Tonight, after a long tough afternoon with both kids (maybe it’s my imagination or a product of having two at once for the first time, but this Ada kid is giving me a run for my money) and a total meltdown by Jackson, who missed his nap this afternoon but was trying to avoid going to bed like it was his job, I finally got Jackson up on the changing table to put on his diaper and jammies and get ready for bed. He had gone from screaming, crying, and tears running down his face to laughing and chatting in about ten seconds.
He started gleefully shouting the names of everyone in the family. “Daddy!” “Mommy!” “Jackson!” “Baby Ada!” “Bess!”
How could I not notice? How could I not?
We talk about her. Often. Her pictures are everywhere, and Jackson can point to them and say, “Hudson!” If I ask him who Hudson is, sometimes he’ll say, “Sister!” or “Big sister!” Whenever the Iz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” comes up on Pandora, he’ll say, “Hudson’s song!”
But no “Hudson!” when rattling off the names of everyone in the family. Not that I blame him. “Sister” is still a pretty abstract concept, even with a baby sister now in the house, nursing half the time and crying the other half. “Family” is an abstract concept, too, even for my extremely verbal son, who surprises me every day with the words and concepts he understands.
The book he chose tonight was “A Baby Sister for Frances.” If you don’t remember the Frances books, they are about a little badger named Frances and her family. This one in particular is about Frances trying to get used to her own baby sister. I ordered it for Jackson back before Ada was born. Life gets pretty crappy after Gloria is born (no blue dress ironed for school, bananas instead of raisins in her oatmeal), so Frances runs away to the dining room one night. Her mom and dad talk about her while she’s run away to the other room, about how even though it’s really nice to have the baby, they are just not a family without the big sister. “A family is everybody all together.”
“A family is everybody all together.”
The first time I read those lines to him a few months ago, it was like I’d been hit by a bag of bricks. Everybody all together. Everybody. All together.
We are not. All together. The big sister is gone. Not run away to the dining room table to snack on sandwich cookies. Gone. Altogether.
And yet she is here, isn’t she?
Today I caught myself staring at her Easter egg photo, which serves as the wallpaper on my phone (Jackson looks at it and says, “Hudson!”). She’s always there, behind all the icons. Sometimes I stop and pay attention to her. Many times I don’t. She is just there.
I use some combination of letters in her name and numbers as my password for a variety of things now. Sometimes I stop and think about her when I type them in. Sometimes I don’t. But she is there.
Ada is working her way through Hudson’s hand-me-downs. Sometimes (often) I stop and conjure an image of Hudson in the same pair of jammies or the same outfit. Sometimes I don’t. But she is there, too.
As I wrote in Ada’s birth story, I felt remorse later when I realized that I hadn’t thought much about Hudson in the moments right after Ada’s birth, nothing like the bittersweet moments I spent just after Jackson was born. But as I wrote there, what I have realized is that, much like these other two kids who are here with us living, breathing, screaming, yelling, running, eating, pooping, smiling, giggling, and snuggling, she is so much a part of us that we don’t need to “think about her” for her to be here with us. Maybe that is just a rationalization on my part for what I know and understand to be, finally, acceptance of her death and integration of it into our lives. But it makes sense. We live and breathe her just as much as we do our other kids, maybe even more so.
“A family is everybody all together.” Jackson doesn’t understand this now. He doesn’t understand “family” or “sister” or “Hudson died.” But he will. And when he does, he will know, probably better than we do, that even though we are not together in the way we wish—the way we wish in every single living, breathing second—that we could be, we are still all together. We are still a family.