Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Things We’ve Handed Down

I recently read Liane Moriarty’s new book, The Husband’s Secret. One certainly could not have guessed from the title or description of this book that dead and maimed children would figure so prominently in it, so I dove into it unsuspectingly, only to find myself reading words that I could have written myself as the author describes one mother’s deep grief over her daughter’s death nearly thirty years before. Some of her descriptions were so apt that I found myself researching the author on the internet to see if she herself had lost a child (she hadn’t).

At one point this mother, whose daughter died at age seventeen, wonders aloud whether her daughter would have liked Tupperware parties. The passage continues, “She tried, and failed, as she always did, to imagine Janie as a forty-five-year-old woman.”

And I thought about the countless times in the last three-and-a-half years that I have tried to do this very same thing, tried to imagine what Hudson would look like, tried to imagine what she would be like, tried to imagine what she would be interested in. But even as I watch all of her age-group peers grow up in Facebook photos and videos, I find it impossible to imagine her face, her personality, her voice.

When I read that passage and thought about how impossible it is to imagine Hudson at almost five years old, I was suddenly jealous of this fictional grieving mother. Irrationally and in my head, I yelled at this woman who does not even exist. “At least you have some idea of what your daughter would be like at forty-five! You knew her at seventeen! You knew what she looked like as a grown person! You knew her personality as a young woman! You think YOU can’t imagine what your daughter would be like at forty-five!”

Now that we have two children at home, I find myself trying to picture her here in our lives far more often than I ever did when we had just Jackson. Somehow, the hole where she is supposed to be feels bigger now that we are four instead of five than it did when we were three instead of four. It’s almost like now that we have two at home, it’s what it was supposed to be all this time, and yet it’s not at all what it’s supposed to be.

What role would she play in this barely controlled chaos that is our daily life? Where would she sit at the table? Would her brother idolize her? Would her hair have gotten curlier as it grew or would it still be stick-straight, thin, and wispy like it was the day she left us?

And then there are all the years and questions that remain. What would she be like? Would she be stubborn like me? Silly like her father? Would her hair turn redder as she grew older, like mine did? Would she adopt some of our mannerisms like so many children do? Would we be close? Would she hate me for a time? A long time? Would I pass on to her my worst qualities? My best? How would she spend her life?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. While I’m so incredibly grateful for the seventeen months and twelve days I had to know her, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t nearly enough.


  1. Good god, Mandy, 17 months and twelve days is sinful. Of course it wasn't enough. 17 years would not have been enough, or seventeen times seventeen. It's just wrong. I wondered if your new life, in your new house, with your new baby would move the pieces around just enough for that gaping hole to be even harder to hide from, and I'm so terribly sorry all the time. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and fix it all for you. XOXO Claire

  2. Thanks for articulating these painful things, Mandy. I've lived--my family has lived--with such a hole in our hearts and lives for almost thirty years now. It seems to become more noticeable and painful when new life appears on the scene. With the birth of our first grandchild this year, we've felt it more acutely than we have in years. Sending you healing thoughts and prayers.