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.