanding. My beautiful, loving hope is as real as the grief that came after. They are connected in a way that can’t be severed, but I can sit with that hope and the love that surrounded it. I have sat with the grief, with the what ifs, with the won’t ever bes. I can sit with the before, the possibility, the pure hope and delight. I can sit and hold that memory too.

***

It took me a long time to see the gift in this spring ritual memory. For years it was a reminder of what I had hoped for—expected even—that didn’t happen, not the reminder of that place of love and joy and hope.

Have you been able to get back to that place, to cherish those memories, or is it too hard, your memories too tangled? What action triggers your memories most?