We live in a town that still has a newspaper, so I wrote obituaries for the kids and sent them in; they were in the paper on Thursday. This was a challenge: aside from the fact that obits were low on the list of things I’d hoped to do at age 32, obituaries are mostly about chronicling a person’s life – where they worked and went to school, who they married, their hobbies. “Loved travel and knitting.” “Beloved wife of 30 years.” “Founded downtown boat store.” What do you write about people who didn’t get to do any of that?
Grieving reminds you of what you’ve lost. My grandparents used to make 4th of July a full day for my sister and me. We’d go to the Main Street parade, get ice cream, go swimming, then walk to the park near their place for a perfect view of the fireworks. The next morning we’d get up real early, just cause we could, and it felt like the coolest thing in the world to do. When they died, the people that gave me those happy memories were gone, and it was sad, but I could come back to those memories and think of all the good times we had together. Grieving Graham and Georgia is different, because most of the time we had was anticipating what we would do together. Picking out books at the library. Taking summer naps in the backyard hammocks. Opening presents Christmas morning. As another of the depressingly large number of friends who’s lost a baby wrote to us this week about their own loss: “I so wanted to know who my son would have been.” Grieving our babies is grieving dreams more than memories. So much of what we’ve lost we didn’t quite have.
So back then, to the original problem: how do you write obituaries for people for whom facts – things that actually happened – are scarce? Based on Sonya’s cravings while pregnant, one or both of the babies liked Wendy’s hamburgers. One or both of them liked milk: Sonya went from drinking a typical human amount of milk to guzzling the stuff. (Whichever baby it was got this from me; my folks could’ve saved a lot on groceries if they’d just thought to keep a cow in the back.) Graham, who looked a little more like his dad than his mom, was caught hiccuping in two separate ultrasounds (another trait from dad). His middle name, Charles, is in honor of Sonya’s grandfather. Georgia looked a bit more like her mom and, from her cries after birth, also had mother’s nice loud voice. Her middle name, Margaret, is a name from my side of the family; we’ve had a Margaret in every generation since coming to America, including my mom, my sister and now my daughter. But none of this adds up to a particularly good obituary material, though, does it? “Georgia Margaret Carlson, April 9, 2009 – April 9, 2009. She might have liked milk.” “Graham Charles Carlson, April 8, 2009 – April 8, 2009. His hiccups will be in our memories forever.”
Their lives were different than most people’s lives, so their obituaries – the sum of their accomplishments on earth – can’t be marked the way most obituaries do. Their lives are told not through what they did themselves, but what they inspired in us. Knowing they were coming was exciting; it made people smile. They got me to not just see things I wanted to improve in myself, but gave me the motivation to actually do it. Even now, they remind me that the world we wanted to share with them is still worth enjoying.
They lived. They were, and are, a part of our family. They made a difference in our lives.
Different than most obituaries, but in a lot of ways, just the same.
Graham Charles Carlson died Wednesday, April 8, 2009, after being born unresponsive at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. Georgia Margaret Carlson died Thursday, April 9, 2009, about one hour after birth in the same hospital. Both were born approximately 18 weeks premature.
Though each child’s time on earth was short, the happiness and love each of them inspired in those around them will last and grow.
Graham and Georgia are survived by their parents, Brady Carlson and Sonya (Budach) Carlson of Concord; their grandmother, Camille Budach of Glen Ellyn, Ill.; grandparents Kenneth Carlson and Margaret Lane of Downers Grove, Ill.; and many relatives and friends.
Private services were held through the Phaneuf Funeral Home in Manchester and the Cremation Society of New Hampshire.