It intrigues me, always, that birth and death seem inextricably linked. Often the sole relief at funeral ceremonies is a toddling child, full of hope and light, or the news of a new baby soon to join the family.
I learned this juxtaposition stunningly in November 1963. My obstetrician had just told me at a pre-delivery visit, "I'll see you for a couple more weeks. You don't have any 7-pound-9-ounce baby in there."
I returned home just before noon, to the impossible news of John Kennedy's murder. He was my first presidential vote. In a poem of lament, I reveal my certainty that "if I just don't open my eyes/seal out light/he'll still be there, marshall of our world."
It was into the world he led and inspired that I had birthed Diane the previous year, and now this child.
But he was gone. And nothing has ever been the same, --personally, professionally, politically.
The next morning, my Mayo Clinic Fellow husband, Werner, was fortunately leaving for early morning rounds. I told him I thought I'd better go with him. My mother was there to take care of Diane, and we made arrangements for a babysitter so she could come get me to return home when the hospital laughed at my symptoms.
Another poem ends "six contractions... Catherine in my arms... less time than it had taken him to die... and, certainly, less pain"
The babysitter never did need to come. I called my mother a little after 8 a.m.
"Shall I come get you?"
"I don't think they'll let me out."
"You have a new granddaughter."
"But, Carolyn, you just left."
In the hospital, they hadn't even put me into a labor room - all were full, as I would later write in a poem, "of mothers come to term/too soon/mourning the young president."
They also sent me home early, because Maternity was so full. We had the other Fellows over for Thanksgiving, as planned. We put Catherine on the table, and she was way smaller than the turkey.
Years later, Princeton University's Alumni Weekly would write of my poem on her graduation, "We love your poem, Hands. We would like to publish it in our Commencement Issue next year." They even paid me, munificently.
One of its stanzas reads
...it was dawn then, too
after Kennedy's murder
the world weeping
you, our only reason
I wrote of being
"unable to tangle our hands
around all of the clocks in America
sweeping all of us forward
toward funerals and televised blood"
it ends with
"...and then I knew
exactly as with birth
without this tumultuous journey
I send this poem aloft, now, to Princeton Patch readers, where Diane and Catherine were raised and educated. And to my daughters. An early birthday card arrived yesterday from the "Kennedy birth" -- urging me to ENJOY!
Early is lucky, as I depart in a few hours for a new tumultuous journey - this afternoon, I will give birth to a new hip at what we used to call Princeton Medical Center.
I won't be able to sit to create Patch posts for some weeks, but will be creating them in my head for you.
And I will be restored to hiker/kayaker by the wonders of Princeton medicine.
Thanks for your loyalty