Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy Seventh Birthday, Sweet Hudson

My dearest girl,

I don’t want to write this letter, sweet one. I read back over the letters I’ve written you on each of your birthdays since you died, and I have no idea how I came up with so many lovely words to say to you. Because today, I feel bereft. I feel grumpy and angry and so sad. In the early years after you died (how unbelievable and awful that you have been gone so long that there are now “early years”), my dread of these days—anniversaries and birthdays and other special days—was always worse than the days themselves. But as time as passed, I find more and more that the opposite is true. In the beginning, when there was nothing but your absence, always, all the time, the special days were really no different than the others—like every other day, they were hard and sad. If anything, those days may have even been a little bit easier, because even though they were hard and sad, we would always hear from lots of friends and special people who were remembering you on those days. But as time has gone on, and our lives have continued to grow bigger around your absence, we still feel it every day—every moment—but I think we feel it even more on those days, like your birthday, when you are supposed to be front and center. Earlier today, I was baking with your brother and sister, and all I could think about was how wrong it all was, how your brother and sister should have been at school, how I should have been putting the final touches on cupcakes to bring your first grade class to celebrate your birthday.

Your first grade class. I know I say every year that the age you should have reached seems so big, so grown, but goodness, Hudson. Seven? First grade? I’ve enjoyed looking at so many of your baby pictures over the last few days, and I can’t believe how much time has passed. I guess in some ways, this is similar to what every parent experiences looking at pictures of their children as babies, wondering how they could ever have been so small. And yet, of course, I don’t have you here with me as evidence of how much you have grown. You’re still the small, precious person I last saw lying on that bed in the hospital, finally undisturbed by so many wires and tubes and gadgets, no longer swollen from fluids and medication, looking as though you were simply sleeping peacefully. But even though you are not here for me to mark your height on the wall, I still feel the passage of time so keenly, how fast it all goes. It still feels like you were just here. It seems impossible that we are coming on six years since we last saw you. How can that be?

It boggles my mind to think of the kinds of conversations we’d be having now. Even at four-and-a-half, Jackson is constantly challenging me with his curiosity and incisive questions and thoughts. I can only imagine what it would be like to talk with you now. If your younger siblings are any indication of the kind of person you would be, I imagine talking with you would be utterly delightful.

It’s still too easy to idealize you now that you are gone. It’s too easy to extrapolate from your joyful, intelligent, wise-seeming personality as a toddler a notion of a young girl, not all that far from being a tween, really, who is passionate and compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic, hilarious and happy, and whip-smart. I like to think that your brother and sister carry so many of the best parts of you in them—I see so many of these traits in both of them every day.

As ever, I am heartbroken that the three of you are not here together to share what I imagine would be a sweet sibling relationship, at least for now. Your brother and sister love each other dearly, and they fight with each other with enthusiasm equal to their love. I’m sure it would have been the same with you. I picture you reading books to your voracious learner of a little brother, him peppering you with questions just like he does us, you responding half with actual facts and half with stuff you just made up on the spot, and then you finally telling him to leave you alone. And I picture you treating Ada as your own little baby, at least until she starts annoying you by constantly wanting to be within six inches of your body, which I’m absolutely certain she would. She would adore you, Hudson. I find I picture you here with us now more than I ever have before, which also means I feel your absence now more than ever before. And I can’t stand it.

As always, I do still take great comfort in all the lovely and fitting ways that people remember you on your birthday. This year, people donated books and toys and clothing to kids who need them; they donated money to so many causes that would have pleased you, including animal shelters, refugees in Europe who are trying to keep their babies safe, the children’s hospital that tried so hard to keep you here with us, and of course, our beloved St. Ann’s. When I think of all the Hudson joy and love being sent out into the world on your birthday, I am so grateful and so proud of you.

We did something a little different at home this year. When I asked your brother what he wanted to do to celebrate your birthday, he said he wanted to make a “love cake” because we miss you. So we baked you a love cake, a heart-shaped chocolate cake complete with Carolina blue frosting (Jackson’s idea) and snowflakes (also his idea). But his idea to make a love cake gave me an idea about our One Good Thing this year. As your brother gets older, I’ve been trying to think of ways to involve him more actively in our One Good Thing, to try and help him understand why we are doing what we are doing—to honor you by brightening the lives of other people, especially those who could really use some Hudson love and joy. So I thought we should make “love cookies” and stuff them into baggies with some cash and give them to the folks we see so often on our errands standing on the corners asking for help. And that’s what we did. And I can only hope that we are beginning to instill a real spirit of giving into your brother and sister—Jackson really enjoyed handing the bags of cookies out, and at one point, he and Ada even started fighting over who should get to do it. A fight over who gets to give? That’s one sibling fight I can tolerate. And I’m grateful to you always, sweet girl, for being our inspiration and our light as we walk this path without you.

As the Christmas season gets into full swing, I am missing you more than ever, Hudson. I’ll just keep carrying on conversations with you in my mind, imagining your seven-year-old gangly legs and stringy hair and exuberant smile. I wish so much that I could wrap you in my arms, tuck those long legs over mine, bury my nose into that hair, and whisper into your ear how very much I love you. I am so sorry that we’ll never have that. It’s all so very wrong. I love you, my dearest girl.

Happy Birthday.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Five Years: A Letter to My Girl

Oh, Hudson.

I just finished re-reading the letter I wrote you on this day last year, and it seems as though I’ve come full circle in the past year. I might have written the same letter today. You are still gone, my girl. So very gone. We are still learning how to go on without you, even though we wish we didn’t have to, even though sometimes it still seems so terribly wrong that we are. I am so sorry.

You have been gone for five years, sweet girl. Five years. That seems as impossible as the very fact of your death did on this day five years ago. That we have survived this long without you seems equally impossible. A friend of mine, whose little girl died five years before you did, wrote me recently and said that the five-year mark was especially hard for her because she somehow thought that by that point, enough time would have passed that she could reflect on her daughter’s death without falling apart, but that proved to be untrue. I understand that so well—I feel as though I have been grieving your absence more in the past several weeks and months than I have since you first left us. It hurts as much as it ever did, just in a different way.

But even more than that, there’s a part of me that thinks, here at five years, that this is enough. Enough time has passed. It’s time for you to come back to us. We have lived long enough without you. Part of me almost gleefully entertains this notion, even though I know it is absurd, even though my rational brain has accepted your death, has “integrated” it, as they say, into my life.

Last year, I wrote about how I had grown almost attached to the hole your absence has left in our lives. I told you that while your dad and I had thought about having another child, a fourth one, we had decided we probably wouldn’t do it. And at least for me, this was in part because I had grown so attached to the hole that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it or change it or complicate my profound relationship to it and to you. But then we went and tried to have another child anyway—I was so afraid of something happening to one of your younger siblings and the other one being left alone. But from December 12, when I learned I was pregnant with another little sibling for you, until January 20, when I learned that baby had died, I had a pervasive feeling, one that I could not seem to shake, that something wasn’t right. Perhaps this was just my body’s way of telling me that the pregnancy was not going to succeed, of preparing me emotionally for seeing that sweet little baby’s outline, on that shadowy gray screen, with no little heartbeat flitting away in its middle.

But once I’d muddled my way through that experience, whatever impulse had been pushing me toward having another baby, a third living child, another sibling for you and Jackson and Ada—that compulsion simply evaporated. Whatever urge had been driving me forward was just… gone.

It didn’t take me long then to realize something that, deep within me, I already knew. I was trying to fix something that could not be fixed. I was trying to have a family with three children, when, of course, I already have a family with three children. And with the terrible exception that you are not here with us, our family feels as complete as it can possibly be—which is to say, still wholly incomplete. I already knew that no fourth child, or fifth child, or twenty-fifth child would ever fill the hole that you left behind. But part of me still believed that moving forward with our original plan of three living children, a plan we’d had for so long, would somehow make me feel less broken, less incomplete. But during those five and a half weeks when we were on track to accomplish that plan, I discovered, not really to my surprise, that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I felt as broken and incomplete as ever, because I realized that I can’t ever feel less broken or less incomplete. Nothing will ever make me feel less incomplete without you, Hudson. Just as the grief will never lessen enough to allow me to look it straight in the eye without faltering. Just as no amount of time will ever bring you back to us.

So we are as complete as we are going to be, our family of five. It will never be enough, and yet it must be.

And now that we are completely incomplete (or incompletely complete), I find you are as missing as ever. Over the past year or so, I had found myself less and less picturing you in all the places where you should be. I had mostly stopped imagining you filling your role as the big sister, the oldest child, the one in the know. I had gotten to where I did this only on special occasions or vacations, when a family is always supposed to be together. But now that our family is what it will forever be, I find that I picture you everywhere—in the back of the car fighting with your little brother and sister, in our blanket tent on top of Daddy’s and my bed where Jackson and Ada and I have a pretend sleepover every afternoon after nap time, at the table at restaurants, where I picture you with your knees tucked under you and your nose in a book, just as I would have been at your age. I picture you in all the places you will never be. I am trying so hard to make it all complete, even though I know it will never, ever be.

Coming to terms with all of this over the past several weeks has been hard, Hudson. As hard as ever. I’ve been irritable and sad and, sometimes, even mean. So I was grateful that today was actually a lovely day—the weather was beautiful, and people all over the world were sending out little bubbles of Hudson joy to remember you by. And your garden, sweet girl—well, it’s finally starting to look like a garden. For the past two years, I have hemmed and hawed about what I should plant there, what would grow well there, how to arrange the plants for maximum beauty throughout the growing season. And finally, I realized that I was letting the perfect be the enemy of the good—I spent so much time and energy trying to make a perfect plan that I became paralyzed and so had done hardly anything at all. I’d forgotten that the whole point of your garden is to have a place where I can spend time with you, a place that will bring others joy, a place that will remind me of the joy you brought us every day and the joy that you still bring us every day. So this spring, I quit planning and just started planting. And I loved every minute of it. And I am so looking forward to spending more time with you there for many years to come. I only wish you were here to enjoy it with me. It is all so completely incomplete.

It is not perfect, and it never will be, but it is good.

I love you, my dear, sweet girl. I miss you more than ever, and I’d do anything to have you here with me.

All my love,


Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Stage of My Journey

Friends (and especially my long-time readers who have followed this journey from its early days):

Today is Ada’s 530th day. If you have read here for a long time, you’ll know that this means that she has now grown older than Hudson ever got to be. And as much as I want Ada to grow and live, it is a bittersweet reminder that no matter what, life hurries onward even when we sometimes wish it wouldn’t hurry so damn fast.

This landmark in Ada’s life, this plunging forward yet again, seemed like a fitting time to share with you that I’ve embarked on a new stage of my writing journey, of my life journey, really. Inspired in part by my experience last year in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, and some other encouraging developments last summer, I made the decision to leave my job as law professor at the end of 2014 and pursue writing full-time. I am eagerly working on seeking an agent and a publisher for a memoir adapted from these many years of writing about the early stages of my grief, and I have created a new author website and a Facebook “writer” page, both of which I invite you to check out. I am still trying to discover what kind of identity I have as a writer other than a writer of grief—although writing about grief will always be central to who I am as a writer, I have more to say than just about grief, I think, and I want to explore it.

I only very briefly considered letting my One Good Thing blog go dormant. Even though it is much neglected, it, and all of you along with it, has been far too important in this journey back to life for me to let it go. So I think I will still keep writing here about those things that are really unique to my grief and to our family. I’ll still write my letters to the kids here. And occasionally, I’ll probably cross-post between here and my author website.

But I am so grateful to each of you who has read here, whether it was once or many times. You have no idea how incredibly important your support has been, how large a role it played in getting me through the darkest time of my life.

So I hope you will follow me over on MandyHitchcock.com, on Facebook, and even on Twitter. I will still be writing about motherhood and loss, but also about how those two things spur my quest to live an authentic life.

Thank you again for being a lifeline during a time when I truly needed one. I will never forget it.