Moona (Sasha and Kendra)

In the 3+ years we've had to live without our wonderful Magnolia, we've
established traditions to keep her alive in our family.  Each night at dinner, we light our Magnolia candle and say "For Magnolia," making sure there's always a place at
our family dinner table for her, and that we're continuing to speak her name.
(For our traditional Sunday waffle brunches, which Magnolia loved, Delphinium began a tradition of lighting the candle and saying, "For Magnolia, who loved waffos.")  After going around the table at dinner to share something we're each grateful for, we leave space for any of us to also share a Magnolia memory or thought; nowadays, these are often about ways that Azalea's infancy and toddlerhood bring up memories of things that Magnolia did or said.

A family tradition that has changed to honor Magnolia's absence is
moonkissing.  Since early in our falling in love, whichever one of us notices
the moon first says, "Pardon me, do you know where the moon is?" after which
the other one finds the moon and we kiss.  Delphinium became a part of this
tradition at age 2, and Magnolia was just beginning to join in the kissing
before she died.  Since Magnolia's death, the two of us and Delphinium have each
kissed each other and then blown a kiss to Magnolia towards the moon. 

We keep photos of Magnolia all around our home, and photo books filled with
that previous family of four are in our living room, where we pick them up
frequently.  While cooking, folding laundry or playing with Delphinium and
Azalea, there are many times when our eyes fall on Magnolia's image and we're
filled with sadness and memory and the sense of her importance in our family.

Lately, Azalea has joined into all of these ways of keeping Magnolia present
in our family.  It began at the dinner table.  Two months ago, we were taken
aback when we lit the candle and said, "For Magnolia," and Azalea said,
"Moona."  As she continued from night to night, it became clear that she was
really joining us in saying her sister's name before beginning family dinner.

Next, she began to name Magnolia in all of the pictures around the house, and
to ask for the photo books so that we could look at and name her sister.
Magnolia joined the constellation of her family as she happily pointed and
named "Mama," "Papa," "Dada" (Delphinium), and "Moona."  Walking through the
house, she was pleased to point up to a picture on a shelf or on the
refrigerator and want to show us "Moona."

Now, "Moona" has become one of her favorite conversation topics.  At times
when we're not expecting it, she just says "Moona" to begin a conversation
with us.  And she has enthusiastically joined in our moonkissing, blowing
kisses to Magnolia not only when she sees the moon but at many other times
when she's walking outside, and making sure that we follow her lead.

The lock screen on Kendra’s phone is a picture of Magnolia.  Azalea often picks up the phone, turns it on and looks at Magnolia, then “answers” the phone and says, “Hi, Moona!”  At other times she insists that a stuffed animal or a toy belongs to Moona: “Moona book” or “Moona bear.”   

While neither of us has ever found much comfort in pondering the metaphysics of death or imagining Magnolia’s soul in heaven, we both wonder about Azalea’s new relationship with her sister and really like to imagine her discovering that she has a toddler playmate in her sister.  We don’t know what she knows or sees or feels or understands about Magnolia, except that her sister seems very present for her. 

And we like to imagine the impossible, that they actually interact, that they play together and that Azalea has a real relationship with her sister. 


Déjà Vu (Kendra)

Even though I have been dreading it since early fall, this particular January kind of snuck up on me. Returning back to New York, after visiting Denver for Christmas, I was distracted by the work I needed to do for school and getting things back on track logistically after time away. I kind of forgot that it was January.

The full force of this January hit me after our first week back home.  For the first time since Magnolia died, I am teaching and in the middle of a school year again. I am also parenting a toddler again—a little round, smiley girl who runs around the house, collecting and distributing things, busily arranging and playing with her toys and demanding help with the things that she can’t reach or manage on her own.

It is all so painfully familiar, like I have been sucked into a time warp and spit out in January 2013. The house feels the same, the sounds and activities are the same, the stress about teaching and grocery shopping and dinners and family logistics are all the same. And this joyful toddler feels startlingly like the same person I lost years ago.

Over the past 3 years, Sasha has spent more time worried and anxious about the possibility of another sudden death in our family, especially since Azalea was born. He is the one who tears up at bedtimes and leaps from the bed when the baby monitor that registers lack of movement in the crib alarms in the middle of the night (always false alarms, so far). 

I, on the other hand, have always felt some strange comfort in the randomness of Magnolia’s death, pretty sure that worrying about random death is not something I should spend energy on since there is no way to prevent it from happening. It is a very important defensive blanket that I have worn since Magnolia’s death. 

That blanket is fraying rapidly this month.  Rational thought has been fading and is replaced by anxiety and an insistent fear.  It is the other side of the random death coin—it can, and does, happen at any time, so why not now? We weren’t protected before, why should we be now?

The overwhelming sense of déjà vu is wearing and exhausting. Azalea is 20 months old right now, only 2 months younger than Magnolia at the time of her death.  Azalea likes to wear our shoes, she spends huge chunks of time happily climbing up and down the stairs, she loves taking baths with her sister, she is loud and demanding with the words she knows, she likes to brush her hair (or at least try), she loves reading and often our pre-nap reading time stretches to half an hour.  Just like Magnolia.

3 years ago we were doing all the same things. Exactly the same, but with a different happy toddler.  And then she died and we had no idea it was coming. We were happily living our life together and loving our family and then, out of nowhere, we were broken and she was gone.

Knowing that Azalea will probably survive this month is different than really believing it.  In the past week I have noticed myself becoming weirdly superstitious. While dressing Azalea for daycare, I pulled out a few shirts and leggings that I remember Magnolia wearing that January. She is wearing them in a couple of pictures I have from that month and so I stuffed them in my closet to get them far away from Azalea. I did the same with a few toys. Magnolia loved to read "Down By the Bay" and we have a video of her reading it the night she died, so it has also been locked up. Azalea has really loved painting lately, but Magnolia painted for the first time the week she died and so the paints are not coming out until I can shed this feeling of impending doom.

At other moments, my anxiety is so great that I become frozen with fear. I spent almost an hour holding Azalea while she slept in my arms at the beginning of a nap one day. She fell asleep while I was singing to her and then I couldn’t stop or put her in her crib. I just kept thinking, “What if this is it? What if this is my goodbye?” I finally put her down when I started sobbing and then I retreated to my bed where I cried for the rest of her nap clutching the video monitor and watching her sleep, hoping that she would wake up.

If there was any doubt that our family experienced a trauma when Magnolia died, this particular round of PTSD should clear up any question. This month has been disorienting and challenging. I am taking next week off of school because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to function there, and I am sure it isn’t good to subject my students to my irritability and lack of patience right now.

So I am preparing myself for this next week and also hopeful that the 27th turns out to be the magical date when all my dread and anxiety dissipates.  I am hopeful, not at all sure, but hopeful that she will wake up on the morning of the 27th and my rational self will reappear and my blanket of solace will become thick and strong once again.


Ashes in a Jam Jar (Kendra)

A small Hero jam jar with an apricot lid sits on the shelf above our kitchen sink.  The bottom third of the jar is filled with the light grey, chippy ashes of Magnolia’s body.  There is a mangled white twist tie in the jar attached to a round metal tag engraved with “Woodlawn Cemetery Bronx, NY 37842”. Some of the chips are big enough that you can see the porous structure of trabecular bone.  

 We have lived with these ashes above the sink for 2 years and 8 months. 

I glance at them often and sometimes take them down from the shelf, turning the jar over and around to see all the little bits and chips and dust that is all that is left of the round, soft, vibrant body of our little girl. 

They are such radically different things: the living body and these cold jagged ashes. 

2 years and 9 months ago, I’m not sure what I would have thought about someone with their dead child’s ashes in a see-through jar on a shelf above the kitchen sink.  I am pretty sure I would have thought it was strange. 

In my life now it is entirely normal.  There is nothing shocking about it anymore.  Those white and grey shards are simply set dressing for this new world where our heartache has become ordinary.

For many months we had more than one set of ashes sitting around the house. We euthanized our dog, Calliope, a week and a half before Magnolia died. The day after Magnolia’s death, the vet’s office called to tell us that Calliope’s ashes were ready to be picked up and that they were sorry for our loss.  In one of many surreal moments, I explained that our daughter had died and asked if they could hold the ashes for a while.

Days after we saw Magnolia’s body for the last time, my cousin went to the funeral home and returned with a small white plastic box filled with Magnolia’s ashes.  A few weeks later, Sasha and I drove to Yonkers and brought home a metal tin box decorated with flowers holding Calliope’s ashes. 

The boxes were the same size and sat on the mantel in our living room for a few months.  So many days I would wander restlessly around our house, stopping to look at a picture of Magnolia on our fridge and then the two boxes on the mantel.  Saying to myself over and over again, “How is it possible that you are gone?” 

I would sometimes stare at the two boxes—one somber white plastic, the other a riot of pink flowers—and think that the two boxes of ashes would be the perfect beginning for a really sad country song.

The reality of the dusty particles in that small white box was impossible to comprehend.  It didn’t make any sense that Magnolia’s lithe body with strong muscles covered in soft smooth skin was now contained in a plastic bag closed with a twist tie holding a metal tag with a number stamped on it in a plain white plastic box.  How could the lively, bigness of her fit into such a tiny space?

That spring, family gathered with us on a cold day in April to bury Magnolia’s placenta and ashes under a magnolia tree we were planting in our backyard.  As we were each taking handfuls of our daughter to scatter in the bottom of the tree pit, my mother stopped us suddenly and with real alarm said, “You need to keep some! What if you move?” 

So someone went to the kitchen and returned with a jam jar where we poured some of the ashes and put the tag from the bag.  The jar came back inside with us and I put it on the shelf while I washed my hands, watching the water rinse the Magnolia dust down the drain.

The jar still sits in that spot. 

They haven’t moved since and I’m not sure they ever will.  They are a really solid (maybe morbid) reminder that Magnolia existed. 

Her pictures on the fridge sometimes seem unreal.  It feels like such a long time ago that she was here.  Surrounded by the busy fullness of our life now, it sometimes feels like a strange dream world that we lived in for awhile in the before. 

But the bone remnants are proof that she was a living thing in our arms and in our life in so many wonderful ways. That jam jar of ashes sits there, a graphic and silent sentinel, protecting the physical realness of our little girl. Reminding us of her lived presence in our family. 

Because these ashes are real, our life together was real.
She was real.


22 Months After (Sasha)

We’ve been dreading this day for such a long time, the day when Magnolia has been dead for as long as she was alive.  It’s such a devastating marker for us, knowing that for the rest of our lives, she will have been dead for longer than she lived.

On the day that Magnolia died we took a walk by the Bronx River, sad and shocked and unsure of what to do with ourselves.  In our disbelief, we kept talking about how strange it was that we were going to have to live the rest of our lives without Magnolia, that we would get farther and farther away from her life, that a day would come when she had been dead for longer than she was alive.  Since that time, we’ve been so aware of this day.  Along with the anniversary of her death, the birthdays that she’s not here for, and the holiday celebrations we limp through in our incompleteness, it is a key point on the map of our grief.

We know that Magnolia will always be with us in many ways, and that we’re doing all we can to keep her memory alive, but none of that helps right now.  Because every day takes us farther away from her being alive and with us, and today is a miserable threshold to cross, another wrenching loss in an unending series of them.

There is so much we remember from the 22 months that she was with us.  Specific moments, such as when she gleefully bounced around on a rubber horse at a birthday party for one of Delphinium’s friends, or when she decided to run laps in our back room one morning, saying “Go!” to herself as she began hurtling across the floor each time.  And then so many moments that happened each day: Stopping on each step as she went upstairs to wave and shout, “Hi!”  Dragging a chair over to the dining room light switch and turning it on, off, on, off.  Climbing into her high chair athletically, making it up to the seat and then managing to turn around, bracing herself with her arms straight on the seat, and lowering her body down like a gymnast on a pommel horse to get herself situated.  Cozying up in our lap at bedtime to hear a favorite book, then scurrying back to the bookshelf to get another and another, the warm feeling of her as we read together.  Popping up in her crib with a grin when we came to get her in the morning.  Lighting up whenever Delphinium smiled at her and led her in a game.

But as we get farther away from her life, our memories are increasingly reduced to a collection of photos and videos that we’ve looked at over and over.  As Delphinium and Azalea create new memories with us each day, Magnolia is frozen in time.  Her peers have all had another 22 months of life, and are now approaching their 4th birthdays.  Remembering Delphinium at that age, she was so mature and capable, so involved in her daily nursery school life, her creative work and her friendships.  It’s hard for us to imagine Magnolia at this age, what she would be interested in, what she would care about and how she would want to spend her time.  We will never know.

It’s been wonderful to have Azalea for the past 7 months.  She’s a joy, full of smiles and curiosity, so engaged with us and the world around her.  We’re so fortunate to have her, so lucky for all three of our amazing daughters.  Azalea’s babyhood has also been a welcome opportunity to think about Magnolia as a baby and all the delightful things about her infancy.  In many ways, holding Azalea and playing with her and singing her to sleep have brought up such tender memories of Magnolia at these ages.

As grateful as we are for Azalea, it’s also so hard to have her filling up our time and energy in the way that babies do.  She is so absolutely present and dynamic, and makes Magnolia feel even more absent.  As much as we will always preserve space for Magnolia in our family, the hard truth is that Azalea is the younger daughter who is growing up in our family, the second-second child who has needs that we have to respond to, who demands our time and attention.  And she will keep doing that (or at least we desperately hope that she will, though nothing feels certain anymore), while Magnolia remains frozen in time, needing nothing from us.  We parent Magnolia as best we can, lighting her candle and sharing memories of her at the table each night and blowing kisses to her when we see the moon.  Working to make her a part of our life, so Delphinium continues to remember her and so that Azalea will begin to know the sister she can never meet.

We don’t ever worry about forgetting Magnolia.  But we feel so disheartened by the fact that her warmth and vibrancy, her voice and the feel of her in our arms, grow farther and farther from us each day.  And as we face this day and the rest of our lives without her, we feel her lived life grow smaller as her time as a memory grows longer.


A Million Tiny Losses (Kendra)

I hate these dark days.  Starting with the first chilled breezes of fall I dread the coming darkness: less light, so many holidays, turning into a new year and the steady plodding approach of Magnolia's death anniversary (one blogger calls it the "crapiversary").  It fills me with dread, the kind that keeps me in bed some mornings, not wanted to face the day and the relentless march of time.  Wishing I could just bury myself under the covers and crawl out sometime in February. 

I just want to skip it all.

Magnolia's death was a world-inverting, heart-stopping, mind-numbing loss.   It has taken all this time to really come to terms with the fact that she is gone and to recover some of my former self.  But this catastrophic wrenching of our life wasn't just one enormous event.  We found her dead in her crib and that experience became the fulcrum between before and after.  The moment of our discovery of her body that morning was the first step on an incline that turns out to be a steep and treacherous mountain built on so many tiny losses that we discover every time we take a step into this strange new life.  Living life without Magnolia has taken so much effort.  

There were weeks and months of a growing pile of socks, shoes, toys, utensils and clothing that grew on her changing table as we did another load of laundry and folded another tiny shirt that she wouldn't wear again.  Unloading the dishwasher added another cup to the pile.  Picking up a puzzle piece that fell under the sofa unearthed a spoon and a stray sock.  A year later, I opened a bag that had been buried in the closet of our bedroom to find two pairs of size 24 month leggings and a long sleeve shirt bought three days before she died--tags still attached.   A new loss discovered. 

Confronting her absence over and over and over again.  Each item a new loss.

Almost 2 years out from her death I am still facing the losses and treading up the incline. 

My iPhone became unresponsive and but I wasn't able to restore it.  So I took it to the store and stood silently at the Genius Bar, weeping while my phone was erased, altering the digital record that connected me to my life before.  Her face is no longer the 3rd picture in my picture roll.  My calendar no longer says "M drop-off" at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, as it did for a year and a half after she died.  I know I could put it back the way it was, but it would be a restoration, not the original and familiar order I was so attached to.  Afterwards, I called Sasha and stood outside the Apple store not saying anything, just crying on the phone.  Another loss.

Preparing for Azalea's birth we dug up the two boxes of infant clothing, toys and blankets we kept after we decided we wouldn't have any more children--the sentimental items we wanted to pass onto our children when they were having children of their own.  We had to move the bins of clothes labeled "M 2 years" and "M 3 years" to get to the infant bins.  Years of clothing Magnolia never got to wear.  Another loss.

Most of the clothes in the infant bins were clothes that Delphinium and Magnolia wore, but some were made for Magnolia or bought for her and they feel uniquely hers.  As the weather changed, I was so grateful to find the beautiful green sweater that my sister-in-law knitted for Magnolia, happy that Azalea would get to wear it and to link them in this way.  But the fuzzy brown bear hoodie instantly brought sad, sad tears.  Remembering hundreds of pictures of her and so many days at the park when the weather got cold.  Another loss.

And now we are pulling out the cups and spoons and socks and sleep sacks and other items that accumulated on the changing table after Magnolia's death.  The things she was actively using when she disappeared from our life.  They have hidden in the basement for 21 months and now they are back.  And still I am buying new cups and spoons and socks and sleep sacks because sometimes it just feels too hard to use the ones that Magnolia touched and drank from and held and wore.  They are all losses.  Each cup and spoon and sock is a loss.

Immediately after Magnolia's death and for many months people took such good care of our family.  Feeding us, checking in on us, sending gifts to Delphinium and cards or emails to all of us.  People comforted and nurtured our family through this life-altering tragedy.  We were very public about Magnolia's death--partly because I hated the idea that I would talk to someone who didn't know and I would have to tell them.  The catastrophic change in our life was witnessed by so many and everyone responded with grace and sympathy and kindness.

We still feel the enormity of her death and the thousands of losses since.  They continue to pile up, but now they are quiet and hidden and feel private.  The way that the world moves on (as it has to) still feels awful sometimes.  Last week, I spent 40 minutes in the basement, crying and staring at Magnolia's stroller, trying to decide whether I want to use it for Azalea.  Whether I can even bring myself to try it or if I just need to get something new.  Not knowing if the memories of Magnolia napping in that stroller every day for a year will feel comforting and nice, or painful and hard.  I finally left the basement when it was time to wake Azalea and take her to pick Delphinium up from school.  I washed my face, strapped the baby on and chatted with the other parents at pick-up as usual.  These little losses are hard to explain or admit or share and it makes the grieving feel much lonelier at this point.

We have the rest of our lives to live without her.  Quietly now, without the constant attention and support of other people.  It feels endless and exhausting.  Hundreds of holidays and family pictures without her.  A couple dozen new school years to start without her.  Decades of vacations and birthdays and celebrations without her.

Losing her again, each and every time.   



Fall (Kendra)

Another season change.  Fall is in the air, blowing through the birches in our front yard, turning their leaves into gold.  Bringing cool winds and a familiar ache that lodges itself in my chest and won’t leave.  Long afternoons at the playground, admiring the blue sky and the temperate weather, while Delphinium runs and climbs and swings with friends. Holding Azalea while I also hold this tightly bound knot in my chest.  Missing you in so many impossible to articulate ways, overwhelmed with images and smells and feelings from the 2 glorious autumns you were with us. 

I see the tiny Train Park across from the preschool on our way home from the bigger, more adventurous playground where your sister and her elementary school classmates prefer to hang out.  We don’t walk down that street, so I spy on it across a lawn and garden between two apartment buildings.  I experience the same dull ache, below my breast bone everytime.  Like you might be there if we just turn down that street and stop in front of the big double gate.  If we just lift the latch and step inside, you must be there, right? 

Cheerfuly sitting on a bench, waiting for me to scoop you up and hold you close while we chat with the mamas and watch Delphinium play.  Smiling at everyone and happy to sit and roll on the green turf while playing with sticks and leaves.  Or maybe I will find the confident toddler scaling the steps of the small climber sliding down again and again, pushing my hands away and saying “no!”, you want to do it yourself.  Surely you are there.  Your three-year-old self running with friends, happy to see me at the end of your day.  I can see your should be classmates from the nursery school playing together.  Of course you must be with them.  It smells like you should be and the trees bend and sway like you should be and the laughing and screams sound like you should be. 

But you aren’t.  And I don’t want to walk down that street.  I can’t help myself from looking longingly across that lawn to imagine/remember you there, but I don’t want to look closely and see that you aren’t.  So we walk down a different street and talk about Delphinium’s day and Azalea needing to nurse and what we will pick up at the grocery store for dinner.  All the memories of sounds, and smells and winds walk with us, held in your tight tiny fist below my heart.  Aching and aching and aching with every step home.        


Acceptance (Kendra)

You Begin

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
this is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

Margaret Atwood 1978

I have been working on acceptance.  Working so hard to notice, observe and accept. 
The acceptance I am working on comes without judgment.  Things don't have to be good or bad or sad or wrong or desperate or horrible or content or joyful or happy or brave.  They just have to be and I just have to be willing to see it that way.  Without expecting anything. 

At Bank Street I was trained to observe and record what students do in the classroom and as a progressive educator I have embraced descriptive review, a process of observing a student or a piece of work and describing it without judgment.  To name and observe and describe with words that sometimes seem cold and removed from the subject.  To say, “There is a thick blue band of color along the top part of the page.” Not to say, “The child painted a blue sky.”

To observe and describe without judgment means to look and see without allowing preconceived notions, assumptions or conclusions to get in the way of seeing what is actually there.  It is incredibly powerful and has helped me identify hidden strengths in my students and to understand them and their work more deeply than I ever would if I immediately looked for the problems or answers or understanding.  I eventually get there, but first I observe and describe. 

Since February, I have done a lot of observing and describing of my own life.  I was on the other side of the anniversary of Magnolia’s death and I felt different.  I was sad, but my sadness felt so hollow suddenly.  A year past Magnolia’s last hug, last kiss, last “goo nigh!”, last blown kisses, last smile, last laugh, last book read, last everything. I felt so hollow.  It all felt so far away and passing the year mark felt awful.  It was a confirmation that we were very far away from her, and that the distance would continue to grow forever. 

I was pregnant, but finally feeling better physically after feeling so horrible for the first 5 months.  I had gone to bed in September and only emerged to walk Delphinium to school or to pick her up.  I stayed cocooned under the covers, close to the toilet for 5 long months of emotional and physical misery.  Not really wanting the baby that was growing inside of me and making me feel so sick; missing the little girl I really wanted and feeling guilty about it all. 

In February I slowly emerged from my cocoon.  I went to the grocery store.  I went to see my therapist, instead of talking on the phone.  I joined Sasha and Delphinium on some weekend adventures in the city.  We planned a trip to Guatemala for some aggressive family fun.  I felt like an ugly, limp, sad butterfly slowly testing my soggy wings.  It felt bad.  I hated leaving the house and didn’t really want to see anyone or do anything.  My cocoon was safe, the self-pity and sadness was so comforting.  I was leaving the dark and heading toward the bright light of day and I felt really overwhelmed.  Being in the world was hard.

Our family trip to Guatemala helped.  We were out and about every day, but it didn’t feel like my life.  The sights were beautiful and the places were interesting and we had so much to talk about and appreciate.  We laughed a lot and really enjoyed being together.  It was a brighter and warmer cocoon, away from our world and social obligations and responsibility. 

On the final plane ride home to NYC from Houston, I was watching a movie with Delphinium.  When it ended she asked if we had time to watch something else.  I said maybe a short video.  She picked the video of Magnolia clips that we played at her memorial services.  We watched together for about a minute and then Delphinium started wailing.  I turned the ipad off and held her while she cried.  She looked at me and Sasha and said, “We’re never going to see her again.”  I was crying and Sasha was crying and Delphinium was crying so hard.  It was a hard smack in the face reminder that we were returning to our “real” life where I just wanted to hide under the covers because our daughter was dead and everything felt really hard.  It was a harsh crash landing back into our life. 

I was dreading the coming months:
·      March would bring Delphinium and Magnolia’s birthdays on the first day of spring.  I loved that both of our daughters were born on the same day and I really loved NYC in the spring, but that day just sucks now and I was dreading it. 
·      Then April would arrive, the weather would turn and the sky would be blue and sunny and flowers would pop up everywhere.  The magnolia trees would bloom brilliantly and that would feel really awful. 
·      I was already hating May.  We were having this baby sometime then, whether I wanted to or not and I just didn’t want to deal with it. 

I decided that something needed to change.  I couldn’t really avoid all of the dread, sadness, guilt and apprehension, but I was hoping to find a way to feel less overwhelmed by it.  To have more control over my feelings and the way I was experiencing my life. 

I remembered this poem, “This is your hand,/This is your eye,/This is a fish” When I went looking for the poem, I was surprised to see that it was titled You Begin. It seemed so simple, the process of beginning to know the world.  Again.  So I began describing the world in my head.

I would walk out the door in the morning and in my head I would begin listing my observations, “The sky is blue, the air is warmer than yesterday, there is a crocus sprouting in the yard, Delphinium is skipping, I’m feeling hot in my coat…”  I was careful not to wander beyond the description—not to wonder what I thought about those things.  It didn’t matter.  The point was to notice and describe WITHOUT reacting.  On most days, the descriptions managed to take up the space that was usually filled with overwhelming emotional response. 

After weeks of describing my walk through the world, I realized that my relationship to everything around me was changing.  It all felt less threatening.  I saw my first magnolia tree in full bloom and noticed the open blossoms and the pale pink and the contrast of dark branch and bright bloom.  And then I thought that it was beautiful.  I felt my sadness too, but I could accept that it was beautiful, without being angry or overwhelmed by it. 

My descriptions of the world around me slowly morphed into acceptance.  I would smell the wet pavement after a soaking rain and notice how familiar the smell was and how it reminded me of other spring rains and that it smelled good to me.  I accepted all of that and moved on.  I didn’t have to love it like I used to, take great joy in the smell or gnash my teeth in anger.  It was enough to notice it and accept what it was. 

Writing this, it seems like such a small thing to spend so many words on, but it has really changed me.  It has been so hard to really accept that the world is moving forward without Magnolia.  I don’t have to love it, but I also don’t have to hate it all the time.  And when I do hate it, when I look at a small child playing in the sprinklers and wish so badly that Magnolia was here to play in the sprinklers, I notice that feeling and accept it.  It sucks. 

I still feel hollow a lot of time—like this is a temporary personality adjustment that isn’t as substantial as my real self.  I am hopeful that eventually I will find some balance between acceptance and enjoyment without being overwhelmed by sadness, doubt and guilt. 

But I am grateful that all of this describing and accepting prepared me to welcome Azalea into our life. It has also allowed me to parent her with tenderness and love.  I am not the same mother I was when I held Magnolia in her sleepy newborn days, but I am present for Azalea in a way that I worried I wouldn’t be. 

I spend a lot of time watching her and describing her and accepting what she needs from me.  And I still feel the ache for the girl I wish was here instead, but it doesn’t drown me like it used to.  I notice the way I nuzzle Azalea’s neck, and the way she giggles each time.  I describe the feeling of her short, silky hairs as I rub my cheek against her head.  I observe her smile, the way her eyes crinkle at the corners and her tongue pokes out of her mouth.

I observe these things, notice all of this and then I can accept that I love her.