One of the most difficult things about losing a child, ironically, is having more children at home. I know that seems to be in direct conflict with mainstream thought, because it's been suggested more times than I'd like to count that I "get better" or "continue living" for my other children. However, one who has never been in this situation cannot possibly know the pain and fear brought on by the "other" children at home. They are potential for more pain, pain that you know better than anyone else. The truth is that IF someone CHOOSES to live beyond that moment that changed their entire world, it is because they themselves make that decision every minute of every day. I assure you that it's not one you make and then are free to simply forget your other options, and I'm not suggesting that the choice to truly live is the right one for everyone. As scary as that statement may be for some, for me and anyone else who's lived here, it's simply truth.
I've learned that nothing in life is coincidence. None of the people we meet come into our lives purely by chance. When I was about 16 years old, I met a woman whose name I wouldn't actually come to learn until many years later. I remember that she walked up to me with her beautiful little two-year-old daughter bouncing on her hip. I was wearing a crown at the time, (small-town fodder to be used at a later date, when I find it more amusing) and she asked if I'd be willing to take a picture with her little girl who was pretty convinced that I was a real princess. I smiled and reached for the baby and we took the picture. When I returned her to her mother's arms, I noticed that their smiles were identical. They had those "whole face smiles". You know, the kind that makes it impossible to do anything else but smile with them? I remember thinking, even in my 16-year-old ego-driven brain, that this was one of the beautiful moments. Their identical eyes smiled back at me, and I knew I'd witnessed something great. I watched as that woman carried her daughter away, and she was giggling and whispering to her precious, cherub-faced mini-me.
I've thought about that moment a lot over the past year. At the time, I'd known that it was special, but I'd had no idea how much those two people would come to mean to my life. That sweet little baby girl has grown into an incredible young woman. A young woman who's had to become incredible without her mother because she was taken from her entirely too early. Although her youth suggests that I would be the one teaching her about life and loss, I'm amazed daily by what she teaches me. I know, because of her, the value of a child's time spent with their mother. I see the pain of the little girl who misses her Mommy, while at the same time she shines as a woman who's choosing, each day, to honor her mother's memory by becoming something incredible. She's still beautiful. She still captures my attention with that smile, and she still boasts those unforgettably identical eyes.
My husband and I decided to take each of our "other" kids on a special trip this year instead of having birthday celebrations. They each got to choose a destination and we bought three tickets for each trip, one for the child, one for Daddy, and one for Mommy. These trips were meant to focus on them individually, so we left the other two with family. We were never able to do things like this when their brother was alive because he needed such constant care that my being away from him for more than a day at a time proved impossible. And even if I'd allowed for a brief time away, my thoughts were always consumed with him and his well-being. This weekend happened to be our youngest daughter, Morgan's, trip. She chose Disney On Ice. I don't know what it is about that man that built a world around a mouse, but his healing powers cannot be denied. She loved every second. We spoiled her rotten. Price tags don't exist on these trips and the tears we typically seem to find daily, give way to hugs and giggles every time.
This morning, in the last few moments of our one-on-one time, she climbed into my bed while I was reading, and opened her own book. We lay like that for a while before Daddy came down to find us. He asked her what she was doing in his bed and reached to tickle her. She laughed and begged him to stop because he was moving the blankets and it was making her cold. He said, "You sound like Mommy, now. She's always stealing the covers because she's cold." She didn't hesitate, but looked straight at him and said, "I AM Mommy." He told her that she did look very much like Mommy, but she shook her head and corrected him again. "I AM Mommy." How many times had that other baby girl thought the same thing, and wished for one of these moments?
Daddy left the room and I looked over at my beautiful baby girl, the one who looks so much like my forever baby that sometimes it's painful to do so. I reached around and tickled her until we were both laughing so hard we could barely breathe. Then she looked over at me, sleep lines still not completely gone from her cheek, and in all her 6-year-old innocence said,
"Mommy, there's a tear in your eye."
"I know, Baby."
"But why, Mommy?"
"Because my heart is so beautifully broken and full all at the same time."
Although she probably didn't totally understand, her response was perfect. She simply reached up and caught the tear as it fell, then snuggled closer. And in that moment, that crossroads of the beautiful moment given and the one that will never be, I couldn't help but think of that baby girl and her Momma. So, to the woman who brought her wide-eyed, giggly girl to have her picture taken with a princess fifteen years ago:
Thank you for that day. Thank you for this moment with my own daughter. And thank you for the opportunity to know and love YOUR princess. I assure you, she's everything you'd ever dreamed of and more.