Almost five years ago on a moonlit night, I stood with my newly inherited dog in the driveway. It was the place I felt closest to my daughter who had died. Looking up at the stars, I whispered, “Marika, please stay with me.”
During the months before Marika was even born, I had watched the changing shape of my growing belly and talked to her, not knowing who she would be. Now as I spoke to my daughter, I watched the ever-changing sky, the creeping clouds, the moon turning from fingernail to half cookie to bright pearl to hidden promise.
At age twenty, Marika had written to her dear friend who died, “Because I got to live, you will too.” So she’d already set my direction for what to do when a loved one dies. She was going to “carry” her friend forever. Thus, I would “carry” Marika. That’s how I came to “swallow” my daughter.
People swallow pride, feelings, secrets and unsaid words, bitter pills, … mostly to bury them. But when I took in my dead daughter, it was more like “wearing” her from the inside out. I decided to be more like her, to dedicate a chunk of who I was to who she was, so that I might see the world through her eyes. This way it didn’t feel so much like a final separation. And keeping another’s perspective is useful in dealing with what life springs on you.
As it turns out, this is not so crazy. Mothers have been doing this for ages. The term is the only thing I invented. Since publishing my article, The Mother who Swallowed her Daughter, I’ve gotten responses from bereaved parents as well as the lucky ones. Cries of “I swallowed my daughter too,” and “I swallowed my son,” fill my email box. My own mother wrote, “I’m a mother of three female children and I have swallowed them all –each and every one — just as they are. Sometimes they give me indigestion….”
Anyway, at my most desperate hour, this was what I came up with to survive the death of my daughter. It was the only way I could imagine ever finding joy again.
“Help me be strong. Help me find the right words, Marika. What exceptional thing will we do tomorrow?” I say this often. In the driveway. In bed. In the kitchen. On hilltops and wooded trails. By the sea. In daylight. In the dark …
What have you swallowed? And how has it changed you?