Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Life, My Art: Janice

When I was a graduate student I used to walk through the streets of Evanston admiring the beautiful old houses and daydreaming of filling my own beautiful old house someday—not only with family but as often as possible with friends and guests—artists and musicians and writers, creators and thinkers and dreamers. I wanted to make a place where all these people could gather and talk, share and inspire and challenge each other. As it happens, my beautiful old house is far from any big city or cultural center and my friends are scattered all over the place. I don’t have friends over nearly as often as I’d like, and I’m no Gertrude Stein, anyway. But I have been blessed to know some really amazing people, and as I hear their stories and see what they are doing with their lives I still want to share their lives and their art with each other. It struck me that this blog, which is sort of a gathering-place for the things close to my heart anyway, could maybe also serve as a meeting-place.

Today I want to introduce you to my friend Janice. She has two blogs you should read (
Whimsy-ma-blog, and In the Tangles) and an Etsy shop, The Whimsy, where she sells custom-made wire jewelry. She also has adorable children with big brown eyes and loads of personality. And she is one of those mysterious people who can speak knowingly about things like rocket science.

I’m honored that she accepted my request to share this part of her story:

Until Karen’s invitation to write a blog post about a remembrance necklace that I make, I had not realized that I could write a full length book about it. Since it seemed like sending Karen a 90,000 word manuscript might be taking advantage of her hospitality, I’ve attempted to sort out one piece of my thoughts.

The second of our four children, Jack, was diagnosed with a complex heart defect while I was pregnant with him. Essentially his heart ended up with two working chambers instead of four. Those two chambers tried heroically for nine weeks after his birth to pump the blood his tiny body needed. We tried to help with intensive care units and surgeries, but in the end it was only God who could redeem such an insufficient heart. And instead of healing it here he chose to take Jack’s entire little being, exhausted heart and all, to heaven.

I was already making wire jewelry for a little online shop, so I decided to make myself a remembrance necklace for Jack. The point of it was a longing to hold him so I ended up with a shape that reminded me of two arms encircling something precious.


One thing I wanted was for my necklace to be silent.

I had looked for a remembrance necklace but they all had words or dates or angels or babies. I wanted something that I understood but that would remain silent when it was shown to the world. If I felt like sharing its meaning, I wanted to be the one to do it. Losing my baby is hard and deep and although I’d like to talk to you about it, I’m not always sure that I can.

Because sadness makes me uncomfortable. It gives me irresistible urges to tell inappropriate jokes. It leaves me feeling speechless and helpless. And as far as I can tell, no one else likes to be sad either, so watching your discomfort grow as I talk about it just makes everything harder.

In fact, I realize that I have always thought that sadness has no place here. If you do things right, if you always offer your friend the bigger cookie, if you believe in God, then there won’t really be much sadness. Sad has no place in a good life.
I’ve been wrong. Parts of the great sponge of life are saturated with sadness. But there are days that I’m tired of sloshing around in it. I want to tiptoe past the gloom and bounce around in happiness and cheer.

Wondering if someone else might feel the same as I did, I listed the necklace in my shop. I was a bit stunned when the first order came through. Then others did as well and I began to realize that it was the silence of it that mothers liked. Many of the necklaces I’ve made were for babies lost through miscarriage. So much of that grief is privately mourning our own dreams and imaginings of this child that we were able to hold so incompletely.

Silent…but so very noisy.

I also discovered that this necklace was the noisiest silent thing I’ve ever heard.

While the necklace was silent to the world at large, probably even because of that silence, it seemed to create a safe place for mourning mothers to talk. Orders came through wet with tears. My heart breaks with each email that begins with, “I know I’ve never met you, but I don’t know anyone else who’s been through this and no one seems to understand…”

And for each email I am so grateful that she has someone to talk to, but then I’m freaked out that the someone is me. Because losing my baby is hard and deep and I’m not good at sharing hard and deep things. I made the necklace silent and you wanting to talk about it makes me want to run. Except that I understand you too well, so how can I leave you here alone?

I debate every so often about not making the necklaces anymore. I’d much rather make something happy. Something made out of rainbows and gumdrops - or a magic fat-dissolving suit.

But every time I have just about convinced myself to quit, I get an email from some heartbroken mother and she thanks me for this necklace. Thanks me for its silence. Thanks me for talking to her. So I decide to fight the urge to run for a little longer and allow myself to go back in and meet her there in the sad place where she is.

I’m beginning to accept that although sadness isn’t the only character in life, it plays a bigger role than I expected. Sometimes sloshing through sadness is part of the life we have here. God hasn’t removed the sadness, it’s leaking out of all sorts of places and we can’t keep from at least getting damp. It’s not comfortable or fun, but I begin to see the value in it, the extraordinary amount of life and passion that exists in our sadness. There is such openness and raw humanity in meeting someone in their grief.

The necklace sits silently on my dresser and tells me that there is sadness because life is so precious and good. If life was worthless it would never be mourned. We’d brush off its ending as though shooing a fly. But that silent wish to hold a tiny life is a good wish because the tiny life is good.

And dare I say that the sadness of mourning can be good? Not pleasant, certainly, but good? That there is value in missing someone because it is a reflection of the love you have for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pretty sure I’d shove an old lady out of the way to get to it if there were only one Sad-Free Life left on the shelf. But since I don’t think any of those are available, I am learning a new level of comfort in a place where sadness can be acknowledged and quietly shared.

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  1. This is a beautiful, wise post. Thank you, Janice (and Karen).
    - alison

  2. Thank you for choosing to speak. There is so much beauty in what you have chosen to share.

    1. Thank you, Jocelyn. That means a lot!

  3. Wow

    What a powerful post. I love the design of your necklace. I appreciated hearing the story behind it for, while it was incredibly sad, it is also a beautiful testimony of your love and healing process.

    My favorite line: there is value in missing someone because it is a reflection of the love you have for them.

    Yes. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Shonya. It's amazing how long it took me to connect those two things. I tend to try so hard to avoid any discomfort that sometimes (often) I lose the value in it.

  4. What an absolutely beautiful post, Janice. You have such a soft and radiant heart.
    Your work reflects your sweet soul, girl. I wish I knew Ellen or one of those chicks on The View or something so that I could get you some attention. The world needs to know about your shop!

  5. Thanks, Lesley. You make me smile.

  6. Oh Janice. This floors me. It is so beautiful. Thank you for making me cry.


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