Poems & Essays

18 Jan

Before Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

Toddlers to Teens 4 Responses

We decorate the living room, twinkle-lights strung across the ceiling from one corner to the other. Mechanically, we lift the ornaments and choose an empty bough, our minds hovering over a hospital bed in Utah, where Cordelia’s closest friend lies, un-wakable.

An inner tube run amok on a bunny slope—a route Jessica had sled a hundred times. This time, the tube whirled off course and her head cracked into a pole. Her classmate, Janet, is injured, too. Had Cordelia not studied away from home this semester, she, likely, would have been the second girl on that tube.

A bowl of guacamole, studded with pomegranate seeds, browns untouched. Ruby juice stains the wooden table.

“Don’t eat the seeds, Jess,” I think. “Come back.”

A pediatrician in our school community has already confided in me, the Headmistress, that Jess may never wake. I hold the secret, bitter, wishing.

Miranda, home from college, climbs the stepladder, and I hand her several fragile blown-glass globes. Breathe and they break. She stretches, secures the hooks, glancing worriedly at her younger sister, curled in a chair.

“Want to help?”

Cordelia shakes her head.

The phone rings. Cordelia recoils, as if her body could shield itself from the coming blow.

“Yes,” I murmur, “I’m so sorry. Whatever we can do. Would you like me to tell her classmates? I can do that.” I hang up gently, as if my care could matter to Jessica’s unmoored father.

Cordelia keens, the elemental, high pitch drawing her little brother at a run from the TV room. She has slid, fetal, to the floor.

In the doorway, Atticus asks softly, “Did Jess die, Mommy?”

“Yes, my love.”

“Could I get Cordelia a glass of water?” he offers, pale, his six-year old brown eyes fearful.

“Good idea, Atticus,” murmurs his oldest sister. “We’ll go together.”

I stroke Cordelia’s dark hair. This winter night, her heart is a pomegranate, cleaved in two. I have no magic to mend her grief, no charm to salve her sorrow. Jess cannot find her way back.

The twinkle lights blur.


Ann Klotz is a mother, writer, teacher and Head of a girls’ school in Shaker Heights, OH. She writes most often about how those roles intersect. Her work has appeared HERE, in Community Works Institute Journal and Independent School magazine. She blogs semi-regularly for the Huffington Post.

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  1. Leslie Wibberley

    January 19, 2016 at 4:49 am

    Ann. Your words drew me instantly to that phone call, to that moment of your daughter’s profound grief, and my heart keened along with hers. Such a powerful story, beautifully written and so moving. I am wiping my tears away as I type.

    My condolences to your family on such a devastating loss of a young life.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ann V. Klotz

    January 20, 2016 at 2:03 am

    Leslie, thank you for such a kind comment–it is a piece from the heart.

  3. Monica

    January 21, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Ann, This is so tender and so sad–it is also as if I’m in that room tensing when the phone rings and wanting to comfort your daughter–wanting also to hold her mother (–who holds so much up-) in prayer.

  4. Ann V. Klotz

    January 21, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you so much, Monica. I am so appreciative.


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