Saturday, December 1, 2012

Happy Fourth Birthday, Sweet Hudson

My dearest girl,

It is December 1 again. Your birthday again. The third one we have endured without you here to celebrate with us. Today, you should be four. And if I thought last year that three seemed so big, so much older than you were when you left us, four seems like an unimaginably big-girl age. A few weeks ago, I met a little girl at the Halloween party at your brother’s school. She was tall, almost gangly (like I have often imagined you might be), and so full or words. We just happened to be in her classroom, and I glanced at the birthdays on the wall and saw that she was actually younger than you. Or younger than you would be if you were still here. (I still don’t even know how to talk about that. Because I suppose you will always be 17 months and 12 days old. The youngest in our family, even as you are at the same time the oldest.) And as these realizations always do, this one took my breath away. To think that you would be that big, that old, that mature, that talkative, that outgoing (you were already well on your way in that direction)—it was just hard to imagine. Four.

It has been quite a year for us, sweet girl. Over the course of five short months from mid-March to mid-August, I was diagnosed with cancer, went through several surgeries, raced in a triathlon, moved with your daddy and Jackson back to our very special hometown, went through eight chemotherapy treatments, lost all my hair, went into remission from cancer, and started a new job. I remember thinking so many times after my diagnosis and during treatment that I just felt like I could have handled it all so much better if I’d just had you with me. And yet I also know that the only way I managed it as well as I did was because of you. You were right there with me every step of the way, from the sea birds I passed during my race to the turtle keychain on my nurse’s necklace at my first chemo appointment. If it hadn’t been for you, I don’t know how I would have endured at all. I feel sure that if it hadn’t been for you, I would never have shaved my hair into a purple mohawk or done something as insane as try to train for a triathlon during chemo. Losing you was the hardest, cruelest, most horrifying thing that has ever happened to me, Hudson. In comparison, cancer felt almost like nothing. And even more importantly, you taught me about the importance of trying to live without fear, about the importance of gratitude, about the importance of finding One Good Thing in every bad thing that happens to me. And for me, in the most bittersweet of ways, my girl, cancer was just one more opportunity for me to share your amazing spirit with the world. And really, how could that be bad?

I miss you, dear one. My heart aches with the missing. This morning, after we’d all gotten up and eaten breakfast, we went outside in the front yard to enjoy this beautiful sunny day. We kicked a ball around and chased each other, and then your brother pretended to tackle me and threw himself on top of me while your daddy tickled me until I could barely breathe from laughing so hard. Then your brother laid his head on my shoulder, and in an instant, my laughter dissolved into tears. Or perhaps the better way to say it is that my laughter was mellowed by tears, because I was still smiling, even laughing, as I cried. The sky was so perfectly blue, cloudless even. The air was almost balmy, nearly 60 degrees at only ten in the morning. The laughter, the snuggles, the day—in that moment, it all felt so nearly perfect. Except that, in that same moment, I knew how very perfect it wasn’t, how very perfect it will never be. Because you should have been right there in that big pile of love and laughter, tickling me, tickling your brother, shrieking with delight as Daddy grabbed you up by your ankles and swung you around just like he used to do when you were so little, pointing out the airplanes in the sky so that Jackson could see them. You should have been right there.

But there are so many little pieces of you everywhere, sweet girl. Many nights when I put Jackson to bed, I am so grateful to open a book that was yours, one that was inscribed to you when you were born. I always run my fingers over the words, remembering the care and love that someone took to write them, remembering how very much you were loved from the very moment we all knew you existed. The other day, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and when they couldn’t find it, I gave them the name “Chaney” to see if it had somehow gotten mis-filed. The pharmacist looked in the computer and then looked at me and said, “Hudson?” I said no, but I was amazed to think of your name, little digital histories of you, floating around in all of these places I never would have even thought of. Your little brother is now wearing the fleece jammies that I bought for you on sale at Christmas 2009—you wouldn’t fit into them for another year, but they were such a good deal that I bought them in advance and put them away for you when you grew into a 24 months size. You never got to wear them, but now I think of you every night when I pull one of them out to put on your brother—there is a striped pair and a pair with, of all things, penguins on it (I recall so well the moment that I found those when I was packing up your room last winter—another moment when I laughed and cried all at the same time). You are not here, and yet you are here everywhere, ready with a new surprise when I expect it least, and often when I need it most.

As we have for each of the last two years on your birthday without you, we have tried to share some more little pieces of you with the world, always, always trying to keep looking for that One Good Thing after losing you, the One Good Thing in these long days, weeks, months, and years without you. It was hard not being in our old home where we spent most of your life—we missed visiting our special place for you in the Arboretum in particular. But we are making new-old rituals here in our new-old home, the place where we will spend the rest of our lives making sure that all these little pieces of you stay with us and with the world. We took lots of dog toys to the animal shelter here in Chapel Hill, just as we did the past two years in DC, and we thought about you as we looked with yearning at all the sweet pups who need adopting and how much you would have loved each and every one. And instead of taking Elmo dolls and your favorite books to the hospital where you died, we took lots of toys, books, and games to the Ronald McDonald house here in Chapel Hill, where so many children and their families stay while the children receive much-needed treatment at our children’s hospital here. And instead of visiting the Arboretum, we took a long and beautiful walk through the nature trails here at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. There were many memorial benches all along the trails, and I read each one and thought about the families who placed them there, about the people, young and old, who inspired so much love, just like you did. I feel a sense of communion with all of those people, the dead and the living, all because of you. What wonderful gifts you continue to give me, because in another life, I would have walked right past those benches and never thought twice about them. All these little pieces of you, right here among us. All these little pieces of you that I will spend the rest of my life trying to share with others, so that they might know just a tiny fraction of the joy that you brought to my life. All these little and big One Good Things.

You are gone but you should not be. But, following your lead, I will cherish what is— that your dad’s and my lives, and so many others, are changed forever because you were in them. Your smile, joyful laugh, mischievous ways, sweet voice, and wise countenance are indelibly burned on my heart-- I would do anything to hear you say “Mama” just one more time. You are gone but you should not be. Thank you for helping me cherish what is. I love you.

I love you and miss you so much, precious girl. Today and always. Thank you for you.




  1. Missing Hudson and her family today.

  2. Happy birthday to your sweet girl. Her precious life has touched so many.

  3. Happy birthday to Hudson and much love to you.


  4. Thank you, Mandy. Moving and exquisite. You make Hudson live on as you write about her. I miss her too, even without having had the privilege of knowing and playing with her.

    Much love,

  5. Happy birthday to Hudson, and so much love to all of your family. I love reading your letters to your girl. As always, they are beautiful and moving.

  6. A beautiful letter to your daughter. A letter of love.
    Much love,

  7. You brought me to tears at my desk, thank you for sharing :)