Tonight I was having yet another snack when I looked down at the kitchen counter to see a flyer for the 2nd Annual Walk to Remember. It’s an event designed to be a tribute to loved ones lost, particularly children, to be held at an arboretum housing a Christmas Box Angel (apparently there are roughly 100 of these in the U.S, “[standing as] a symbol of hope and healing for all parents and families who have experienced the death of a child of any age.”) Alongside the flyer was a magazine open to an article I’d been reading about how babies tend to enjoy the foods Mom ate in utero or in the first 3 months of breastfeeding.
The child that died...the child that’s living. Remembering...anticipating. Keeping one alive in spirit...the other in body.
It struck me how perverse this was, this flyer next to this article. In many ways it nearly makes me sick to my stomach. The Reality of it. That THIS is and will forever be our Reality. (At least I hope so, because that would mean this child lives.) There is no changing what happened with Anna. We will always have to balance both the living and the dead - in just this way, too. Finding ways to honor and acknowledge Anna as a beloved member of our family, while in the next breath preparing and caring for the family members that are living.
This realization has hit home in the last week or so. For over 2 years now Anna has had full reign of our hearts and minds, she could take up as much room as she pleased (or, let’s face it, as we pleased). With the arrival of this baby, we’ll have to find a different sort of space for her. Which has been really hard to think about. Lots of tears, even some from Brad. Sooner than later it won’t be ‘the girls’ room anymore. Within the next 2-3 years Anna will probably have to leave her room - and where will she go? It’s been so easy and natural to keep her ashes, her things, Her, in the room designed for her. But this little girl won’t likely want to share a room with her dead sibling forever. The idea of “sticking Anna somewhere else” in the house is enough to bring forth great sobs and drive me to my figurative knees. Where should she go? The shelves in the living room? The top of our dresser? The drawer of my nightstand? Like she’s a sentimental object we don’t want to get rid of? I mean, it’s her ashes. I suppose we could bury or spread them like most people do. It’s just...I don’t think either of us can bear the thought yet that she’s not as close to us as possible. It’s like I said to my counselor recently - Brad and I have not yet given her back to God. I don’t know if or when we will.
Then there’s the photo montage from NILMDTS that we used at her memorial, the birth announcement my mother made, clothes that will always be only hers, all the cards we received when she died and on her first birthday, leftover bracelets and buttons, etc. Stuff. That will remain hers alone. Not alot, but enough. To pack it all away in a plastic box the same way we do with our winter/summer clothes feels mundane and therefore horribly wrong. And yet, what else is there to do? It’s this kind of thing that will make every significant event bittersweet. Every holiday. Every first day of school. Every first this new baby has, for that matter. The joy in the living, the heartache for the dead.
The trick for us as parents is to care first and foremost for this living child, make sure she doesn’t feel she’s competing in love and attention with a sainted dead sister. Making sure she’s our number one priority and that she knows it. Finding ways to honor Anna without threatening her. Things as simple as not having an Easter basket for both girls but only for the living child - picking out a special egg for Anna instead. That might seem obvious but you know what? It’s not, always. I think because we’ve had the luxury of giving Anna all the ‘attention’. Changing that, finding Anna’s rightful place within the family - within us as her parents, that’s going to be its own lifelong journey.