“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.