Death makes the heart grow softer

Death makes the heart grow softer

Then when he was three-and-half years old, his sister died. She went away on a summer morning, and never reappeared. Suddenly from the edge of the carpet, someone could leap to the end of the universe, to a place no one has seen, and no one ever comes back from. He did not understand what death was, or how far it took our little baby. But he loved trains, so his sister, who was the little El train running parallel to him, the bigger Metra, just “went ahead to the next station.”

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Here, there, and everywhere

Here, there, and everywhere

My younger daughter, Audrey, repeats this narrative nearly every day. Claire is her doll, and Claire was the sister she never met or played with. My heart stops and my breath catches in my throat as she explains to the receptionist behind the counter or the lady at the dog park: "You don't know I have two sisters. One is named Julia, and the other is named Claire but Claire died."

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The sibling strategies

The sibling strategies

Your sister died but you became a big brother nevertheless, and I can see you itching to fulfil that role. If only you knew how much I want you to experience the healing that would come with a brand-new life. Sometimes when we talk about babies I will put my hand protectively over my lower belly but I don’t tell you about the changes going on inside. You don’t need to know how often our babies die, you don’t need to share my fear. So I just hug you and tell you that I would also like to have another baby, very much, and that I hope it will someday happen for us.

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The dialogue of death

The dialogue of death

Regardless of the frequent opportunities, I struggle to frame the discussion. Death, of course, does not follow a prescribed timeline, it does not bend to logic or will, it is not fair. Not everyone young will grow old. Far too many times I linger in the anxiety of the subject matter, lost at the beginning of the conversation, pen and mouth idle to find even the first word to console a heartbroken friend, or to answer an inquisitive 4-year-old.

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Waves

Waves

You round a corner and the lamp swings just so, and you catch a quick glimpse of something entirely magnificent, something that steals your breath. A tapestry, perhaps. Or a floor to ceiling stained glass window. You know, completely normal things you find in normal castles. Except that long ago all lights in this one were put out, and there is no fairy tale twist to reverse this curse.

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