I thought I was doing well, navigating this field of landmines without a map. Always priding myself on being the prepared GirlScout, I knew I had the obvious areas I needed to help my family through right away. There’s all the major holidays, the birthdays, and other family traditions, some that came up right away. I set out to carefully feel out the girls and my husband on some of these dates so I could set out to make those days less painful for a family going through the recent loss of a family member. Even one of the leaders from AFSP, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it was amazing I had thought some of this through this early. I gave myself a gold star. (I learned recently I fall between Gen X and the first wave of millennials, so we need little rewards and accolades now and then.)
I should have known from my youngest daughter’s birthday, two days after the tragedy, that I was not going to be able to dodge all the “firsts” for my family. We sat down at a table for 6, the size of a table we would have needed two days earlier, filling up five seats. We spent a few heart beats all looking at the empty chair. We managed to get through the meal and I marked that one down mentally as something to consider when we all go out. A few weeks later was our anniversary. My oldest daughter came back from college and we headed to the beach. As soon as we got in the truck, my middle daughter was extremely upset. I couldn’t figure out why at first, but then she explained there was room between her and my youngest daughter now. We took a few minutes to feel the impact, and we decided we all had to sit in our assigned seats, even if it was silly to keep my oldest up front crammed between us.
Road trip after road trip the girls used to argued, all stuffed in the back. My youngest suffered from extreme car sickness when she was little, and you can imagine how that went in the backseat. There was never room for extra gear. It was always one small bag for the car, water bottle, small pillow and blanket, personal electronics, and everything else was stored away. Even with reducing the amount of gear, we still looked like a traveling road show wherever we went. We would stop at a rest stop and out would roll a water bottle or someones garbage and no one could ever find their shoes, but of course I miss those last family trips and I hold them forever dear to my heart.
I have been having my own moments of first. I opened our church bulletin full of May birthdays the other day and didn’t see my daughter’s birthday. It wasn’t done to be hurtful, actually I was told, some people may not want to see their loved ones birthday printed, but as I pointed out, we should probably ask, maybe a special asterisk if needed. I started wondering if our church directory still had her name in it? It usually lists the members including their children. This sent me in a two-day tail spin I never saw coming. It kept thinking, I know how many kids I’ve had, I know how many I’ve raised, I definately know how many I did not get an epidural for that worked, and down the rabit hole I went in my mind.
I felt slightly silly later, I had wished I could have avoided getting upset and needing to walk out during communion. I had to go back and explain to my pastor, it wasn’t the stale crackers, though I am sure he already knew that. My friend sitting next to me had whispered to me through my tears that she had felt the same way when she had lost her husband. Somehow, I always draw the short straw for speaking up. Even when I was little, the brat pack, meaning the gaggle of myself and my five cousins, that spent every day together, would have me ask the adults when we needed something. Of course it was also me that always told on us when we were doing something we weren’t supposed to be doing. It’s possible I always choose the short straw by my own doing.
My massage therapist, who is extremely wise, told me to give yourself a year. Not because it a magic number, but because you will have managed to most likely have navigated through all the important dates by then at least once. She’s so smart. She also told me during her loss, she cried openly and made no excuses for it. There are just going to be things that come up, no matter how hard you try to be prepared. I still will plan ahead to the best of my ability. Soon it will be my daughter’s first birthday without us, and hopefully the late night movie birthday party will be a celebration of how much she is still loved.
I think the hardest lump to swallow though is the Nevers. I try not to go there negatively in my mind, but sometimes they hit without warning. The first one that struck was the wedding dress she had tried on. I have this beautiful wedding dress that was given to us for one of the girls, it was made for a very petite women and my husband’s cousin had no desire to keep it though she had spent 7K on it. A year ago, in a bizarre twist of fate, my friend at work couldn’t find a wedding dress for her daughter. I had her daughter try it on and it fit perfectly, so she borrowed it. Before it left the house, my daughter tried it on. She twirled and danced smiling in the dress that fit her as if it had been made for her. In some weird way I think it was a small mercy for me from God, because I have pictures of her in this beautiful wedding gown I will forever cherish.
Yesterday while riding the train home from work, this young girl and 18 month old boarded the train. I looked over at her, and felt a small ache in my chest. She was about my daughter’s age, same hair cut, same long slender legs, dressed in a black sac dress, something very similar to how my daughter used to dress. I sat there staring at her thinking how I will never see my daughter as a mother, and though I didn’t get emotional, I couldn’t stop staring at her. I watched her as she fussed around with her daughter, and I let myself for a minute imagine my daughter fussing about the same in the same way. I let myself have a moment imagining that alternate reality, and in some way, that moment was kind to me. As the young gal caught me starring at her, in some slightly creepily way I imagined, I immediately smiled at her and the baby, trying to act like a normal women crooning over an adorable baby. We parted ways and I smiled, my daydream fading as I walked towards my new normal.