Even though I have been dreading it since early fall, this particular January kind of snuck up on me. Returning back to New York, after visiting Denver for Christmas, I was distracted by the work I needed to do for school and getting things back on track logistically after time away. I kind of forgot that it was January.
The full force of this January hit me after our first week back home. For the first time since Magnolia died, I am teaching and in the middle of a school year again. I am also parenting a toddler again—a little round, smiley girl who runs around the house, collecting and distributing things, busily arranging and playing with her toys and demanding help with the things that she can’t reach or manage on her own.
It is all so painfully familiar, like I have been sucked into a time warp and spit out in January 2013. The house feels the same, the sounds and activities are the same, the stress about teaching and grocery shopping and dinners and family logistics are all the same. And this joyful toddler feels startlingly like the same person I lost years ago.
Over the past 3 years, Sasha has spent more time worried and anxious about the possibility of another sudden death in our family, especially since Azalea was born. He is the one who tears up at bedtimes and leaps from the bed when the baby monitor that registers lack of movement in the crib alarms in the middle of the night (always false alarms, so far).
I, on the other hand, have always felt some strange comfort in the randomness of Magnolia’s death, pretty sure that worrying about random death is not something I should spend energy on since there is no way to prevent it from happening. It is a very important defensive blanket that I have worn since Magnolia’s death.
That blanket is fraying rapidly this month. Rational thought has been fading and is replaced by anxiety and an insistent fear. It is the other side of the random death coin—it can, and does, happen at any time, so why not now? We weren’t protected before, why should we be now?
The overwhelming sense of déjà vu is wearing and exhausting. Azalea is 20 months old right now, only 2 months younger than Magnolia at the time of her death. Azalea likes to wear our shoes, she spends huge chunks of time happily climbing up and down the stairs, she loves taking baths with her sister, she is loud and demanding with the words she knows, she likes to brush her hair (or at least try), she loves reading and often our pre-nap reading time stretches to half an hour. Just like Magnolia.
3 years ago we were doing all the same things. Exactly the same, but with a different happy toddler. And then she died and we had no idea it was coming. We were happily living our life together and loving our family and then, out of nowhere, we were broken and she was gone.
Knowing that Azalea will probably survive this month is different than really believing it. In the past week I have noticed myself becoming weirdly superstitious. While dressing Azalea for daycare, I pulled out a few shirts and leggings that I remember Magnolia wearing that January. She is wearing them in a couple of pictures I have from that month and so I stuffed them in my closet to get them far away from Azalea. I did the same with a few toys. Magnolia loved to read "Down By the Bay" and we have a video of her reading it the night she died, so it has also been locked up. Azalea has really loved painting lately, but Magnolia painted for the first time the week she died and so the paints are not coming out until I can shed this feeling of impending doom.
At other moments, my anxiety is so great that I become frozen with fear. I spent almost an hour holding Azalea while she slept in my arms at the beginning of a nap one day. She fell asleep while I was singing to her and then I couldn’t stop or put her in her crib. I just kept thinking, “What if this is it? What if this is my goodbye?” I finally put her down when I started sobbing and then I retreated to my bed where I cried for the rest of her nap clutching the video monitor and watching her sleep, hoping that she would wake up.
If there was any doubt that our family experienced a trauma when Magnolia died, this particular round of PTSD should clear up any question. This month has been disorienting and challenging. I am taking next week off of school because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to function there, and I am sure it isn’t good to subject my students to my irritability and lack of patience right now.
So I am preparing myself for this next week and also hopeful that the 27th turns out to be the magical date when all my dread and anxiety dissipates. I am hopeful, not at all sure, but hopeful that she will wake up on the morning of the 27th and my rational self will reappear and my blanket of solace will become thick and strong once again.