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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hail Mary

Dear Josie,

I promise to do something nice for myself every year.  In February.

Last year this manifested in the material sense.  It also started an argument with your father.  I remember him greeting me at the door with the credit card bill. 

"Who is Kate Spade and why do we owe her two hundred dollars?"

This year was different.  For reasons I won't get into here, but that involve saving money for moving expenses in the near future and the avoidance of being served with divorce papers, I won't be going shopping.  This year I've been thinking a lot, instead.  Mostly about Mary.  I know this doesn't sound nearly as glamorous as a new leather crossbody, but surprisingly, it has been more rewarding.

I first met Mary nearly two years ago.  It was spring break and I was home on maternity leave, or non-maternity leave, or maternity leave sans baby...or whatever awful words one might use to describe the seven weeks after you died.

One night I was up late, scouring the web and one of my favorite support forums.  A recent loss mom posed the question at four am in all caps. 
WHY.     GO.       ON.

I stared at the words awhile, and when I realized I didn't have the answer I frantically read the responses, hoping someone else did.  That's when I "met" Mary.
I don't know if her name is really Mary.  That's the thing about the internet.  But I don't care either because that's not important.  What probably Mary said is important. 
Mary shared this picture of a man and a woman in front of a Christmas tree, surrounded by children and adults alike in red and green and smiles so bright I swear someone painted them. It was late and my vision was blurred but I counted 21 faces.
"Thirty years ago there were two people in this picture," Mary said.  "For that person next to you and for the 19 who don't yet exist, you go on for them."
When I first read her words I thought, that's a lot of pressure.  Because that doesn't help me right NOW and because I'm not trying to have eight kids, lady. 
But now, I think I understand what Mary meant. 

Yesterday, you should have turned two. 

You should be two years old.  You should be running, with scrapes on your knees and glitter under your fingernails and a voice laced with entitlement.  Your world and mine should be revolving around you but they aren't.  And you don't.  And you can't. 

I took the day off but in the afternoon I drove to work.  It was "Writer's Week" and I read one of your letters to the crowd of students, colleagues, and alumni.  I listened to the others read about love and war and religion and addiction.  About teaching and loss and perseverance.  I laughed some and I cried some more, and I felt less alone.

In the evening we met at your tree, all of your aunts and uncles and cousins and friends.  We wrote notes to you on pink balloons and we left roses and wishes in the ground.  And then we had dinner.

I loved everything about the day, but my favorite part was the morning.

We met at your brother's school.  The night before he helped me cut twenty-two pink ribbons for his classmates, and they were all wearing them. 

They walked us outside and they surrounded us.   Twenty-two tiny hands clasped together, singing from their perfect, Kindergarten hearts.  Happy Birthday to you. 

Your brother released the shiny, "princess" balloons his teacher purchased, his handmade drawing attached, and they all ran after them.  Chasing and waving and jumping, until they faded out of view.

I used to fixate on the absences in my life.  And by "used to" I mean still do pretty often.  The way my eyes looked happier in pictures but don't anymore, because the eyes of a parent whose children are all alive no longer belong to me.  Or the way I would kiss them goodbye in the morning with a certainty that I'd see them again. 

Of course there is the biggest absence.  The glaring, gaping space in every picture where you should be, today and fifty years from now.  My daughter, whose father should be wrapped around her chubby fingers and whose chubby fingers should be clutching mine.  In this picture of this life that will never exist.

And I can leave it there, that hole.  I can look at that gaping space next to me and I can turn away.  I can empty it day after day until there's nothing left to share.

Or I can chase that love like a child, leaping just behind. 

Willing it to rise, and watch it paint the sky. 




Monday, February 22, 2016


Dear Josie,

I can't believe it's been two years.

Two years ago I held you.  Two years ago you died.

I used to say that it felt like a lifetime ago and like yesterday at the same time, only lately it feels more like the lifetime.

Your death has opened me, like cracks in the sidewalk.  For awhile there was only rain to fill the spaces. And how the water froze.

But those spaces have expanded. They have thawed, and slowly, gradually, other things began to enter.  Other things have occupied the cracks.   Angry things.  Brave things.  Happy things. 

But the sadness, the gut-wrenching kind that made me want to die seems like a lifetime ago.  And I hate it. 

I wish it were yesterday. 

I wish I could say that I felt you yesterday, in this skin.  On this skin.

I wish your memory were a day's drive instead of a flight.

I wish my heart still raced when they said your name. 

I wish they still said your name. 

I wish these walls knew your sounds.  And I wish their hands knew their sister's.

But mostly, mostly I just wish you were here.  It doesn't matter the words or the day or the time.

I love you and I wish you were here.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Letter From Aunt Lacy 3-31-14

Dear Josie,
Today was your due date.  Today the world owed us your presence.  Today, we should be holding you.
Some of us were promised a daughter, a grandchild, or a niece.  For me, I looked forward to meeting you:  a stranger.  A brand new little girl I would spend the rest of my life getting to know.  The potential for your life was limitless.
In an otherwise unremarkable instant, the physical manifestation of that potential was taken from us.  The opportunity of a lifetime, stolen from our fingertips.  Unapologetically, the world kept going. 
This deprivation has forced me to reconsider my current understanding of fairness, and how exactly life could seem so unjust.  I wonder if the world has let me down.  I ask questions, hoping for answers I so desperately think I need.
I search in vain.  My demands will not be recognized, nor my disappointment coddled. 
But if there is something you have shown me more than anything, it is the lack of perspective I have towards my existence.  A journey far too complex for my own comprehension.  I have failed to notice each miracle for all that it's worth, and the fa├žade of time has duped me, once again, into thinking each sensation is a guarantee. 

As such, there will be no guaranteed resolve for our pain now.  Reconciling your loss will be a long, difficult process. 

But Josie, you are free, unlimited by mortality, revered by your temporal guardians.  Eternal and beautiful.  Your presence within me, far greater than flesh, transcends any indignity I have been dealt.

I recognize this tree as a symbol of growth and promise.  A simple reminder that though the winds are strong and the winter harsh, its will to live endures. 

Peacefully, I know your place in this world will forever be in our hearts.  So I will try, as long as I am able, to make your home as perfect as you.

(Aunt) Lacy

Friday, February 12, 2016

Et Tu, Year Two?

Dear Josie,

One of my favorite quotes likens grief to being mildly drunk or concussed.  C.S. Lewis says "...there is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.  Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in..."

People told me the second year can be harder than the first, and I can believe it.  Year One was living in the haze.  Year Two rips off the blanket.

Year One begs the question:  Can there be a day more difficult than the one you held your dead daughter in your arms?  Year Two answers.  A resounding yes. 

It's the day you realize what's been made of you.  The one where can't get out of bed or can't stop crying, which is forever a possibility but in Year Two it's no longer acceptable to recoil and hide.  In Year Two you can't check the box for bereavement leave, which seems appropriate only this box is no longer one you can mindfully exit.  You live in that box.  Year Two confirms this. 

Year One you turn around but Year Two you keep driving.  To work.  To the game or the mall or the wedding because it's been two years and you think you should.  When you arrive and you want to cry or buy all the ice cream, you smile instead because it's Year Two and because you left your wallet in the car. 

Year Two is the first day you hide her. 

It's the day someone comments on how nice you look after having two children and you smile, but on the inside you're screaming because there are three. Because you are thirty years old and you've already had three children, and you've already buried one.  

It's the day you turn around and they've stopped calling.  Stopped asking.  And maybe they want to but it's Year Two and they think they shouldn't.  It's the day you denounce the universe for allowing time to pass.  The same day you look down and realize you are moving with it; that your world is spinning just as much. 

It's the first day you hold her baby brother.  Perfect and healthy and the day they let you take him home.  When your heart is bursting with relief and love and gratitude but the ache hasn't left.  When your arms are full but they'll never be.  It's the day you realize that even at your happiest, you will still be sad. 

Year One was that first day without you.   Over.  And over.  And over again. 

Year Two was the next day.  Year Two is the rest of my life. 

It's not all bad, of course.  Year One removed but Year Two has provided.  Insight and perspective aside, Year Two gave me solid, tangible things that I can feed and love and sing to sleep.  Year Two was growth and true smiles, more than I ever thought possible when you died.  Year Two lifts the shock that was your death.   The dust has settled and that's nice but there's a density to the air now.  And some days it's still hard to see.    

In a word, the Year Two me is reeling.  The most beautiful, tragic stumble into a life I've only just met. 

I'm learning, though.  What to take on and what to set aside.  I'm learning to count my losses but not my chickens.  How to feel the ache in more productive ways.   Healthier ways.    I'm learning that whoever said "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" isn't someone I'd like to punch. 

Because losing you didn't kill me.  I'm here and you're not, and that's a wall that will never make sense.  Maybe I'm climbing it because I have no choice.  Maybe there are days I'd rather run.  Maybe a good amount of those days fell in Year Two, and maybe so did lots of ice cream.

But I'm not running.  I'm looking up and I'm shaking but I haven't stopped and that has to count for something.

Year Two is done but I'm not.