My second daughter died on our sidewalk. Just a few steps from our front door.
Everything was fine and then it was over.
I walk over that patch of land nearly every single time I leave the house. My firstborn daughter rides her scooter over the spot, back and forth, screaming and hollering as she glides down the path. Our bedroom is in the front of the house, as close to the scene as you can get without being outside. A street lamp shines through our curtains in the darkness, like a beacon, as if it shines to remind me. Crickets hop between grass and concrete and I can hear them chirp, chirp, chirping away, into the evening and throughout the night.
The slab of concrete where she died just sits there idly still, two feet by two feet, day after day, gray and lifeless.
I thought my home would be ruined for me after she died. I thought it would be impossible to spend every day and night in the exact same place where her life abruptly ended. I wondered how I could avoid walking on that stretch of cement, how I could ever step foot on it without wanting to weep, or build a monument, or take a sledgehammer to it.
I wondered if this city would be ruined for me too.
I'm realizing now, after twenty-one months without her, that these places are all I have.
This was the last place she was alive. It was the last place our living bodies came into contact as I hugged her Mother, my belly against her body, a few minutes before it was over.
It's here in my home, here in this city where I've bonded with her through support group and countless conversations with my wife, through experiencing her with our friends and grieving with my living daughter, by watching my subsequent son being born in the exact place his sister died. We may not have brought a living daughter home from the hospital, but we have spent month after month parenting her, connecting with her, here in this place, even in her absence.
In two weeks time, we will be packing up our meager possessions and moving from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, some two thousand miles to the East.
Los Angeles is where she was conceived, on a blistering July night, bedroom windows open. Los Angeles is where she miraculously grew and where we first saw her and where we felt her kick and where we set up her nursery. And Los Angeles is where she died on an overcast Thursday afternoon. It’s where we last held her and where we said goodbye. It’s the place we faced our greatest darkness, the place our friends whispered her name and lavished us with understanding and kindness. It’s where we spread her ashes, where we have spent night after night talking and crying over our lost baby girl. And we’re leaving it all behind.
The sidewalk isn’t coming with us. Neither is the river where we spread her ashes or the home where we mourned her. Our friends, the ones who selflessly trudged with us through the pain, the ones who know as much as you can really know, they aren’t coming either. The street lamp will continue burning brightly and the crickets will keep chirping and we will be long gone from the only place on earth that I really knew her.
And it scares the hell out of me.
How will we make friends with people who don’t know this part of our story? How will we handle a place that shows no sign of her? How will we feel connected to her in a place she’s never been?
The packing list for what we will take in our car includes three things so far:
travel pack n’ play
The only thing I know to do, as I leave my home, is to take her with me. In whatever ways I can, in whatever form, however possible it may be. Her ashes will ride in my glove compartment. The rocks from her river will be in a glass jar on the floor near my feet. Her necklace and ornament and the framed picture of water will be carefully packed, safe and sound in the back seat.
And truth is, there ain’t nothing a move can change about the girl who resides in my fractured heart, the girl who has left me for better and for worse. She is there regardless of geography. Regardless of happiness or a subsequent child or death or moving or Christmas presents. I'm the one who carries her memory.
Perhaps that will be enough.
Have you moved away from the place where your children lived and died? What was it like? Did it change the way you grieved, the way you thought about them? Can you imagine moving from the place you experienced your loss?