Somehow, impossibly, it is almost time for Hudson’s birthday again. Next Monday, December 1, will mark her sixth birthday. The fifth one that we have endured without her. So many years have now cycled past that for the first time, her birthday falls on the very day she was actually born, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
And like last year, as the days and weeks have passed, as we have crept closer and closer to her birthday (and Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the other lovely goodness that comes at this time of year), her absence is as palpable as ever. And like last year, this makes me feel closer to her than usual. That grief can be such a foe and such a friend all at one time is one of its many confounding mysteries.
For reasons that I am still trying to understand, this sixth birthday feels different to me. I have spent much of this past year thinking hard about all the ways in which my life has been made so very easy. I was born white. I was born into an upper-middle class family. I was the youngest in my family, so I got the full benefit of my parents’ upward mobility. I was sent to private school. I wanted for nothing as a child, not clothes, not food, not the latest fad. I am college-educated. I have an advanced degree. I am married to a man who not only loves his work but is also well-employed enough that he can support our family while I pursue a career writing full-time. Although I will certainly experience the fear that every mother does when her children leave her presence, worried that she might not see them again, I will never have to fear that my child may be killed as a result of structural racism that is so ingrained in this country’s psyche that it is difficult to see how it will ever be destroyed. These things are only the tip of the iceberg of all of the ways in which my life has been made easy for me as a white, upper-middle class woman. Although we’ve certainly worked hard to get where we are, I know many, many others who have worked far harder than we have and have never even managed to get half as far. And that’s due to the sheer fortune of our birth. My life has been easy in so many ways.
And it has also been hard in one of the hardest ways. Losing my daughter ended my life as I knew it then. A new life began the day she died, and while much of it is very familiar, it is so fundamentally different that it is still sometimes unrecognizable to me. Just this morning, as I was driving my regular route to work, making a left on Weaver Street, I caught a glimpse of a woman walking down the sidewalk past me. I never made eye contact with her, but when I saw her, I felt as if I’d been struck in the face. She looked so normal, so ordinary, so very much like she belonged to this world, like she belonged on that sidewalk. And I suddenly felt so very much the opposite. Did my child really die? Do I really have a dead child? Did that really happen? What planet am I on?
But even living with the death of my child was made easier for me. We had such excellent health insurance that we paid only a tiny fraction of the enormous charges incurred for Hudson’s stay in the intensive care unit. Our friends gave us money to help cover all our expenses after she died and then some. Friends gave us money just to enjoy pizza and a movie. My colleagues at the Federal Public Defender donated sick days to me so that I could have paid leave while I decided whether or not I could return to work. When I finally decided that I couldn’t go back to work, we were financially able to handle the drop in our income. We had the resources to get grief counseling.
My life has been so easy. And so hard.
But I find more and more that the only thing that brings me any comfort whatsoever anymore is looking for ways to make others’ lives easier, the way others tried to make mine easier when it was at its hardest.
My friend Sarah is a social worker in Raleigh. She put out a call last week for people interested in adopting families for Christmas. I wanted to do it, but I also wasn’t sure how much we should commit right now—we have had a lot of unexpected large expenses coming at us, right before the holidays, and right before I’m about to quit my job. Sarah told me that they usually ask people to get an outfit, a warm coat, and a few fun items for each child, a coat and shoes for the parents, and toilet paper, paper towels, and non-perishable food items for the house.
Toilet paper. I have never in my life had to struggle to buy toilet paper. I have never been without a warm coat when I needed one. Or shoes. I am about to quit my reliable, good-paying, flexible job on purpose to pursue work that may never generate one penny of income, and I am worried about whether we can afford to help this family buy toilet paper.
So we’re going to buy them some toilet paper. And paper towels. And food. And clothes and toys for their kids. And a coat and shoes for the single mom who somehow holds this family together.
And we’re going to do these things while we remember Hudson on her birthday. I haven’t done a very good job explaining how these things are somehow inexplicably entwined for me, but they are. To honor Hudson by trying to care for others like I have been cared for all of my life, like I was cared for when she died, seems to me the only way it makes any sense to honor her. Honoring this hard life without her by trying to make others’ lives easier seems to be the only thing that makes any sense to do.
As we do every year, we invite you to do One Good Thing sometime this next week to remember Hudson’s life. Any good thing, no matter how big or small. It won’t fill the hole that was left behind when she died, but it will make the hole more beautiful. And if you are so inclined, please invite others to join us, too.
We can’t stop it from coming. We can’t bring Hudson back. But in the spirit of the lesson she taught us, we can continue to help her light shine in the world by finding the One Good Thing, and this week, that means doing One Good Thing. Thank you all so much.