Saturday, May 13, 2017

Seven Years: A Letter to My Girl

Oh, my dear girl.

This is the first time I have sat down to write anything in more months than I can remember. And it’s a letter to you, who will never get to read it. I read last year’s letter a little while ago and thought “Oh, yes. All of that. All the time.” All of these letters that you will never read. But at least it got me writing, and that is a gift from you. Thank you. 

For reasons I don’t understand, this seventh anniversary feels harder than usual. It’s possible that, like memories of the pain of labor, memories of the pain of these anniversaries fade after they pass, and that the way I feel today is really no different from the way I’ve felt on this day for each of the last several years. But at this moment, it feels different. It feels heavier and harder. For the first time in a while, I’ve been feeling that old elephant stepping on my chest (hasn’t it grown tired?) and that gnawing sensation in my belly that hunger won’t satisfy—physical manifestations of a deep longing for you that will never be sated. 

Although I’ve long understood and accepted as fact that the stages of grief are not linear, I somehow find myself no less surprised when one of them rears up and smacks me in the face long after the last time I encountered it. Talking of you and your death comes so naturally to me now. Even making the quick decision not to talk about you in certain situations comes very naturally, even though it’s never without some twinge of feeling as though I have wronged you. You have been a part of me since I first learned you existed, and now, seven years after it happened, the fact of your death feels such a part of me that I hardly ever question it anymore. I think in literal terms now about what the words “integration” or “acceptance” mean as they relate to grieving a death. 

But yesterday, I was driving down the highway in a light rain, my windshield wipers making intermittent swipes across the glass, when suddenly, something appeared out of nowhere and fluttered straight into the windshield. And just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. It looked like a flower petal—small, delicate, white, seeming to float even as it collided with the glass. It was so strange, especially given that it was raining, and for an instant I thought, wildly, “Is that you?” And not in the way that I think of so many things that symbolically represent you—turtles, herons, dandelions, stars—but in the way of “Can it be? Could you have come back to me?” It was utterly nonsensical, and yet I thought it just the same. 

And then, an instant later, I remembered your ashes. They are sitting wrapped inside a plastic bag, tied with a twisty tie, tucked under some natural cotton inside a lidded ceramic jar that sits a foot from my bedside, just on the other side of my lamp. If they are here, then you cannot be. If your ashes are in that jar, then you cannot be a feather-light white petal on my windshield on a rainy day driving down I-40. 

It has been a long, long time since I have had that sensation that perhaps you might still return to us. That feeling that you couldn’t actually have died, that you are still here somewhere waiting for me to realize it with a surprised “Is that you?” 

It is not you. You feel as gone as ever, white petals notwithstanding. 

As your younger siblings get older and older, I notice your absence ever more. So many families with three children surround me. Our family feels so wrong, so incomplete, next to them. Our family feels younger than it should, without its eight-and-a-half-year-old anchor. Reminding myself that we do have three children, that in fact, our oldest would be turning nine this year, only compounds the sense of wrongness instead of alleviating it. 

Our anchor. Your younger siblings play together so well—they love and despise each other pretty much in equal measure, but I find myself thinking so often lately about what our days would be like if you were in them. I project onto both Jackson and Ada a sense of loss of an older sister, a leader and role model, a comforter- and protector- and co-conspirator-in-chief. A kid needs their big sister, don’t they? I guess I’m grateful that they don’t seem to experience your absence in this way, at least not yet. But part of me hopes that someday they will. Although I’d never wish pain upon either of them, and although I mostly want them to feel your presence, if someday they experience your absence and feel a sense of loss, maybe that’s how I will know I have done all of this right. 

Seven years, my girl. I don’t know what else to say except the same refrains that echo beneath every breath, every day. I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here. We will blow bubbles today, along with many others across the world, and I’ll watch them float away, hoping they find their way to someone who needed to see them. 

Is that you? 



Friday, May 13, 2016

Six Years: A Letter to My Girl

My dear, sweet, precious girl—

Six years. Impossible. What is there even to say, dear one? I feel like everything I am about to write is simply a record with a cracked seam, skipping again and again, replaying the same dull and melancholy notes. I love you. I miss you. I desperately wish you were here. I don’t know how we’ve gone on without you. I’m so sorry we’ve gone on without you. What more is there even to say?

I both love and hate these letters to you. I love them because they give me an opportunity to focus my love for you, to lean into my grief, to connect with you and imagine life if you were here. I hate them because of everything they are not and will never be. I hate them because there is no one on the other end of them. You are not here, reading them, soaking them in, feeling the love radiating off of them and into your fingertips and bones. You are not here to print them and fold them up and save them for some day in the future when you need to feel and remember how deeply your mother loved you. You are not here for me to fold you up in my arms and breathe you in and save a memory of you for some day in the future when I need to feel and remember how deeply I love you. My last such memory is from six years ago today, when you were already gone.

I love these letters, because I imagine you on the other end of them. And I hate them, because I know that you are not there.

Your little brother will start kindergarten in a few months. The thought startles me. I am reminded again of everything we’ve missed with you, everything we lost when we lost you. The way he is growing so fast makes me long to know what you would look like now. I see pictures of your friends and am stunned by how big they all are now. Trying to picture you among them strains the limits of my imagination and my heart. We made our annual spring pilgrimage to DC a few weeks ago to visit your bench at the Arboretum, and for the first time, I could not bring myself to see your friends. As much as I miss our community there, as much as we’ve missed out on by having left, I know for certain that I could not have withstood watching them grow up right in front of me when you were not there to grow up alongside them. It was hard enough when they turned two and three. Seven and eight are tolerable only from a safe distance, and even then, they are barely tolerable. You should be here. We should be there. This should all be different.

It seems like not a year has passed since we said goodbye to you that we haven’t experienced some monumental shift in our lives—so many things that you’ve missed, that we’ve missed with you. This year is no different. In a very few days, we’ll begin packing up a home that you never lived in. A whole house that you never knew. A whole era—albeit a short one—of our lives from which you were missing. Your Aunt Jess said the other day that it was neat to think about how our new house would be the house that Jackson and Ada would always remember growing up in, that their memories of this house we are in now will be either very faint or nonexistent. And I couldn’t help but think about how you would be old enough already to have made memories of this house. You might even be mad at us for leaving it. Although I feel your absence in every breath, somehow I feel it even more deeply every time we make our way through these transitions without you. With every one, it feels as though we are leaving you further and further behind, as though both the physical and the metaphysical distance between us grows ever greater at each turn.

As Jackson and Ada grow older, they grow more and more curious about your life and your death. As hard as some of these conversations are, I can’t say enough how much I love them, how much I even look forward to them. My one job as your mother—the only one I have left since you died—is to keep you alive in the world, in our hearts, in our family. And I cherish every opportunity I have to do that. People—usually people who don’t know me well or know about you—sometimes apologize to me when our conversation somehow steers to you and I have to tell them that you died. And I always tell them not to apologize, even if I am crying, because I am always grateful to talk about you, to tell others about you, to remember you, to be your mother in the only way that I still can.

I think Jackson and Ada are beginning to understand what it means to have a big sister who has died. I think they are beginning to understand that in some way, it makes them special. Their whole preschool came out to the playgrounds to blow bubbles to remember you today, even though Jackson and Ada were not there. Yesterday, when Jackson learned that they were going to do this, he was so proud, running up to every teacher and explaining that the next day was “Hudson’s Bubble Day” and that everyone was going to blow bubbles just for you. He felt proud to be part of something so special. I remember about a year after you died, I spoke with an old friend and colleague for the first time since your death, and she told me that she had known another family who had lost a child at a young age, and she said that family always had something of a patina to it, some kind of sense of something different and special and most importantly, good. That word—patina—has stuck with me. I wonder if our family has that same patina. I don’t always, or even often, do a good job of honoring your life by cherishing my moments, but I hope that it’s enough that I try. I hope that it’s enough that, because of you, I try every day to be kind—to your siblings, to your dad, to everyone who crosses my path—and I take comfort in knowing that even when I fail, I’ll have another chance soon to do better, to keep carrying out into the world that piece of you that changed me forever.

I hope that it’s enough. Like so much of this life without you, it really just has to be.

I love you. I miss you. I desperately wish you were here. I don’t know how we’ve gone on without you. I’m so sorry we’ve gone on without you.

So much love,


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, 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.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Sixth Birthday, Sweet Hudson

Dearest Hudson,

Oh, my sweet girl. Here we are again. I don’t know how, but here we are again. Today you would have turned six. Five birthdays have gone by without you, and yet we are all still here, missing you, loving you, celebrating you, remembering you. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Daddy and I finally watched the Frozen movie. Ever since it first came out last year, I’d resisted seeing it, even though everyone kept telling me how wonderful it was. I was unable to think of anything except how sure I was that you would love it, as did seemingly every other five-year-old girl I knew. I couldn’t stand it. But your Poppy wants to take your little brother to see the Disney Frozen on Ice in a few weeks, so we thought we might let Jackson watch the movie beforehand so he would know a little about the story. Jackson is pretty sensitive about scary things in movies, so Daddy and I wanted to watch it first. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. But when it was over, all I could think about was how much you probably would have loved it. I imagined you traipsing around the house, singing all the songs by heart. It was too much, sweet girl. I cried in Daddy’s arms for a long time, missing you so much. And today was even harder because the truth is that I don’t know what you would have liked now. I know most six-year-old girls do love that movie, but I don’t know if you would have. And I don’t know what else you would have liked either. When Daddy, Jackson, Ada, and I went shopping today for gifts to take to the children of families at the Ronald McDonald house, I again found myself stumped, trying to imagine what a girl your age would like these days, especially one laid up in the hospital. But all I could do was guess. I wish I knew. I wish you had been there to help me pick those things out. I wish I knew so many things about the person you would have become.

But your birthday dawned unbelievably sunny and beautiful. It was unseasonably warm for December 1. It reminded me of your second birthday, the first one we endured after you died. It rained that day. It was cold and wet when your daddy and I went to the Arboretum to remember you and spread some of your ashes beneath the dogwood trees where we had played with you only months before. The rain on your birthday seemed so wrong to me, so very contrary to everything that you had been in life, to everything that you still are in death. I was grateful for the amazing weather today. It fits you, love. It fits you so well.

Your brother has developed a habit of climbing into Daddy’s and my bed each morning after he wakes up. We love it. We love sharing a few moments just with him before the day begins in earnest and we are all out the door not to see each other again until evening. This morning, he opened the door and said, “Hey, Mom!” I looked at the clock as I usually do, hoping it’s not too early, and it said 7:19. 7:19, sweet girl. The very minute that you burst into our lives six years ago, changing us forever. I can’t help but hope, wish, dream that somehow you nudged him awake at just the right time today. As we laid there in bed snuggling, I thought about how I would have done the same for you on so many birthdays in the future—snuck into your room right at 7:19 and climbed into bed to snuggle with you and tell you again how incredibly grateful I was to you for giving me the gift of being a mother, of being your mother. I thought about how much I miss you during this morning snuggle time, about how much of our big bed should be filled with the long, gangly limbs and long, straight, wispy hair of a beautiful, lovely, amazing six-year-old.

And your baby sister Ada has been unusually generous with her hugs today. While she is often close by, hugging my legs, asking to be picked up, placing her head on my shoulder in just that way that you were so often reluctant to do—that way that you did during those last days I had with you when you were feeling so bad before you were hospitalized, that way I held you so close after they disconnected you from all those wretched machines—she was especially loving today. She spent much of your birthday in my arms, and a not-insignificant portion of it with her head on my shoulder in that special way that reminds me so much of those last days with you. I can’t help but hope that was your doing, too. She is still too little to know much about you, but she recognizes your picture, and I think she tries to say your name. During one of the many moments today when I was crying for you, I was holding her in my arms and she got the most concerned look on her face. She reached up and touched my eyes with her little pointer finger, confused, not understanding what she was seeing, but loving me so much just the same. She is so like you in so many ways and so different from you in so many others.

This afternoon, we spent some time showing Jackson and Ada the pictures and videos from your first birthday party. They both got such a kick out of watching you eat the chocolate frosting on your cake and then smear it all over your face. Jackson in particular laughed and laughed and kept asking me to play it over and over. He looked at the pictures of you with your Grandma and Grandpa and Poppy on your birthday and was convinced that he was looking at pictures of your baby sister. I kept trying to tell him that it was you, but to him, his big sister and little sister look so alike. And indeed you do—Ada doesn’t resemble you in the same way Jackson does, but sometimes I look at her and am so flooded with memories of you that my breath catches in my throat.

Jackson’s three-year-old brain is still trying so hard to understand what it means when we say that you are gone but you are still here. He felt so sad that he missed your birthday party, and he’s still trying to understand why you don’t get to eat your cupcakes. He rubbed his chest and said, “Hudson is coming out of my heart,” because we tell him that you are always there, but he wants you to be here with him, not in him. I understand that feeling so well. He told Poppy that you died, but that he would eat your cupcakes for you.

We spent the rest of this day the way we always do, loving each other and trying to spread a little bit of your joy to some corners of the world that need it. I am so looking forward to the day when your siblings can help us think of special ways to celebrate your birthday, but for now, we are just trying to ease the burdens of others in small ways. And so many, many, many others all around the world were doing the same today, sweet girl. I imagine you touching each of those people, those children, those animals with your precious little fingers, flashing that bright smile of yours, and bringing them the same joy that you brought us with each moment of your 529 days. You are bringing so much joy not only to those being helped, but also to all those doing the helping, and that is an amazing gift, sweet girl, one for which we all, the helpers and the helped, are so very, very grateful. I am so proud of you, Hudson. I am so proud to be your mother. I am so proud.

This evening, I was wrapping up the matching Christmas jammies that I got for your brother and sister so that they could open them and wear them on this first night of December. (I wonder often if you would be mad at me for getting into the Christmas spirit too early, too close to your birthday, but I’m hoping that at least for now, you would love Christmas so much that you wouldn’t care.) I was wrapping those jammies, a 4T for Jackson and an 18 months for Ada, and I was wishing so much that I had a pair for you. A size 6 just for you. And a beautiful six-year-old you to fit into them.

There are so many holes where you should be, sweet girl. So many. Some days, some moments, I don't know how to go on without you. All I know to do is try to make those holes as beautiful as possible. I love you so much, and I can’t possibly say how much I wish you were here. Happy birthday, my dearest little girl.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Do One Good Thing For Hudson’s Sixth Birthday

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 countrys 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.