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.



Under the Magnolias 2014

On April 19th we gathered with friends and family to celebrate the blossomy beauty of the magnolia trees in NYC.  They burst into bloom earlier that week and then were threatened by a frosty snow storm, but the blooms persevered and we enjoyed a gorgeous grove of magnolias in full bloom.

We are so grateful for the opportunity each spring to celebrate her with the blooming of the glorious trees that were her namesake.  It has been a joyful occasion both years, with children playing on and under the branches of the magnolias while we get the chance to talk and connect with friends and family.

We hope to continue this tradition, to meet each year and share the beauty of these ephemeral blooms which so perfectly mimic the brief and glorious life of our girl.

And a gorgeous pink sunset to end the day...


Two Birthdays, One Day (Kendra)

Magnolia's due date was February 28th.  Delphinium had arrived 12 days past her due date and we didn't expect Magnolia to be prompt. My last day at school was that week, coinciding with our mid-winter break.  I spent a couple days of break cleaning up all of my art stuff, packing boxes and sending things to storage in the school basement because I would be on leave for the rest of the school year.  Then I settled in at home to wait for Magnolia's arrival.   

My mother arrived a few days later and we busied ourselves with projects around the house.  Obsessive nesting work, like completely reorganizing the linen closet and finding lids to all of our food storage containers and reorganizing the matched containers in their drawer.  We went for walks and made puzzles and played lots of board games with Delphinium.

I saw our midwives each week and kept in touch with them by phone.  Sasha went with me for non-stress tests and biophysical exams--and the baby seemed to be doing just fine.  We saw an acupuncturist several times, resulting in crampy contractions that stopped after an hour or so.  I could feel my body preparing for labor--I was dialating slowly and could feel my hips getting all loosened up.  So we kept waiting.

On Friday, March 18th we talked with our midwives about going to the hospital on Monday to begin an induction.  The baby seemed to be doing well, but we would be past the 43 week mark by then and we all agreed it would be time to induce.  On March 19th, our midwife, Martine, came to our home in the morning and swiped my membranes creating contractions that lasted for an hour or so.  Sasha and I went out on a long walk, hoping to get things moving along, some contractions came and went for the rest of the day and in the evening Martine returned to swipe my membranes again.  Contractions continued for a while and became noticeably stronger, Martine stuck around to see what would happen.   

At 2:41 a.m. Magnolia arrived in the world, still in her caul. It was March 20th, her sister's birthday, the first day of spring and the night of the biggest full moon in 20 years.  It felt like such an auspicious night--full of mystical coincidence and amazing timing.  Delphinium was present for her birth and helped to cut her cord, wiped my brow with a cool wash cloth and helped prepare and bring food to our birth team and her grandmas.

2 hours after her arrival, Martine and the rest of our birth team had left and Sasha and I were tucked up in our bed holding or beautiful new baby girl and whispering about possible names while the others in our house slept.  We were so happy and full of the wonder gazing at the perfect beauty of a new baby.

In the morning, Sasha and I slept as my mother and cousin cared for Magnolia.  Then Sasha's parents arrived with food for a birthday brunch for Delphinium.  She put on her fancy magenta dress, made a pile of all her presents and held court at the dining room table while we passed around the baby and sang "happy birthday".  Delphinium had a great day, surrounded by family and so excited to tell the story of her sister's birth over and over again. 

In the 22 months that she was with us, I invested so much thought and feeling into Magnolia and Delphinium's sisterhood.  It was hard not to think that their shared birthday was fated somehow, that we were somehow meant to have two special spring flower girls.  Delphinium often says that her birthday brings the spring, and we wholeheartedly agreed.  Spring was our favorite season of the year and it felt like a cosmic gift to have two wonderful girls born on the vernal equinox. 

Our two girls felt like a matched set, honoring this wonderful season of rebirth and beauty that had always meant so much to us.  When Magnolia died last winter, I dreaded the arrival of spring and the turning into a new season without her.  The fact that the entry into that horrible season was marked by their birthdays felt so awful, I took some small comfort in the fact that it was still cold and dreary in March.  I felt so sad as the sun returned and the days began to warm. 

A few weeks ago we celebrated their birthday for the second time without Magnolia--which is one more time than we had while she was with us.  And mostly it felt like Delphinium's day.  Which isn't wrong, but it was hard to realize how much it felt like her day alone.  Delphinium was turning 7 and so excited about it. The countdown began on the first day of March and the negotiations about how we would celebrate had been going on for weeks before then.  She is young and ego-centric and utterly and completely normal in her ecstatic anticipation of her birthday.  But it hurts.  

After Magnolia was born, one of Delphinium's favorite things to share with strangers or new friends was that her sister was born on her birthday.  She was so proud of that fact and would often tell people about how she had helped cut her sister's cord and had been up in the middle of the night to watch her birth.  This year, it is still startling to hear people wish her a happy birthday and to feel the absence of that part of the story.  She doesn't tell people now.  Her sister was born on her birthday and that was really special, but now her sister is dead and isn't here to share the day.  I understand why she doesn't talk about it, it seems to be her version of our "how many children do you have?" challenge.  It is awkward and difficult to talk about.  But not hearing it still makes me sad.    

This year we had a special birthday breakfast for Magnolia.  We told stories and shared memories, then we wrote notes to her on wildflower paper and went to the Bronx River and dropped our messages into the gentle current and watched them float away.  After we took Delphinium to school, Sasha and I went to Magnolia's daycare to deliver some new books as a birthday gift.

Then we put on happy faces and went to Delphinium's class with cupcakes and after school we took her and a friend out for a fancy dinner and a trip to Cirque du Soleil.  Delphinium had a great day and we were glad we could make it special for her.  But I worry that it will always feel like her day, instead of their day.  We carved out some space for Magnolia in the day, but it feels like a small token.

Something that once felt so special, now feels so complicated and difficult.  An auspicious arrival into the world, matched by a tragic departure.  A previously joyful beginning of a season that I now resent.  A day we have to get through, rather than a day to really celebrate.  I know that my feelings about this day will continue to change and develop.  I hope I will let go of the bitterness I feel about it now.  I hope to get to a place where I can once again appreciate the coincidences and timing that made it such a special day for our family.  To hold on to that and eventually look past all of the loss I associate with the day.  But I am not there yet and mostly it just hurts. 


Last Days (Sasha)

January 25, 2013
On a winter Friday, with snow falling lightly in the dark, I left work and took the bus to pick up Delphinium at the afterschool program at her school.  The two of us walked through Fort Independence Park, enjoying the fall of the snow and catching flakes in our mouths as we hustled to get Magnolia before 6.  We ascended the stairs and rang the doorbell, and when Altagracia opened the door, Magnolia was standing behind her grinning, pleased that we were there to get her.  I put on her coat and hat, grabbed the bag with her dirty clothes, and we all wished each other a good weekend.  As always, Magnolia and I held hands and went down one step at a time, with Delphinium ahead of us.  At each step, Magnolia turned around to wave and say “Bye!” to Altagracia, sometimes blowing kisses as well.  Altagracia stood in the doorway without a coat, saying “Bye!” at every step, shivering but with a big smile, loving every wave and every kiss.

When we reached the bottom and said our last goodbye to Altagracia, we started on our way up the block to our house.  Delphinium stomped footprints into the thin layer of snow, and Magnolia happily followed suit.  She let go of my hand as she experimented with making marks in the snow and pointing out the marks that Delphinium and I were making.  Delphinium started to drag her feet through the snow, and Magnolia was thrilled with the idea, dragging her own feet to make lanes through the snow.  And so we walked up the block, the two of them dragging through the snow and admiring their marks, and me, so pleased with my daughters and so happy to be a part of the scene.

Delphinium tired of the slow pace, and complained that she wanted to get home more quickly.  But Magnolia was committed to the slow dragging, so Delphinium sped up, and ran ahead to go inside our front yard, to accumulate snow in her gloved hands.  When we caught up, Magnolia began picking up snow and squeezing it in her ungloved hands.  Pretty soon, she realized how freezing cold her hands were, and started to cry.  It was then that it really sunk in for me that she had so little experience with snow, having been through only one significant snow last winter, before she was walking, and only the remains of snow on the ground this Christmastime in Denver.  She knew a lot about the feel of dirt and sand and water, but hadn’t learned how it feels when you squeeze snow in your bare hands.

I took Magnolia inside and worked on calming her, while Delphinium lingered on the stoop.  I took off Magnolia’s coat, hat, and boots as she cried, then picked her up and carried her around the living room on my hip, warming her cold hands in mine.  Once she had calmed down and I mentioned dinner, she happily climbed up into her high chair, in the independent and athletic way she had developed, and waited to be fed.  I heated up rice and beans for the three of us (Kendra was out with a friend), and we ate and chatted.  Delphinium and I each shared something we’re grateful for, as our family does every night, and mine was about being grateful for a nice snowy walk home together with the two of them.

I gave them a “sister bath” after dinner, then did the staggered bedtime, first putting Magnolia to bed while Delphinium took care of herself.   I dried Magnolia off in her room, put on her diaper, pajamas, and sleepsack, then cozied up with her on my lap on the chair and read lots of books: Feast for Ten, Barnyard Dance, Subway, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.  She followed along intently, turning the pages and exclaiming the words she knew: “Beyuh!” “Duck!” “Eat!”  Afterwards, I gave her a big hug and placed her down in her crib for songs and  “I love you”s, before heading to our room where Delphinium was waiting with books of her own.

January 26, 2013
The next morning, Magnolia woke up first, around 7:45, and I went and got her and brought her into our room before she woke Delphinium up, though Delphinium was already stirring when we walked out.  Kendra got herself ready while Magnolia waited with me, anxious to go downstairs.  Saturday was my morning to sleep late and Sunday was Kendra’s, so I went back to sleep.  When Kendra came to get me up in the late morning, she was frustrated with Delphinium, but full of pleasure from the hour and a half she spent with Magnolia while Delphinium spent time alone in her room.  She glowed while she told me how wonderful it had been to sit there and have Magnolia climb all over her, just having a great time together.

That afternoon, Delphinium and Magnolia stayed with a babysitter while Kendra and I went on a rare daytime date.  We took the subway to Queens and spent our brunch imagining a future sabbatical year for our family.  A colleague was applying for overseas teaching positions, and it got us thinking about spending a year somewhere.  So we discussed all kinds of possibilities, shared about articles we’d read and things people had told us, conjectured about what ages would be best for our kids to spend a year somewhere else.  We thought maybe 9 and 13 or 10 and 14, imagined what their relationship would be then, what our family dynamics would be like.

Afterwards, we went to a No Longer Empty exhibition together at the Clock Tower in Long Island City, reveling in the opportunity to see art and explore a fascinating space on our own, while planning out what parts of the exhibition would work for Delphinium and which for Magnolia when we returned.  We picked up a calendar, and made a plan to return with them for a family art day.

When we arrived home, Kendra went to our room to do some school work and I started preparing dinner.  Delphinium and Magnolia hung out in their room, and I listened to the sounds of them bouncing on Delphinium’s bed as I got food together.  A cry came from Magnolia, and she had bumped her head and wanted to be picked up.  I carried her downstairs, and she settled down quickly and was ready for dinner.  I ate leftovers with the kids: Magnolia picked at the pizza, but was mostly filled up from a post-nap lunch, and preferred to eat some tomatoes and grapes instead.

After dinner, as I cleared the table, I saw that both kids were occupied contentedly in the living room, with Magnolia reading to herself and Delphinium singing a song she was making up as she went.  Watching Magnolia read Down by the Bay on her own, I thought about how frequently Kendra and I had talked about Magnolia’s recently-developed independent reading life, and I went to get the video camera to record it.  She was so focused on her reading that she hardly looked up as she read out the final words of each phrase: “Bay… Go... Home…”

So pleased to have captured the moment, I told Magnolia it was time to go up to bed.  I picked her up and carried her up the stairs, changing her diaper and getting her dressed for bed in her room.  We read many books, and slowly since she turned back to previous pages, wanted to point out the connections she was making.  I put her in her crib and sang, “Hey Soul Sister,” then she asked for “Mo!” so I sang part of “40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet).”  Those two songs, along with “The Boxer,” were the special songs I had for her since she was a few weeks old, which I had used to soothe her in my arms countless times and sang her every night at bedtime.  As I headed out of the room, I said, “Good night.  I love you,” and she replied, “I love you,” as she had recently learned to do.

Kendra and I cozied up to watch a movie that night, but we were interrupted around 11:45 by Magnolia howling insistently.  It was her angry cat cry that meant something was really wrong,  Kendra went up to check.  When Kendra entered the room, Magnolia pointed to her bottom and said, “Poo. Hurt.”  Kendra brought her downstairs to change her, and she was still upset and crying, due to her poo irritating the bad diaper rash that she had.  I tried to distract her as Kendra changed her diaper and put soothing cream on her bottom, but she remained mildly upset.  When we asked if she wanted to hold onto a toy, or wanted me to sing her a song, she grumpily replied, “No. No. No.”

Kendra brought her back upstairs and her mood brightened once she was on her mama’s lap reading.  Kendra lingered a long time to read book after book, with Magnolia turning pages back and forth to point things out and Delphinium sleeping peacefully through it all.  Kendra put Magnolia in her crib and sang to her while rubbing her back, but Magnolia interrupted her in the middle of the second song and said, “Bye bye!”  So a little past midnight, Kendra blew her a kiss, said "I love yous" and said good night.

Kendra returned to me with a smile on her face, apologizing for how long she’d stayed away and beaming about how wonderful it was to cozy up with Magnolia and read books, how she had read more than she’d intended because she just didn’t want it to end.  We cuddled up together sharing our appreciation of her before we restarted the movie.

January 27, 2013
The next morning, I was planning to get up with the kids while Kendra slept late, and Delphinium and I were going to make waffles, as we do every Sunday.  Magnolia was a big fan of Waffle Sunday, and climbed into her chair saying, “Waffo!” the moment she heard anyone mention it, even if we were just beginning to mix the batter.  Afterwards, my sister Elizabeth was going to drop off her daughter Dalia and pick up Delphinium, so that Delphinium and Shoshana could have an older cousin day with their aunts while Dalia and Magnolia could have a younger cousin day with us, a trip to the Bronx Zoo.

In the morning, both kids seemed to be sleeping late, as they often did.  Around 7:40, we heard a lot of rustling on the monitor, which usually meant that Delphinium was awake before Magnolia and was working on a project.  Kendra and I stayed curled up together, enjoying the opportunity to sleep late together and admiring the sounds of Delphinium’s industriousness.

When Delphinium finally came in, she told us that she had been making a zoo for Magnolia.  She had created a zoo scene with plastic animals on their floor, had made a sign that said, “Wakam to the zoo” and had produced zoo passes for Magnolia.  She had put her hand on Magnolia in the crib but Magnolia hadn’t woken up, so she went on working, ready to surprise and excite her little sister with her zoo creations.

We invited Delphinium into bed to cuddle with us, and she asked if we could all spoon each other, which we did.  We all remarked on how cozy it was, and how Magnolia was too restless to enjoy cuddling but would grow into it, and then we’d get to spoon up as a whole family.

After enjoying the coziness, Delphinium and I got up at 8:30 to go get Magnolia and get the day started.  I walked ahead of her into their room and started telling Magnolia that it was time to get up.  I noticed right away that she was face down in the crib, instead of with her head to the side as always, and when I put my hand on her back to wake her up, she didn’t respond.  I shook her back harder, and felt how stiff she was.  Right away, I picked her up and there was resistance as her face was stuck to her blanket.  When I pulled her up and held her at arm’s length, I saw her yellow and purple face and the gunk from her nose and mouth that had stuck her to the blanket, and felt her stiffness.  I screamed for Kendra over and over, as Delphinium, who had been standing at my side, backed away.

Kendra came rushing in, saw the horrible scene, and took Magnolia from me shouting, "Oh God, she's dead! She's just dead."  I ran to my phone and called 911 as we both yelled “Oh my god!”.  Delphinium got her big stuffed hippo and retreated into the hallway, standing in a safe corner away from all the action.

When I told the 911 operator, “I think our daughter is dead!” she told me to perform CPR and I passed the instructions to Kendra.  Kendra kept saying, “It’s too late, she’s already dead!” but I told her to try anyway.  She sucked the liquid out from Magnolia’s nose and mouth, but couldn't pry open her jaw.  There was no response with the CPR.

I rushed to the door to guide the firefighters in, and Kendra carried Magnolia’s body downstairs and laid it on the rug.  When the firefighters saw Magnolia, their faces showed that they knew she was dead.  One of them bent over her body, listened to her chest, inspected her body and said, “I’m sorry."  They all lowered their gazes.

Delphinium had come down with Kendra, and Kendra told me to call Elizabeth to come get her.  I called and said, “You have to come here right away.  Right away!” without being able to say that Magnolia was dead.

After they had checked Magnolia for vital signs and expressed their condolences, we asked if we could hold her.  They said that we could, and Kendra picked her up while we both wept, after a few minutes she passed Magnolia to me and hugged me while I held her.  One of the EMTs gently whispered in Kendra's ear to take care of our other daughter too, so Kendra picked up Delphinium and held her tight. 

We all sat on the couch in shock and sorrow, and Kendra called her mother in Denver to tell her that Magnolia was dead and that she had to get on a flight to New York as soon as possible.  Then Elizabeth came through the door, wild-eyed and needing to know why all the emergency vehicles were outside.  When she saw us holding Magnolia’s dead body, she burst into tears as well.

Delphinium was already dressed and ready to go on her adventure, as she had been since she woke up, but we hadn’t taken a moment with her to deal with any of this.  So I held Magnolia’s body and Kendra took Delphinium upstairs so that she herself could get dressed (she was still in her night gown) and so that they could talk for a moment.  Kendra held Delphinium on her lap and told her that Magnolia was dead.  She explained that her body had stopped working and she wouldn’t be with us again.  It happened that we had put our old and sick dog, Calliope, to sleep twelve days earlier, and had talked with Delphinium about death and its permanence.  At that time, Delphinium cried and Magnolia brought her a tissue to wipe her eyes.  Connecting the two deaths, Delphinium confirmed with Kendra that Magnolia wouldn’t be coming back to us and wouldn’t be living in our home anymore, that that’s what her death meant. 

Meanwhile, I was holding Magnolia’s body on mine, with her head lying on my shoulder, and mixing tears with disbelief.  I paced back and forth with her, as I did so many times when she was younger and I was trying to put her to sleep.  Elizabeth asked to hold her, and she took her for a moment while I called my parents.  To my mother, I was able to say, “Magnolia’s dead.  She died in her sleep last night, and we don’t know why.  I need you to take a cab up here.”  After Delphinium came back downstairs, Elizabeth took her off to spend the day distracted by her cousins.

For the next three hours, there was a stream of firefighters, EMTs, police officers, detectives, and medical examiner investigators filing into our house.  We were grateful that they were willing to let us hold Magnolia’s body for most of that time, first downstairs, then up in her room, and eventually in our room.  The detectives needed us to put her back in her crib for a brief time, to take photos of the scene, but then let us pick her back up.  And for the last stretch of time, we sat on our bed holding her body and crying, with my parents standing silently by.  The detective and the medical examiner investigator asked us necessary questions and we answered them, but everyone left us alone as much as possible.  The collection of police officers down in our dining room all looked very somber and pained, and tried to stay out of the way.

It felt so important to hold her, and so impossible to let go.  She didn’t look like herself, all purple and yellow, and her body was so stiff.  But the weight of her felt right, like so many hundreds of times we had carried her.  Holding her on my shoulder and swaying back and forth, it was possible to feel like it was just her there, that she wasn’t actually dead.

Finally, the moment came when we were told we had to put her body in the crib and the people from the medical examiner’s office would take her away.  We each held her body one last time, and Kendra told me that I needed to put her down and walk away, which we did holding hands and crying.  From our bedroom window, we watched as a worker from the medical examiner’s office carried her body, zipped up in a black body bag, and loaded her onto a shelf in her van, and drove away.

Soon, everyone else cleared out.  We asked my parents to clean up the muddy tracks and other physical evidence of all the people who had filled our house that morning, and we retreated to our bedroom.

And there it was, noon on a Sunday, and our precious daughter was gone.  We had laid in bed a few hours before, looking forward to a nice day, trying to figure out when Magnolia would get her nap in, and imagining with Delphinium the days when all four of us would spoon up happily together.  And then we had gotten up, and our whole life had changed.  Now, a few hours later, our house had emptied, and we were left holding each other, curled up in a ball on our bed, in the middle of the day on a sunny Sunday, shocked that our life had changed so suddenly.  Filled with disbelief and confusion, forced to begin our lives without Magnolia.


Reading to Remember Magnolia

We are asking folks to read together or on their own this weekend to help us remember Magnolia.  She loved books and being read to and we like to think of people cuddling up with their kids or partners, or with a good book on their own to think of her, say her name and share one of her very favorite things. 

Check out the tab above called "Reading to Remember Magnolia" for more about this shared memorial and to see what folks are reading.

The Countdown (Kendra)

I said goodbye to my 3 year old flip phone and bought an iphone on December 29, 2012.  I was excited to have a smartphone and especially to have a camera handy at all times.  I didn't take a million pictures right away, mostly I forgot that I could and had to actively remember that I had a camera.  So, there are only about 30 pictures and videos on my phone before Magnolia's death.

But they comprise a slow motion countdown of sorts.  This whole month we have been obsessed with what we were doing last year.  We look on the calendar, piece together our memories of weekends trying hard to figure out what happened on each day.  We have been really desperate to remember all of those last weeks and days with Magnolia--often writing down what we remember and revising the calendar to include new memories.

Part of it is not wanting to lose anything, which we have struggled with all year.  Sharing memories around the house, consulting the 2012 calendar to see what we were doing the year before, writing down memories, looking through old pictures and trying to recreate what our family felt like before has become a regular part of life around here.  However, the desperation we feel about it this month has so much to do with the end of "last year with Magnolia."

After the 26th of January there will be no more memories of what was happening with Magnolia last year.  The memories will be about the day of her death, preparations for her memorials, the surreal plane ride to Denver without a squirming toddler on my lap, and the long slog through numbness, shock, pain, sadness and slow realization that dominated the beginning of 2013. 

The countdown feels very real to us and Sasha and I are both dreading the one year anniversary and the threshold into another part of our life without Magnolia.  This makes the pictures and videos on my phone feel so precious.  They document the last days of our life as a family of four, the last days of "before" when we knew how nice our life was and were so sure we were lucky and blessed in a million ways.  When we were still so naively happy.

So here is the countdown of memories and images stored on my phone:

December 31, 2012:  D has a lovely little porcelain tea set that Magnolia was beginning to be interested in (very aggressively, interested). D was worried about it being broken, so she sent it to the basement for semi-permanent storage. So last year for Christmas, we got both girls a tin tea set that they really loved. Magnolia spent a bunch of time loading the tray and carrying it all over grandmas house giving tea to anyone who would take it. We celebrated New Year's Eve with Ruth Hart (who loves tea) and D and M had their first "real" tea party with their new set. (The box with the new tea set and other Christmas gifts took a week to mail from Denver, then sat at our school for a couple of weeks before we finally brought it home...after Magnolia's death. So this also turns out to be the last time she played with her new tea set. Procrastination and a sudden, unexpected death were not allies in this case.)

January 9, 2013: D was especially excited about regular access to video and created many reasons to be recorded. These often included props, costumes and special lighting. M really enjoyed these filming events, but D would ask for one of us to take her away for the filming so she wouldn't "mess everything up." So almost every video of D in January of last year looks and sounds like this--D happily performing while M howls and screams in the background because she has been removed from the premises. This common sibling scenario was just beginning to happen regularly and would have continued for some time. Poor M just wanted so badly to be cool like her sister! 

January 12, 2013:  At the beginning of last year we were preparing to renovate our basement, which meant moving everything out of the basement. We hired the ever wonderful Sarah Whitney to take care of the kids for 2 saturdays so that we could clean out the basement.  The first weekend they went to the American Museum of Natural History with her cousin Diana and sent us these pictures from their adventure.  

January 14, 2013:  The girls were sitting on a stool in the kitchen watching something bake in the oven. The picture is fuzzy and in another world it would get lost among better pictures of the two of them together. But, it is the last picture we have of our two wonderful sisters together. I love how Magnolia is holding Delphinium and how smiley they both are. They had developed a strong bond and they showed us so often how much they really loved each other. 

January 15, 2013:  On this day a year ago we took our dog, Calliope, to the vet and had her euthanized. She had been living with a tumor for over three years and her health declined suddenly. We came home on this day and found her curled up in the bathroom with a swollen belly. We had been talking to D for awhile about Calliope's health and how we thought it was getting close to time for us to euthanize her. We explained what that was and talked about what it meant to be dead. We read children's books about the deaths of family pets and she cried and said she would miss Calliope and didn't want her to die.
Our neighbors took care of D and M while Sasha and I took Calliope to the vet, where we cried and stroked her fur and told her what a good girl she was and how we loved her while the vet administered the chemicals. We sat with her for a long time and then went home without her, feeling really awful.
Sasha and I often say it was Calliope's last great gift to us that she died that week. A little over a week later I was sitting in our bedroom holding D on my lap explaining that Magnolia was dead. In that moment I was so grateful that I didn't have to explain what death was, that in her 5 year old way she already knew what it meant to be dead. Calliope's death got lost in the events of last January, but we miss her too and are grateful that she helped prepare our family (and especially D) a little bit for Magnolia's death.
We took these pictures before we took Calliope to the vet. The girls were saying goodbye.

And this is a picture of them having dinner with our neighbors that night:

January 19, 2013:  Sarah returned for another Saturday of kid care and went to the zoo with D and M.  She took this video of Magnolia late that afternoon.  Magnolia was 22 month old when she died and was just beginning to put words together into phrases and short sentences. Unfortunately, we have very few videos with her saying very much. I love all the language in this video. Words we had never heard her say and combinations of words that show so clearly where she was developmentally with her language: "open door", "moo dis", "it huby". We only wish it went on forever.

January 23, 2013:  Last year on this day I was home with Magnolia and realized she had never painted. It was a moment of second-child revelation. D had been painting and glueing and making marks on paper for almost a year when she was Magnolia's age, basically since she was coordinated enough to handle each material. It was no great travesty, but I felt bad. So we got out the paints and she painted for over an hour! 
It was everything I love about watching kids discover a new material: exploration, choice-making, thoughtful consideration, new discoveries and always questions. It is why I love my job as an art teacher so much. I am so grateful that we had that morning of painting together and for the wonderful paintings that remind me of that experience. 
I posted a picture of her painting that day on Facebook, smiling and proudly holding her paint brush. Like so many memories and pictures from these last weeks it feels so impossibly incongruous with the post 4 days later announcing her death.

January 26, 2013:  Sasha and I had been out on a daytime date to Queens.  We had brunch and went to an art exhibit, talking alot about the girls and plans that we had for the near and far future with them.  We returned in the early evening and Sasha did dinner time with them while I went to our bedroom to get some schoolwork done.  After dinner, D was amusing herself singing a song she was making up, dancing around the living room.  M had climbed into the chair near the bookcase with some board books and was reading to herself.  Sasha took this video of her reading "Down By the Bay" saying the words at the end of each phrase.  A little while later he took her up to bed.  This is the last captured image we have of her alive.  We love her cat ears and her happily reading to herself with another book ready to go right next to her.  

The countdown ends here.  And then all the pictures are from "after" when she was already gone and our family suddenly felt so wrong.