"You're so lucky that you have the other three."
"Thank God, you have three healthy children."
"Just hold on to the three of them, and they'll get you through."
Is there truth in each of these statements? Sure. Of course we're monumentally blessed to have our "other" three children, and even more so that they happen to be healthy. But, we aren't any luckier than any other parent. The fact that one of our children no longer lives with us, doesn't mean that the other three immediately have more significance. I assure you that I love my children with the same passion I always have...all four of them. However, this does not mean that someone who has other children to care for after the death of one child has it "easier" or "better". In fact, my children are the very source of my pain some days. If I happen to have a millisecond of quieted burning in my chest, it is inevitable that one of them will need me for their own grief moment.
Tonight I had a rare moment alone with my five year old daughter, Morgan. She used to be the happiest kid on the planet. We used to describe her in this way, "Every day is the best day of Morgan's life." That kid could light up a room in seconds. She had a smile for everyone, and usually a hug to follow. She recently informed me that she used to really love to laugh, but now it was too hard and it made her hurt. I don't know how you're supposed to respond to that. I've already lost one child, and although it may seem irrational of me to assume that I'll lose another, I'm also keenly aware of the fact that there are more ways to lose than through death.
She asked if I would rock her in the living room for awhile, since no one else was home and she really needed her sister to be in her room in order to sleep. I said yes, but immediately felt that familiar pang in my chest. This is supposed to be one of those "precious moments", those moments to be "cherished." But, for me, it causes a pain that's indescribable. Reluctantly, I sat down and took her in my arms and rocked her. We rocked in silence for a moment, but true to her 5-year-old self, she broke the silence with a question.
"Mommy, why are you crying?"
"I don't know, baby."
"I think I know, Mommy. Is it because this is how you used to rock Eastie when he got up at night?"
"Yes, that's probably it. How did you get to be so smart?"
"I don't know. Mommy, are you sad that you're rocking me instead of Eastie?"
Ouch. More pain. More burning. More tears.
"Never, baby. I will never be sad to rock you. I love holding you, and snuggling with you, and I will never ever wish that you were someone else. I promise. Mommy's heart just hurts."
"I know, Mommy. So does mine. I just want Eastie, too."
I looked into her eyes then. Her beautiful, clear blue eyes and I saw that unwanted wisdom reflecting back at me. I thought about how, as parents, we seem to be striving for the wrong things for our children. We keep track of their reading group at school, hoping they're in the "best" one. We try to make them the best on their sports team. We want the BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST of all things for them. But do you know what I want my daughter to be "best" at? I want her to be best at using her imagination. I want her to be best at laughter and playing. I want her to be best at...innocence. No matter how much I want that for her, as I look into those knowing eyes, I'm all too aware that my desire is no longer an option. She may be able to move past her current grief. She may be able to find her laugh again. But, I know that the innocent little girl I rocked 4 months ago is not the same as this one staring up at me now, searching my eyes for answers I can't give.