As I sit here on the eve of my daughter's Angelversary, I vividly remember what this day was like 9 years ago. Yes, there is the anticipatory grief for I know what tomorrow will bring for me. To say things have changed since then would be a colossal understatement.
Nine years gives you lots of things. One of the things it gives is perspective. Another is a greater depth of understanding of grief and how it works.
Tonight, as I always do on December 17th, I am acutely aware not of Meghan's death, but of her last day of LIFE.
If you've had a baby, you probably remember in great detail what you were doing in the 24 hours before your baby was born. You remember where you were, what you did, who was there, how you felt, what the weather was, what you ate and probably lots of other little seemingly unimportant things that on that very important day, made an impression on you, but likely only after you realized it was going to be a birth day.
It turns out, the same is true for the death of your child. Although I had no idea this day 9 years ago would be my last one on earth with Meghan, I do remember much about the day and night. Even the details of the few days leading up to it.
Earlier in the day, she was super-adorable and very daddy focused, which was a new thing. She clamored for more lap time than usual with me. She played with my hair. Yet she was also behaving so mature and grown up all of a sudden. So much so that I remarked about it. We had a 'dance party' with her brothers and I to Disney Tunes in the playroom. We danced around silly to "Under the Sea" and the Lion King tunes and I held her and her twin in my arms and spun around with them to "Circle of Life". She even walked up to us as we were getting ready to go out for the evening and spontaneously said, "I love you Mommy. I love you, Daddy" and then ran off. She watched Frosty the Snowman over and over and over. She'd get teary eyed when he melted and then watched intently until the magic hat restored him. She loved how he came back to life...
We had a neighborhood holiday party that evening across the street. I remember it was a Friday night. As we left, she gave me the customary kiss, hug and snuggle. She told us she loved us and to have a good time! Then it was right back to Frosty! We took our older son, then 6, with us and my aunt came to watch the twins so we could enjoy some grown up time and not have to chase kids all night. I was melancholy for no particular reason. I came home around 9 to put our eldest to bed and remember kissing Meg goodnight. She looked so peaceful and beautiful. Wearing fall jammies instead of winter ones. Snuggled in her pink flower blanket and all her kitties around her. I knelt on the floor and stroked her hair. My intent was to go back to the party, but instead I stayed home and went to bed myself not long after that.
I remember she woke up about 4 am crying and telling me she was a 'stinky girl' and needed her pull up changed. I changed her and put her back to bed. She woke again a bit later, it wasn't unusual for her to wake a bunch of times. I went to her and told her it wasn't time to get up as it was still very early. She went back to her bed and I went back to mine. I had no idea it would be our last interaction.
If only I could go back in time and change that moment. If only I had stayed up with her. If only...
Yeah, the 'if only's' help no one. Least of all, me. What I have now is today. And my memories.
I just want everyone to know and remember her. To know and remember me. That I still think of her every day. I'm sad that she died but I'm so grateful I had her for as long as I did. She didn't just die 9 years ago, she lived for 3 years and 54 days! This day is sad because it was the last day she lived. The last day I, and indeed, the world, was blessed with her bright, silly, playful and mischievous light.
We've long known that women tell their birth stories as a way of processing, normalizing and integrating their experiences. It's a way of passing on our knowledge to others. Birth is a tremendous transition in your life. Becoming a parent, whether it be for the first time or the fourteenth, is a transition and it changes you.
So too, is the telling of the death story. Whether it be the day before story like this one, or the actual day of the death in acute detail, there is tremendous value in telling the death story of your child. Not everyone can or wants to, but for those who find it helpful to process, normalize and integrate their experience, having others who are willing and able to listen and be with them in their grief are truly Heaven sent. Thank you to those who have been there for me over the years. You are deeply appreciated.
Like the birth story, the death story often needs to be told more than once. Sometimes it's annually. Sometimes only when asked. Sometimes it's when you don't want to hear it. Sometimes it's over and over and over until it makes some sort of sense. When you lose a child, there is the risk it will never make sense. We tell the story as much for us as for you. All any of us want is for our child to be remembered. For the emptiness in our hearts to be acknowledged. It doesn't go away after the first year. It doesn't ever go away. We might get better at hiding the pain or distracting ourselves from it, but it's always there.
You all learn from it, too. You learn what it's like for us. You learn what it's like for others. You learn how to support and help others in their grief. You become more comfortable with death and the rituals around it, perhaps even with your own mortality. You learn empathy and compassion. You learn what it means to be a really good friend. It starts a discussion that you might not have otherwise had. It helps us evolve as parents and families and friends and people.
What I've come to realize is the old adage that when one door closes, another one opens, holds some truth. Meghan's death was indeed a death of many things in my life. But it also catalyzed a re-birth. The birth of Meghan's Hope. The birth of a fearless and confident momma bear. The birth of a new path of hope, light and love. I am most certainly not the same person I was before she died. I am not doing anything I ever thought I would be before she died. Her life and her death made me a better mother. A better person. A better everything.
But tonight, I'd give anything for another kiss, hug and snuggle from her. To touch her tiny hands. To hear her whine and cry even! If I close my eyes and allow myself to go back to this night 9 years ago, I can still feel her little hug, her silky hair against my cheek, her little voice proclaiming her love.
Instead, I will sleep with her kitty. It's not the same. Not at all.
God, I miss her...