On baby angel poems

September 8, 2008

The last few weeks I’ve felt like a big ball of nearly mindless grief and wanting and aching. There’s a thin veneer of personality spread over the top that I can use to get through phone calls and conversations with friends who stop by bearing food. I can pull myself together enough to talk very prettily in public sometimes, but it has felt – still feels, mostly, as though the things I thought of as me are now superficial trifles, no longer connected to my core. My core is grief and void and crying. Except that, as it turns out, it’s not. Not entirely, anyway. I discovered this week that parts of the old me are still here, still hanging on. I owe this discovery to really bad poetry.

I’ve always hated reading bad poetry, and too many years of studying English lit. haven’t improved my tolerance levels. Reading friends’ poetry has made me cringe on more than one occasion, and I now avoid doing it with only rare exceptions because nothing brings out the bitch in me, the snideness, the snobbery, and the judge and jury like bad poetry. And I can lie about many things, but not about whether or not I like a poem. I understand poetry as therapy; I’ve even tried it, but just because you write a poem and it’s meaningful to you doesn’t mean you should foist it on someone else. Language is powerful; words are magic, the most powerful magic available to us, and poems, good poems, are one of the most powerful and potent forms of language magic. Writing (and especially sharing) poetry shouldn’t be taken on lightly or carelessly.

One of the things that’s happened with Teddy’s death is that people who truly love and care about me, who sincerely want to comfort me, have been sending me what I’ve discovered to be the worst kind of poem: emotionally manipulative, cloying, and inevitably rhyming drivel about baby angels and babies in heaven. Clearly these poems resonate with many people; apparently they’ve helped other grieving moms. However I can’t help but see these ‘poems’ as preying on the weak, pulling out treacly clichés and sadly obvious sentimental images and then throwing them at those who’ve already been knocked off their feet by loss and who, of all people, deserve better. If anyone deserves real poetry, the good stuff, surely it’s the broken-hearted. If anyone’s memory deserves the good stuff, surely it’s Teddy’s.

For the record, I hate baby angel poems. Reading one is, as N says, like reaching for single malt only to find yourself drinking molasses. I have to admit, though, that reading them has helped me, too, though not in the intended way. They’ve pissed me off, have awakened my inner English major and I’ve found that a kernel of the me I used to be is still intact. It’s not my favorite part of me – it’s a critical, harsh, snobbish little kernel and knowing it’s there doesn’t stop me from hurting or crying. But I have a sense now that, while I won’t come out of this unchanged (how could I? how could anyone?), I haven’t permanently lost all of myself, either.



  1. After looking at a particular nauseating babyloss website complete with tinny music and endless references to “Angel babies”, I said to my husband “well if Flynn is in heaven I’m sure he’ll be beating the shit out of all those other sappy babies”.

  2. My partner and I still laugh about a Christmas memorial service we went to five months after our twins died, for our infant loss support group. It was like one giant angel poem–in flocking, on a poster-sized card. With glitter. And fake harp. Like an hour and a half of cheesy poems and songs and weeping (by everyone but us). We wondered a bit about what was wrong with us–we had buried our only children just months before and we were struggling not to giggle through a memorial service? While surrounded by grieving parents? I did feel guilty for not FEELING more when everyone else was clearly so moved. But it was strangely comforting. We were still us. We still hated sap, and my English major-librarian heart could not get past the stickiness and bad rhymes. That, at least, was part of the mama my girls would have had if all had gone well, and I was glad to cling to it.

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