8.15.2017

Fewer Remnants (Kendra)


“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany


There is a reason we haven't cleaned out the basement in the past four years. It is like family archeology. Slowly sifting through the layers of our life first as 2 people, then 3, then 4, then 3, then 4 again. It is all there. 

I am now down to the time before Magnolia was born—clothes we kept because we knew we wanted another kid, toys we kept for the same reason—and these collections never made it upstairs because Magnolia died before she could use them. But now Z is ready for them. I have been through the layers of our life since, during and before Magnolia and it is a bittersweet journey. Always glad for the reminders, but also deeply hurt when I find them.

Uncovering toys, blankets, socks, spoons, those bug glasses (in the picture), SS card, audiology report all spark little glimmers that feel special because they don't exist without the discovery. I think part of the reason I haven't taken the plunge into the basement is because it is a finite experience. Once the boxes and bags are gone through and all the stuff is sorted and given away or kept, the opportunity for discovery is over.

There are fewer and fewer remnants of Magnolia's life here. As Z gets older we are putting away all the things that Magnolia used. There is a lot I can't bear to get rid off and I imagine there will be a Magnolia museum collection in the basement for a long time—maybe forever. A problem for her sisters to solve when we are gone.

And, as happens in the world, when your mind is full of something or someone you end up seeing it everywhere.  Magnolia has been so present in my mind this past week and everywhere else.

We watched "Inside Out" the other night and I wept when they fell into the pit of lost memories. My vivid memories of Magnolia are so few, mostly they are the pictures, videos and things we managed to write down. I sat there miserably imagining my own pit of lost memories with little video loops of her playing or laughing or pouting or eating or anything, just blowing away to dust.

Last week, we met a family at D's camp who have 10, 6, 3 year old boys and Sasha did all the talking because I couldn't speak past the lump in my throat looking at our "should be" family right there in front of me.

"Hey Soul Sister" has been playing EVERYWHERE—I counted 5 times that I've heard it in stores or on the radio when I am surfing through channels in the car.

I cut locks of her hair the day she died and then cut off a lot more at the funeral home the day of her viewing—I couldn't bear to let go of her physical body and her hair felt like a good thing to keep. Then I didn't know what to do with it—there was a lot of it. I have found her hair in the weirdest places as I’ve devoted myself to cleaning and purging this week.  An envelop under a basket of socks in my sock drawer, in a baggy on a high shelf in D's closet, in 2 different boxes in the basement. And I wish we fetishized death remnants, like the Victorians, because all week I keep thinking I want someone to weave it into watch fob so I can carry her hair around with me everyday. (I know it is weird—I totally get all the weird death stuff now.)

All these discoveries and reminders have been amazing and heartbreaking.

And it is all coming to an end again. We are getting a new dog this weekend and I am returning to work and D is coming back from camp and our present life will overwhelm me and Magnolia will vanish again.

The rituals that keep her present in our family each day—lighting a candle for her at the dinner table, blowing kisses to her when we see the moon, stopping to smell a patch of sage on the way to school each day and saying “I love you”—will continue, but this deep immersion will end.

Life marches on and we are always further and farther away from our time with her. The basement is looking better, I feel lighter in some ways. Shedding the stuff that has accumulated in the last 20 years of my life feels good. Walking through these last opportunities to discover her in the boxes we put in the basement when our world was falling to pieces, feels awful.

She is all around us in this house and I feel her complete absence from this space. She is always present, tucked under my heart, but no longer a painful ache that makes herself known everyday. She is buried in our family archeology, but now there will be fewer opportunities to unearth the remnants of her. As she becomes more firmly rooted in our family’s past, we find fewer signs of her in our present.

It makes me incredibly grateful for every sign, remnant and ache.



3.17.2016

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. 

1.16.2016

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.


10.20.2015

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.

12.07.2014

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.

11.10.2014

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.   


 
  


10.08.2014

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.