Out of Grief, Singing is an achingly beautiful account of how a woman comes to terms with the loss of her newborn. After a bewildering series of rapid diagnoses and emergency interventions, Charlene's daughter Chloe is born. But her too-brief life is spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, and her mother, leveled by an epidural anaesthetic procedure gone wrong, can barely make it to her daughter's side. In the months following Chloe's death, more medical crises make it nearly impossible to even begin the grieving process, let alone return to any semblance of a normal life. But return she does, along a path that is both arduous and rich. With a poet's ear for language, Charlene Diehl shares her discovery of joy amidst a devastating loss, putting into words what so many parents find themselves unable to express.
Charlene Diehl is a writer, editor, performer, and the director of THIN AIR, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. She did her graduate work at the University of Manitoba, receiving a PhD in 1992 under the supervision of Robert Kroetsch. After a post-doc at McGill, and seven years as a professor in the English Department at the University of Waterloo, she returned to Winnipeg in 2000. She She edits dig!, Winnipeg's bi-monthly jazz publication, has published essays, poetry, non-fiction, reviews, and interviews in journals across Canada, a scholarly book on Fred Wah as well as a collection of poetry, lamentations, and two chapbooks, mm and The Lover's Handbook. Excerpts from Out of Grief, Singing, which appeared in Prairie Fire, won a Western Canadian Magazine Gold Award.
I've brought the inkprints of Chloe's feet, perfect prints of perfect feet, unutterably small. They signal, better than anything, the extremity of this place I'm inhabiting. How could any feet be this tiny? Could the fierce, spirited baby, the baby who has died, have had feet this tiny? Perfect, human feet. How could I be the mother of a child with feet so tiny? How could the wearer of these feet be dead? How could I be the mother of a dead baby? I skitter toward the feet, I skitter away from them.
I try not to think about this part: the footprints were made after Chloe died. A nurse, gentle hands cradling this lost body, washed her, dressed her, photographed her. She printed her hands, printed her feet. She did these things, last rites, out of respect for this baby, and for her father who stood watch hour upon hour, for her damaged mother, for the grandmother who hovered between the baby and her own daughter.
I hold the inkprints of Chloe's feet, and I keep returning to the pink parchment. I resolutely refused pink myself as a child -- I was too proud for pink, too sensitive to the unstated equation of femininity and weakness. But now I know something else: a premature baby has so little fat that the narrow arms and feet, the round belly, the ears and fingers and neck and ankles are ruddy, the deepest pink. The blood that streams furiously around the tiny body is scarcely below the surface, boiling with resolve, on an imperious mission to feed, defend, rescue. How could I choose green, or beige, or burgundy? Pink is a softer-than-Chloe color, but it's her color. She spent her days naked, wearing her skin bravely and with determination. I know now that pink is a tough color.
Diehl is a poet as well as an academic, and her prose is polished but full. Her words follow a rhythm that can be felt, like a subtle bass note, or a barely audible heartbeat. Out of Grief, Singing is a mother's love song for her "gone baby." Tragic, yes, but beautiful, too.
— Quill and Quire