Autumn Day with Magnolia (Sasha)

Last year, on an unseasonably warm Veterans Day, we went with our friend Priscilla and her kids to the Storm King Sculpture Park.  Priscilla’s two children are the same age as ours: Marcus is six months older than Delphinium and Arielle is a month older than Magnolia.  Storm King is a favorite place of our family, full of interesting sculptures to explore and hills and fields for toddling and running, and we were excited to introduce our friends to it and to have our kids enjoy it.

From the start, the kids took full advantage.  Marcus and Delphinium ran ahead, exploring paths and enjoying the open space.  Arielle and Magnolia toddled behind, eager to try to catch up with the big kids and smiling at their antics.

We stopped at a sculpture, Gazebo for Two Anarchists, which you could enter and walk through.  It had limited interest for the older kids, who sped through and kept going.  But it was a great enclosed space for Magnolia, who mounted the steps, climbed up onto a bench and lowered herself down, toddled from one side to the other, and did the same thing over again.  She loved the challenge of it, mastering the space and making it her own.  It was just right for her, and she could have stayed and kept at it for hours if we didn’t have to keep up with the older kids.

After another stretch of running/toddling, we came upon a small hillside covered with fallen leaves.  There, we settled in for an hour of leaf play.  Marcus, Delphinium, and I worked on making huge piles of leaves at the bottom of the hill for them to run and jump into, while Arielle, Magnolia, and Priscilla spent their time seated in piles of leaves, throwing leaves in the air, and grinning at it all (and Kendra documented the fun with her camera).  When the pile at the bottom of the hill was large enough, the big kids and little kids took turns in it, then Marcus and Delphinium hid in the pile and Arielle and Magnolia gleefully tried to uncover them.  Magnolia spent so much of the time pleased as could be with herself, just sitting in and working with the mess of leaves and smiling joyfully.
More ups and downs led us to a sculpture in various parts, that had many places to climb and explore.  Marcus and Delphinium challenged themselves with more difficult crossings, while Magnolia and Arielle found places to climb up and down, both cautiously intrepid, with our support.

With admiration for all the work the little ones had done, we stopped to picnic on some food and take a break.  Magnolia devoured her food as always, feasting on fruit, vegetables, crackers, and squeezable packets.  It felt like it had been a successful day, and we were thinking about winding it down.  But Delphinium felt strongly about going to see Three Legged Buddha, one of her favorite pieces.  I offered to run over there with Delphinium and Marcus, but we decided to all go that way.  Magnolia was a bit needier now, and wanted to be carried much of the way, so I picked her up and ran with her, bouncing about and laughing as we went. 

After Delphinium showed Marcus the sculpture and they conjectured about the sealed doors they discovered hidden on the legs, we started the long trek across the fields back to our cars.  Magnolia wanted to be carried some of the time, but spent a lot of the way walking alongside Arielle.  As Priscilla and I looked on, they had what was Magnolia’s first real conversation, a series of words and responses between them that seemed like a preview of so many big kid conversations to come.

The sun continued to shine as we changed Magnolia’s diaper, took Delphinium to the bathroom, and thanked our friends for such a wonderful day together.  As both kids fell asleep in the backseat just minutes into the drive, Kendra and I talked about how perfect the day had been: Peers for both kids and a friend for us, tons of room for toddling and running, a mix of wildly running around and exploring the sculptures, a gorgeous day, and a hillside full of leaves that seemed like it was made just for our families.  We basked in the success of it, and looked forward to the our next visit and all the things that Magnolia and Delphinium would be able to do then.


"How many children do you have?" (Kendra)

David Sedaris published a piece in the New Yorker this week about his younger sister’s recent suicide.  He describes his relationship with his sister, her relationship to their family and what it means to be one of 5 siblings, rather than six, all with his trademark cringe inducing humor.  I love David Sedaris, I love his stories about his family and I really liked the piece. At the very beginning he describes the awkwardness of talking about the amount of people in your family when someone is gone forever. 
Now, though, there weren’t six, only five. “And you can’t really say, ‘There used to be six,’ ” I told my sister Lisa. “It just makes people uncomfortable.”
I recalled a father and son I’d met in California a few years back. “So are there other children?” I asked.
“There are,” the man said. “Three who are living and a daughter, Chloe, who died before she was born, eighteen years ago.”
That’s not fair, I remember thinking. Because, I mean, what’s a person supposed to do with that?
After reading those words, I sat back and sighed.  Because in 18 years I will still be missing Magnolia and there will still be a hole in our family and I will still have to figure out how to talk about how many children we have with strangers.  And then I thought, “That’s not fair.  Because, I mean, what am I supposed to do with that?”

And while my life and family are radically different from David Sedaris and while my own experience of loss doesn’t include years of family drama, the question of how many people make-up my family is one I spend a lot of time thinking about these days.  Deciding what to tell strangers or new people in our life about how many children we have is a real challenge.  And that is just one part of this whole crappy situation that is really unfair.  

There are basically two options when someone asks me how many children I have, I can say one or I can tell them that I had two and my younger daughter died earlier this year.  Neither option is easy.  The first feels like a betrayal, not only to Magnolia and her very important place in our family but to my grief and our loss and the pain that comes from being in the world without her.   The second option is hard because it ends the conversation.

So far, I always choose the second option.  Her absence in my life is still so huge, it is with me and in me every moment and the thought of not acknowledging her place in our family is impossible because we are still figuring out what it means.  Sasha and I have both shut down a few casual conversations this way.  

There is usually a long pause (the first indication that we have just swerved off the road of casual chit chat). The pause is not so I can decide what to say, it is so I can prepare myself for their reaction.  Then I tell them.  At that point the person who asked looks stunned.  They will put their hand over their heart, they will pull in their eyebrows and maybe a sharp breath, then they say quickly how sorry they are and how horrible that must be or some other variation on those two thoughts.  And I know they are sorry and shocked and have no idea what to say, so I nod my head and say thank you.  Then they find an excuse to get away quickly.  And I am left feeling alone and sad.  And honestly, that is what feels unfair to me.

Since Magnolia’s death, Sasha and I have spent a lot of time avoiding large social gatherings with people we don’t know.  Mostly because it is hard to sustain social chatter—because we are sad, tired, don’t really care, and because we hate being asked how many kids we have.  Every social interaction with someone who doesn’t know us, or our family, is an opportunity for supreme discomfort.  But not just for the stranger who is suddenly confronted with my grief and my new reality, but for me too.  Because it is lonely and hard to feel a conversation end so abruptly and to feel like I should be responsible for the other person’s feelings when I’m suddenly confronted with my grief and my new reality again.

People are all different and I don’t want to suggest that it would be wrong to say that I have one child and move on in the conversation.  There may come a time in my own life where I make that decision, but it feels wrong for me now, so I don’t do it.  Right now, I am still reeling from all of the ways our life feels different without her and still desperate for her to be known and remembered.  Even with strangers.

There is one person who got it just right for me.  I have continued to think about our interaction since it happened in June.  I was standing on line in a children’s clothing store with a pile of pajamas in my arms for Delphinium, behind a very chatty lady.  She was holding up all of the conversation so I was mostly smiling and nodding and laughing while she performed an entertaining monologue.  Then she asked what sizes I was buying and I told her and she said, “So you only have one kid?”  I paused and then told her about Magnolia.  She was shocked and said how sorry she was, but then she asked what her name was and whether I had any pictures.  I pulled out my phone and showed her pictures of Magnolia while she exclaimed about her adorableness and beautiful smiles and asked how she and her sister got along and listened to me talk about them together.  She hugged me and said it was a tragedy for the world.  We went to different counters and I paid for my clothes while wiping my eyes and blowing my nose, she did the same at her counter.  She yelled goodbye and “God bless” as she walked to the door.

I was, and am, so grateful to this woman for giving me a real moment of support and love.  She didn’t need my care taking and she genuinely wanted to know my little girl and to acknowledge that she was here.  Which is what I am trying to do when I say she died.  She was here and she was wonderful and important, and now she’s gone, but she is still my child and I am still her mother.  The stranger I met that day let me be Magnolia’s mother and understood that she was still a part of our family.


Six Months

Six months ago on January 26th, a Saturday night, we put our wonderful,
lively, healthy Magnolia to bed, just like always. She snuggled up on Sasha's
lap as he read her book after book, then sang to her and rubbed her back,
finishing the evening saying "I love you" to each other as he walked out of
the room. Later on that night, Kendra took care of Magnolia when she woke up
with a soiled diaper, changing her and calming her. Then Magnolia snuggled up
on Kendra's lap as she read book after book, then sang to her and rubbed her
back, ending with the exclamatory, "Bye!" that was her specialty, as Kendra
walked out of the room.

Six months ago on January 27th, a Sunday morning, we woke up looking forward
to taking Magnolia and her cousin Dalia to the zoo that day. Delphinium came
into our bed and snuggled with us, and we looked forward together to the time
when Magnolia would have the patience to lie in bed with us, and we'd cuddle
together like four spoons in a drawer.

Moments later, we found Magnolia dead in her crib. Three hours later, the
Medical Examiner’s office took her tiny body away in a small black bag. The
police, firefighters, and EMTs cleared out and the ME investigator left us
with a small card with a case number. At a quarter to noon, we curled up on
our bed alone in our quiet house, holding each other as we wondered what had
happened to our family. 

These past six months have been wrenchingly sad for all of us. We miss
Magnolia enormously all the time: We miss who she was, the funny, connective,
thoughtful, loving, adventurous child, who knew how to get so much joy out of
life. And we mourn who she would become, all the things we imagined for her
and all the things that would have surprised us. We miss our family of four,
the wonderful unit we were together, the ways that Delphinium was such an
amazing big sister to Magnolia, the relationships we each had with each other
and the strong whole that we were. And we mourn what our family would have
become, the evolution of the relationship between Delphinium and Magnolia at
all the different points of their lives, the ways we'd notice and appreciate
their similarities and their differences, the relationships each of us would
have with each of them, the times we'd spend together as a whole family and
the times we'd split into twos. Our grief encompasses all of this and so much

We've spent July at grandma's house in Denver, just as our family always does,
and Magnolia is missing in so many painfully tangible ways. She spent last
July working in the sandbox, reveling in water play, distributing caps to
everyone and then taking them away, scarfing down prodigious amounts of
watermelon and corn on the cob, picking tomatoes in the garden, riding
alongside Delphinium in the trailer behind our tandem bike, walking the dog,
and just toddling all around the house and the neighborhood.  This July, the sandbox and the garden
and the bike and more are constant reminders of her absence, and how wrong it
is that she's not here with us. We're grateful that we've had a lot of time
and space to grieve and to be alone with each other this month.

We are living each day as a family of three, trying hard to find meaning and
joy together—especially for Delphinium’s sake. The routine of daily life
gets us through the mornings, meals and bedtimes, and we make time to have fun
adventures together. But it feels so wrong in so many ways. We are trying
hard to make it work, but hating that this is our life now. 

Many of you have checked in about how the two of us are doing together,
conscious of the fact that the death of a child can break up relationships. 
We have very consciously taken care of the two of us every day of these six
months. The paths of our grief have been and continue to be different, but we
communicate very closely about where each of us is, work hard to take care of
each other each day, and pick up each other's slack. We engage together about
parenting Delphinium and about what it means to be a parent to Magnolia even
now that she's dead. And we've gotten professional help, meeting with our
wonderful couple's counselor, participating in a family grief group with
Delphinium, and connecting with a network of families whose children’s
deaths are also classified as Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood
(www.sudc.org ). We're closer than we've ever been, and tell each other every
day how grateful we are to be walking this miserable road together.

As for Delphinium, she's been doing really well. She enjoys her six year-old
life, loves the busyness of school and day camp but also requests unplanned
weekend days at home to relax and work on projects. She busies herself
planning lemonade stands and rigging up an elevator for stuffed animals on her
loft bed, using yarn that she’s been finger weaving. We see her maturing
before our eyes, and have been surprised that this has been her smoothest
transition from school to summer. As has been true since Magnolia's death,
she is very willing to talk about her and share memories, and talks about
missing her sister but rarely gets visibly sad with us. We know that grief
will be a long and unpredictable journey for her too, and we'll continue both
to follow her lead and to create opportunities for her to connect with her
memories of and feelings about Magnolia.

These six months have also been filled with so much grace. We are so deeply
grateful for your e-mails and texts, whether long or short and simple. We're
grateful for the check-ins. We're grateful for the quick sentence or
meaningful look that acknowledges our grieving before launching into social
conversation. And we're grateful for the many, many ways that you've found to
make us feel your presence and your love with us through all of this.

And with your support over the past six months, Magnolia's library fund has
reached $35,000, meaning that every single one of the 35 public library
branches in the Bronx will get 100 new children's books in Magnolia's memory. 
We can't think of a better legacy for our amazing daughter than the thousands
and thousands of times that children and families will curl up with a book
that was bought in her memory.

Summer of 2012

We spend every July in Denver, where Kendra grew up.  Last summer Magnolia was 16 months old and suddenly so capable.  She spent most of the month looking at books, playing with toys in grandma's house, exploring the backyard endlessly--holding her shoes by the door at every opportunity, pointing and saying "outsi?"  She loved Uncle Jim's cap collection, going to his hat stand on her own and returning again and again with hats to hand out to everyone.  Then collecting them again to give them out again.

We are remembering her every where we look and wishing so badly that she was here with us again this year.

Picking tomatoes in the garden.

Eating corn and showing off her pirate face.

Playing in the sandbox.

Water play in her beloved helmet.

Family portrait in the mountains.

Collecting rocks.

Visiting Tiny Town

Sister fun.

Playing in the river.


Magnolia's Library Fund featured on Bronx News 12

We wanted to share this story from News12 about our fund in honor of Magnolia, providing children's
books to branch libraries in the Bronx:


Thanks to generous donations from so many people, the fund has reached $30,000! 
Our goal is to reach $35,000, enough to provide 100 new children's books to every
single branch in the Bronx in Magnolia's memory.

Magnolia's love of reading was a developing passion and we were so charmed by it.  We were so pleased that she was enjoying books on her own and creating an independent reading life.  We mourn not only for our sweet girl, but for her lost future.  We are sure it would have included many hours of reading and many beloved books--we are honored that her fund at the NYPL will help other children find hours of enjoyment with books from their local Bronx libraries.


Friday Under the Magnolias

This past Friday, many local friends joined us in Central Park to picnic and play under the magnolias.  It was a really joyful occasion, filled with children playing and adults connecting with each other, surrounded by gorgeous pink blossoms.  We are excited to make it an annual occasion, a chance to be with people we care about, remembering Magnolia in the company of the blossoming magnolias.
This season's blooming of magnolias has carried such sad comparisons, the radiant and glorious but brief life of the blossoms echoing our daughter's short time with us.  As with our Magnolia, we've been admiring and cherishing the blossoms while they're here, and they will linger with us long after they've fallen.


Planting a tree

Yesterday we planted a magnolia tree in our backyard. We had
planned to do this since Magnolia's birth, had saved her placenta so that it could
nourish the tree and help it flourish. But there was a lot we still hadn't
figured out about what we wanted our backyard to be, so the project had been put

And so yesterday, we planted the tree and buried not only her placenta but also
the ashes of her body with it. It was another devastating moment in this
heartbreaking time, a moment that pointed out how short Magnolia’s life was,
how terribly wrong this all is.

But it was also a beautiful moment, with members of both of our families here to
plant the tree with so much love for Magnolia, to create a perfect memorial to
her that will be here for the rest of our lives and blossom each spring to evoke
the wonder of her brief life.

We told Delphinium that we would be reading poetry at the tree planting and she said that she would write her own poem.  Her poem and the others we read are included here. 

In the morning
In her crib
“Duhduh” comes out of her mouth
Awakening me
Covering me with glee
Smile on her face lightens up the room
 By Delphinium

Opus From Space   
By Pattiann Rogers

Almost everything I know is glad
to be born – not only the desert orangetip,
on the twist flower or tansy, shaking
birth moisture from its wings, but also the naked
warbler nesting, head wavering toward sky,
and the honey possum, the pygmy possum,
blind, hairless thimbles of forward,
press and part.
Almost everything I've seen pushes
toward the place of that state as if there were
no knowing any other – the violent crack
and seed-propelling shot of the witch hazel pod,
the philosophy implicit in the inside out
seed-thrust of the wood-sorrel. All hairy
saltcedar seeds are single-minded
in their grasping of wind and spinning
for luck toward birth by water.
And I'm fairly shocked to consider
all the bludgeonings and batterings going on
continually, the head-rammings, wing-furors,
and beak-crackings fighting for release
inside gelatinous shells, leather shells,
calcium shells or rough, horny shells. Legs
and shoulders, knees and elbows flail likewise
against their womb walls everywhere, in pine
forest niches, seepage banks and boggy
prairies, among savannah grasses, on woven
mats and perfumed linen sheets.
Mad zealots, every one, even before
beginning they are dark dust-congealings
of pure frenzy to come to light.
Almost everything I know rages to be born,
the obsession founding itself explicitly
in the coming bone harps and ladders,
the heart-thrusts, vessels and voices
of all those speeding with clear and total
fury toward this singular honor.

Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
After Life
By George Sibley

After we wake up from living
We no longer need to make fire
For the heat we no longer need
In the bright crystal morning ahead.

Unseen but felt we mourn our loss
With those we've lost, till we wake up
To our gain, and leave wondering then,
On the back of a deer or a hummingbird.

And we go till, freed, we forget and find
Ourselves in places so lovely, so fine,
We want to be there a while, a night or a moon,
Or to maybe be there a tree for a life.

And there we're a tree, then, for a leafing of time
And, if blessed, something of those
We loved will come to sit under us,
Or in our branches build nests, or just sing.


All About Magnolia by Delphinium

All About Magnolia
By Delphinium

Magnolia loved to go up and down the stairs.
She slided on my lap.
She loved to say her familys names.
She loved to read.
Magnolia loved to put on her familys shoes.
Her first word was dog dog.
Diagram of Magnolia (head, hands, legs, feet)
She had a very loving and generous heart.
She loved her family and showed it by making them happy when they were sad.

Poem for Magnolia

Coming to us on a full moon night
On your sister’s birthday
Born in our bed
Surrounded by love from the first moment

Smiling before your first month ended
Focusing intently on Delphinium when she engages you
Traveling all over the city
Snuggled so tightly against our bodies

Generous smiles and eye-to-eye connections
Charming everyone you meet
So flexible and steady
As we take you from place to place

Kicking with enthusiasm when you’re held
Grinning at yourself in the mirror
Grabbing your toes and just holding on for awhile
Laughing along with your sister

Creating your first jokes
By presenting objects and then not letting us take them
A great set up
Laughing because you get that it’s funny

Ravenously eating
From mushy foods on forward
Loving anything that’s offered
Chipmunking food into your big cheeks

Discovering the stairs
They entertain you for months
As you climb and descend
And grin at anyone nearby

Wonderfully slow days with Mama
Crawling around your house
Swinging contentedly at the playground
The world following your rhythms

You claim the kitchen as a workshop
Stacking bowls and transferring objects
Moving magnets around the refrigerator
Climbing up onto the dishwasher door when given the chance

Further comedy
As you lean to the side and get everyone around to do it too
Or rock back and forth manically
Soaking up the appreciation of your audience

You approach learning to walk
As with so many developments
Happily and without frustration
Hurtling about the house joyfully

You fill our summer at Grandma and Uncle Jim’s house
With handing people their shoes
Exploring the outside
Insistently wearing a bicycle helmet through hours of play

Sister time in your crib
Delphinium joins you in the mornings
Leaves us sleeping while she reads and sings to you
Creates a private space for just you two

Coming into our bed
You climb all over us and explore clocks and glasses
Pause for a quick cuddle
Before getting back to work

Each day winds down with books and songs
We sing you “Hey Soul Sister” every night of your life
As you lift your butt in the air and fondle your blanket
Settling in for a night’s sleep

Learning the power of words
You yell “Dogdog!” at every passing canine
Learn “backpack” and “shoes” and “bath”
Use them to guide your loving adults

Transitioning to new routines
You embrace your days at day care
Welcoming Altagracia’s arms in the morning
Turning to say, “Bye bye!” and blow a kiss on each step as you leave

One block’s walk back home
Can turn into a 20 minute adventure
Commenting on every house, car, and light
Giving orders to sit on stoops as we slowly make our way

Arriving at Granny and Grandpapa’s apartment each time
You grin at them as you march straight to your toys
Hours of work to be done with bowls
Little stones and rubber bands

Sister baths filled with merriment
Lots of splashing and hijinks
You learn to soap up your hands
To wash Delphinium’s back

Energy and ambitious adventurousness
Amazing us by scaling your high chair independently
Zooming back and forth repeatedly in our back room
Walking off the couch onto the pillows below

Reading becomes more interactive
As you show your preferences clearly
Talking to us about “Gossie” or “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”
Repeating words and turning pages to make connections

Words become phrases
As you narrate our life for us:
“Mama socks” “Papa tired?” “Duhdoo sleeping”
“Upstairs!” “Noyo do it!”

Beginning to follow your sister’s creative lead
So decisive with your marks on paper
Gleefully creating your first painting
Narrating it all

Dress up suits you perfectly
Hats and shoes to parade around in
An armored breast plate across your chest
Grinning through outfit after outfit

Developing such independence
You want to spend your time brushing your teeth
Moving chairs around to suit your purposes
Making the world work for you

You led your whole life
So joyfully and so fully
Embracing everything it had to offer
Welcoming us all to join you for the ride