Happy birthday to you, my missing one. It is hard to imagine us with a 3 year old but that is what you would be, full of spunk and spitfire like your sisters, I imagine. As I have each year so far, I'm taking today off work to be with myself and to think of you. I found a meditation garden today, which happened to be more full of tourists than I had anticipated, but it gave me a place to slow down for a beat.
There is so much life commotion this year. C is getting ready to start kindergarten. We got a new dog. G is 18 months old and busy with all the new things 18 month olds do. In past years, your birthday has had more lead up and anticipation. It had a looming about it. But this year, it almost snuck up. I was so distracted by so many other things and then one day looked at my calendar and went "oh" when I saw it coming. This sneaking up gave me more than a few moments of pause (with a splash of worry mixed in), wondering if this is where I start forgetting. If this is the beginning of you getting lost in the shuffle, of you losing your place in our family.
In my more reflective moments, I know that isn't true. You will not be an afterthought or a footnote or an asterisk attached to our family story. You are etched in all the places that matter; forgetting you is just not possible. But the intensity of the grief is slipping away and I guess it is natural for the looming element to slip away with it.
So much has changed about the grief. In the early days, I felt like I could hardly breathe most of the time. My brain was consumed by thoughts of you. I was regularly preoccupied with what ifs and they made my heart race, as if just thinking about what could have been done differently would have erased and changed something. Back then, everything hurt and everything was hard and it was like that for so long.
But as these things do, as everyone told me it would, it evolved. It transitioned into a less panicked state that was more just continual longing. Then the longing faded to a dull missing. And now - I don't know. I guess now is something in the neighborhood of moving forward. There are less sharp and griefy edges poking at me, which is nice. I don't randomly cry at work or the grocery store - also nice. Right now feels like deep acceptance lightly stained by both gratitude and sadness. Moving forward means that your birthday can sneak up because I'm not dreading or anticipating or holding my breath for it.
When tears come now, I often feel like I'm crying more for us than for you, for that other version of us that a really crappy thing happened to. Watching it back feels, I imagine, like what it must been like for our close family and friends. Heartbreaking. Powerless. I try to avoid getting too caught up in the replay of what surrounded your birth and death by reminding myself that this limited slice of your life and ours was only, as one therapist said early on, the middle. There was so much before and there has been so much after that is tremendously more beautiful and that is what I would rather remember. So when I feel like you are slipping further away, I tell myself that maybe the only thing that is slipping away is the painful part. We are tethered together, you and I. Interwoven in the ways mothers and babies are. We can wander from each other but not far.
So tonight, we ate the cake C and I baked for you this morning. We didn't have a number '3' candle and C, for some reason, didn't want 3 individual candles so we used a number '2' candle plus a single candle to make 3. We sang a happy birthday to you. We went outside and let ladybugs out in the yard, as we've done each year. Your summer birthday means it's light and warm out until bedtime so we let the girls play outside until then. G laughed excitedly watching the new dog. C chattered to the freed ladybugs and tried to coax them onto various surfaces. G did this funny thing where she took the ladybug container when C wasn't watching and ran away with it yelling "noooo!", like a preview of C chasing her and shouting no at her (which is exactly what happened). Your dad and I sat and quietly watched. To me, it felt sad and peaceful and, quite honestly, amazing too. I'm some ways, our family (you included) feels just right.
So, little love, I hope you heard us singing for you tonight. I hope you know I think of you daily. I hope you are somewhere, some wise little soul fluttering around us, sprinkling us with little gentle whispers. As always and until my last breath, I love you very fiercely.
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