I miss her all the time, of course. It's not the burden that it was. It's just become a part of who I am.
But now and then, I get teary. And whatever the initial reason that my throat gets achy and my chest gets tight, and even when I start out crying about something entirely unrelated, I always seem to end up crying for her.
I'm glad to say that most of the time lately, it's less of the self-pitying kind of cry than it used to be. For so long after she died, I was drowning in self-pity. I hated the thought of other people feeling sorry for me, and my therapist would tell me that people feeling sad for me wasn't the same as being the object of pity.
But I felt so sorry for myself (as well as sad) that I couldn't clearly distinguish the two.
I still have moments of feeling plenty sorry for myself--I haven't morphed into a saint in the past 4.5 years, and I still have my why me moments.
But now when I cry it's not so much about the way things are as the loss of the way things might have been.
I'm no longer crying because I'm a pathetic wretch and my life feels like a horror story. I'm crying because I have living proof (times two) of how delightful and hilarious Eliza would have been, and I have to miss out on her forever, and to wish things otherwise now is so complicated.
Things are good. Really good. But they could have been so different.
So in my mind, I combine the way things are with the way things might have been and it's so perfectly perfect. Not in a fake and unbelievable way. Just... the way I wish they were.
At my brother's wedding, I felt kind of teary because he was so dang cute and happy and obviously in love. And then I felt kind of teary because I've been married eleven years and I feel so lucky to have David. And then I was teary because I wished my Nana could have been there. She would have loved it so much. She would have loved Brandon's wife. She would have made them a wedding quilt. She would have been thrilled to meet Jo's family. She would have been happy to have her family all together. She would have been so delighted that Brandon had "finally" met the right girl. And then--of course--I cried because I wanted Eliza to be a flower girl. The oldest one, the bossy one, the reliable one.
You know what's cuter than two sisters in puffy flower girl dresses?
Three sisters in puffy flower girl dresses.
I went to the lake last weekend with my girlfriends from college. I didn't want to spend two nights away from Coco, so I drove down Saturday morning with Zuzu and my parents met us there and took Zuzu home to spend the night with them as a special big girl treat, leaving Coco and David to have some one-on-one time. (We enjoyed our own special big girl treats in the form of booze.) It was a great day on the lake, and a fun night out, and we laughed and danced to '90s hip hop and told old stories and caught up on each others' lives and my stress level decreased considerably.
We played Cards Against Humanity and--without going into the details of the game, which is intended to be funny, gross, AND equal-opportunity-offensive--before the game started, I said, "Okay guys, there's a card in here that says 'Dead babies.'" I was going to ask that we just put it to the side so it (or rather I) wouldn't be a total buzz kill, but Stephanie (who brought the game) quickly said, "No. There's not."
And I wanted to cry because it was so freaking sweet of her to pull that card out ahead of time. And I wanted to cry because she had to freaking pull that card out ahead of time. Because of me. And my dead baby. (Yeah... that would have been mostly a self-pity kind of cry)
On Sunday we said our goodbyes and I still had some time before my parents were going to be back with Zuzu, so I headed for the outlet mall. I saw a cute fall dress I had to get for Zuzu, and I decided to get a coordinating outfit for Coco, and since they were such a good deal, I decided to pick up another coordinating dress for my best friend's daughter, who is six months older and wears a couple sizes bigger than Zuzu.
So there I was, in the check-out line, buying three little pumpkin outfits in stair-step sizes for three little girls.
(Don't judge--I declared my "buy nothing new" code did not apply to kids' clothes.)
I loved it. I loved knowing that the checkout girl was assuming that I had three daughters who were going to wear these outfits together for photographs in a pumpkin patch. I even let myself pretend for a moment that they were. I liked it so much I started thinking that maybe I should buy more clothes in bigger sizes for Zuzu to grow into.
You know what's even cuter than two sisters in coordinating pumpkin outfits?
Yeah. You get the idea.
The way things are + the way things might have been.
I didn't cry that day at the outlet mall, but I'm kind of getting teary-eyed now as I type that because it seems sort of pathetic and weird to even think about buying clothes just so strangers who work in children's clothing stores will assume that all three of my daughters are alive and I can experience what that might feel like for the length of the check-out experience.
But I'm also teary-eyed because I just watched a video of kids with Down syndrome getting letters announcing they've received college scholarships (You know what really gets me? The pride in their parents' voices.). I watched an interview my friend Beth did on the local news. I'm tired from the first couple of days of being back at school and back in a new routine that involves earlier mornings and longer days. Coco has a rash the doctor says is viral. Zuzu missed her nap today for her doctor appointment and as a result was screamy and hitty all evening until she finally passed out at 8:30 pm. I just wanted everyone to fall asleep so I could read Pride and Prejudice with no one talking to me. But aren't these the days I'm going to miss when the girls go to college? And Zuzu will be 18 in just 15 years...
All of these things make me cry, and then, quietly lurking in the back of everything else, is the grief. It comes back when I'm tired. When I'm emotional. When I'm not parenting as patiently as I probably should. When I've spent time with friends whose kids are the ages that my kids would have (might have) been. When the air gets just cool enough in August to remind us that fall is coming and after fall comes my season of sadness.
So... I'm tired. I'm feeling a little stressed. It's a busy time of year. Tears come easy. With grief comes tears, but for me it often works in reverse just as well.
With tears comes grief. It's been there all along, just waiting for a release.
And even when I'm not crying, I wonder who Eliza, at four-going-on-five, would have been.