When your child dies, so many things change.
Of course there is the obvious, immense absence from all things. Breakfasts and graduation ceremonies and grocery trips. Family reunions and spontaneous kickball games and Christmas dinners. You are always acutely aware of the absence, even when it doesn't look like it. Even when you partake in the smile or the dance or the conversation, you always feel it.. As though it were a part of you, consistent as any fleshy appendage.
Then there is the wonder. Who would they be now, in this moment? What would they look like? What favorite snacks would line your pantry and which songs would calm them most? Would she prefer red to pink and soccer to ballet and mushrooms to applesauce? There are moments when you'd swear this isn't your life, and there are nights when you wake and wonder if she'd be lying next to you now, stubby pink toenails peaking through fleece-lined bottoms, were she here.
This is not to mention the changes that occur in your every relationship, profession, interaction, and marriage. Or the ones that take place within you, physically. The involuntary adrenaline flood and subsequent respiratory distress that kicks in when you receive a shower invitation in the mail, or when your niece asks you to hold her purse, or when the flight attendant mentions her daughter.
I'm sure many just assume I've gone off the deep end, and in many ways this is certainly true. How else can one explain bursting into hysterics watching Sesame Street or the general, noncommittal apathy towards all remaining life decisions? Only in most ways, I am certain these new personality traits are within the normal boundaries of any parent whose child's heart stopped beating, were there boundaries for that sort of thing.
Recently, I was selected to attend a senior soccer game. One of the players referenced me in her speech, as her most influential person. Her words brought me to tears, but I was already crying.
You see there, in the stands, stammering and hamming around was this little girl, maybe three, maybe less. She was wearing rainbow Nike shorts and pink tennis shoes, her hair in disarray amid a sea of curls and a scalloped pink bow. She ran from mom to aunt to unsuspecting crowd member, broken flower in hand. During the halftime presentation she joined her sister on the field, beaming as she held the lone, red balloon.
When this kind of thing happens now I can mostly hold it together; erase the tear from my cheek in the bleachers, as my vital organs pause.
But I'm no less sad than I was the day she died. It's no less unfair and despite what my generally upbeat stature might suggest, I feel no less exactly like some gaping, seeping wound for which there is no cover. No cure. Only time.
The last three years have altered me. Many of these alterations I can run from and point to and apologize for, and many I could never hope to explain or survive. I remember holding her in my arms, her skin growing colder by the second and feeling so far from prepared; already so far from the person I'd been. But even then I couldn't know how much she would change me.
I received several messages last week, wishing me a Happy Mother's Day. The complexity of these words never escapes me. This day is confusing at least, and debilitating at most because the truth is, I am no longer a happy mother.
I cannot say this will ever change, because when I buried my daughter I buried a part of me, too. And there they lay for all eternity, together beneath the ground. And I could go back with my shovel; an attempt to resurrect what used to be but it's such a fruitless labor. Because both of them are gone, and because it just leaves dirt on my hands.
I prefer to live in the acknowledgement of both, and alongside those who allow me such an existence. The ones who still care about girl whose heart stopped one unassuming Saturday afternoon, shortly after her daughter's did the same.
I prefer to acknowledge the beauty that becomes in carrying on. Even when it hurts, and even when it barely leaves the bed. Her brothers, hand in hand on the path to her tree; sharing crackers on the bench. The oldest, sprinting the moment his feet hit the gravel and the youngest, squealing at the geese and losing sight of his ankles in the grass.
Pooling laughter in the backseat. Half naked, public baths in muddy fountain water. Sloppy toddler serenades and chasing dragonflies and snow cones before dinner.
I am most alive in these moments with them. I see the parts of her I could feel then; the parts that only my heart was privy to. And in these moments I am grateful for such a time with her, and for such a time as this.