It’s gut wrenching how much I long for her these days.
A whirl of small brown leaves flies against the windshield of my car as I drive by their tree, almost bare.
I feel her close, I really do.
And also, deep in my gut, everywhere in my heart, in all of me – the awareness that my child in her body is missing.
For about a month, we’ve had her picture close by in the dining room of our new home. It’s in a temporary frame… I’m working on something much more grand, much more beautiful. But her sweetest face is there in all its 8x10 glory, peeking out at us as we eat, draw, do homework, putz around on the computer, talk. As I write this.
There she is… and yet that’s not her. It’s just her photograph. Sometimes I feel her there. Sometimes she is in the leaves. Sometimes in the occasional milkweed seed that reminds me of the oh-so-sad-so-terribly-incredibly-painfully-sad week we spent in the mountains after we said goodbye to her. Sometimes in the red tail hawk that flies above Cincinnati, though much less frequently than she did in San Francisco.
When I look at that photograph, I just miss my Baby Girl… in the flesh.
I am reminded each time I look at it just how beautiful she was. And how much she struggled with each breath. That’s when the tears come, when I remember those days in between,
She’s doing surprisingly well… this is what she’ll need in order to come home,
She just can’t get enough air into her small fragile lungs, even with all this support.
That’s when I imagine what it would be like now if things hadn’t turned, if she had come home on oxygen and continued to get stronger.
I know how lucky I am that I got to know her when she was alive. I know how lucky I am that I got to hold her, to kiss her, to sing to her, to touch her soft skin, to look into her eyes as she looked into mine. I know we didn’t all get that in this community of deadbabyparents… I wish we all had. I wish all of our babies were still here, in the flesh, alive and well.
Maybe I have more photos of my baby, but it doesn’t make it easier to have lost her. Nothing can make it easy to lose a child. Easy isn’t a word I identify with anymore. As a word, it feels trivial and doesn’t serve me much. But hard… that feels too simplistic. Sometimes it isn’t hard. Sometimes it just is.
Strange feels more like it these days. Strange because I can simultaneously feel acceptance and disbelief. So many days that is my normal. I still say to Tikva, several times a week, silently or out loud,
Oh Baby Girl… you died. You died.
Then a voice within me will remember, will insist,
But you lived, too. I won’t ever forget that you lived. And for that, I am grateful.
It may have been a blink of an eye, like a daydream… but I wouldn’t trade it in for forgetting the loss of you. Not ever.
I was terrified last year at this time to spend Thanksgiving with our family. I was terrified to be up close and personal with Tikva’s cousin, who was born during the weeks in between my daugther’s birth and her death. I was so scared of being face to face with the reminder that my baby wasn’t there, that he was here and she was not. The fear became something bigger than itself, and I almost spent Thanksgiving separate from my entire family.
But in the end I went. And I sat with this beautiful little boy on my lap, felt his newness, looked into his big brown eyes that reminded me of Tikva’s. And I saw his bright soul, felt his pureness. The ease of being with an uncomplicated soul that a baby is. Connected to him as his own self, not as a reminder of what I didn’t have. He had no idea that he had a cousin who died shortly after he was born. One day he will, and forever he will remind me of the age Tikva would be if only…
But in that moment he was just pure love. And I let myself take that in.
And I looked around at my family all over the house, watching football, taking one more bite of pie while talking and drinking coffee. And I felt so deeply grateful for every single one of them who had held me together before, during and since Tikva’s life. The loss of the months leading up to last Thanksgiving didn’t take away my gratitude for all that remained.
I felt I was still here because of them. Because of my husband and my incredible and brave older daughter, my Dahlia. Because of my sister and my father and my family and my friends – my community. Because of my city, my ocean, my park to walk in, my hawks flying above. My yoga classes to cry silently in. My work to go to for a day’s worth of distraction from my thoughts, and time to read a babylost blog when I needed to go in.
And because of this place I stumbled upon in the early months after Tikva’s death. Where I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t alone, and soon felt the uncomfortable mingling of that relief with the realization that the only way I could not feel alone here was for other parents to also have lost their babies. Where you just get it without my having to explain.
I’m not much for holidays honoring consumerism and the massacre indigenous peoples. I’m not a huge fan of turkey and the gluttony that accompanies this holiday, especially when I know that many of us aren’t blessed to eat every day, much less such a feast. But I do get swept up – just a little – in taking pause for gratitude.
For me, gratitude after loss is different. It’s too simple to say that because of all I have lost, I appreciate what I have so much more. It has something to do with the impossible-to-shake-now-and-probably-forever recognition of just how fragile it all is… that all I really have, no matter how much time I get here, together with those I cherish, is this moment I am in. That understanding just doesn’t let go of me, and neither does the gratefulness I feel that seems to go hand in hand with it.
Because if all I have is this moment, then I better kiss my Dahlia one extra time today, better eat that last piece of dark chocolate waiting for me in the cookie jar, better call my dad to tell him I love him, better tell my husband one more time just how proud I am of him… and I better be kind and gentle with myself.
Thank you, Tikva, for awakening me to the present moment more than anyone ever has. Because with you, I could do nothing greater than be completely present – unconditionally – for as long as we would get together.
How does gratitude feel to you now? Is it there? The same? Different? If you do feel it, what makes you feel grateful?