This Does Not Have to Be a Secret
Now what I think that woman in Florida meant is: Lighter things will happen to you, birds will steal your husband's sandwich on the beach, and your child will still be dead, and your husband's shock will still be funny, and you will spend your life trying to resolve this.
As for me, I believe that if there's a God—and I am as neutral on the subject as is possible—then the most basic proof of his existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.
For instance: In the hospital in Bordeaux one of the midwives looked at us and asked a question in French. Most of the calamity (that word again; I can't come up with a better one) happened in French, which both Edward and I spoke only passably. Used to. My ability to speak French is gone, removed by the blunt force trauma of those days. I've retained only occasional drifting words. Mostly I have to look things up. The French word for midwife is sage-femme, wise woman, I remember that. This particular wise woman was a teenager, checking items off a list. The room was like a hospital room anywhere, on a ward for the reproductively luckless, far away from babies and their exhausted mothers. Did we want to speak to—
"Excusez-moi?" Edward said and cocked an ear.
"Une femme religieuse," the midwife clarified. A religious woman. Ah.
Here's what she said:
Voulez-vous parler à une nonne?
Which means, Would you like to speak to a nun? Of course in Catholic France it was assumed that we were Catholic.
But Edward heard, Voulez-vous parler à un nain?
Which means, Would you like to speak to a dwarf?
When he told this to his friend Claudia, she said, "My God! You must have thought, 'That's the last thing I need!'"
"No," Edward told her. "I thought I'd really like to speak to a dwarf about then. I thought it might cheer me up."
We theorized that every French hospital kept a supply of dwarves in the basement for the worst-off patients and their families. Maybe it was just a Bordelaise tradition: the dwarves of grief. We could see them in their apologetic smallness, shifting from foot to foot.
In the days afterward, I told this story to friends over the phone. Our terrible news had been relayed by my friends Wendy and Ann to the rest of my friends in America, and now I phoned to say—to say what I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to disappear into France and grief. I called on our cell phone from our hotel room or from sidewalk cafés in the woundingly lovely French spring. Everything hurt. We ordered carafe after carafe of rosé, and I told my friends about the dwarves of grief, and I listened to their loud, shocked, relieved laughter. I felt a strange responsibility to sound as though I were not going mad from grief. Maybe I managed it. At that moment I felt so ruined by life that I couldn't imagine it ever getting worse, which just shows that my sense of humor was slightly more durable than my imagination.
Where are they when we need them, the dwarves of grief, we said to each other later, when things were really bad.