Here's something new.
The thing about grief is that it's bottomless and endless and nonlinear and constantly ebbing and flowing... and yet, the basics are always the same thing on repeat into infinity.
I miss her. I wish she were here. I don't know exactly how that would fuck with the space-time continuum or the butterfly effect or whatever metaphysical corridor in which we exist, but I will always want to be a mom with three [visible] kids. Stair step little girls. I want them all here.
What is new is not that I miss her; it's when I miss her.
It used to be the lead up to holidays. The empty days and dreadful anticipation. All I could think about was how much I'd looked forward to sharing that day with Eliza--my plans for photos and gifts and the start of ongoing traditions and how everything had crumbled. I'd imagine all the other people with babies--those I knew and those I didn't--making their plans and enjoying their holidays. I imagined those who knew me thinking of me with pity, with relief that it was me and not them who landed in the slimmest of odds, the deepest of grief. But then when the day arrived, we changed plans, ran away to Mexico, ignored the calendar, found a distraction, and the actual day wasn't as brutal as the wind up had been.
After Zuzu was born, the anticipation was a little bit fun again, though always bittersweet. Still, I was eager to experience holidays with my rainbow baby and even when my heart ached, I refused to let my grief cloud her experience. It sounds odd, but I didn't ever want Eliza's death to be a source of resentment or weirdness for Zuzu. So even when I could hardly stomach a Christmas tree or Zuzu was still too young to care about hidden eggs, I did my best to make her holidays festive. She'd see more of my tears and hear more about death than most kids on a regular basis, I'm sure, but I didn't want grief to overshadow holiday memories.
And yet I couldn't help but miss Eliza right in the thick of it. We'd be surrounded with family at Christmas, baby Zuzu being lovingly passed from one auntie to another, and suddenly I'd feel the weight off all I lost. It was thrown into relief by what we were so luckily able to experience with Zuzu, but it was still breathtaking, the heaviness of that pain. I'd think that a holiday was going ok, I'd be enjoying myself, and then I'd consider the age and stage Eliza would be, and I would feel my throat thicken with unshed tears. I knew that Zuzu had filled part of the void in my heart, had brought joy and color back to my life, but the very happiness of her existence made her sister's life less visible, and it would take all I had not to cry at the dinner table, infuriated by the unfairness of it all.
I'm better able to really enjoy holidays now. It's almost impossible not to, seeing them through the eyes of a four year old who says things like, "Easter Eve! Oh, this is going to be the best night of my LIFE!" Her wonder and enthusiasm is precisely why Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. Coco is her little mimic and they never fail to make me laugh and to make me appreciate the hugeness of my good fortune.
But later, when Easter Eve and Easter Day are over, when the candy has been hidden in the top of the pantry and there's just a stray plastic egg half here or there, when the girls are listening to a story book brought by the bunny, when Cooper is snoring, and pastel dresses are piled in laundry baskets, when we begin the ritual of returning to ordinary life... now that's when I miss Eliza most.
I've gotten distracted, you see. It's easy to do with two little kids and all the drama that comes with them--worries about dog bites and lingering coughs and antibiotics and probiotics and nap schedules and sassy attitudes, and fun things like afternoons at the park and cuddling during the scary part of Disney movies and both girls wanting Mama's lap and pictures in those pastel dresses.
But once they're (blessedly) asleep, my heart remembers. It remembers that all day long, while we had such fun, while we saw the world through the magical lens of childhood, while we laughed and hugged and kissed and played with new toys, my oldest daughter was missing.
It remembers the ache, which was ignored during the bustle and excitement, but has not gone away. It was just lying dormant, waiting for the moment when I could give it my complete attention. That's what it does now--it waits. Waits for the end of the day, the moment of sinking into a hot bath, the moment of folding warm towels alone in a cool basement, the moment of sliding into clean sheets in a dark room. And then it reminds me... I'm still brokenhearted. My family is still incomplete. We are smiling in this photograph, but I'm still a bereaved mother.
What's also new is that I don't feel guilty about waiting until later, until after, to have my moments of intense grief. I don't think it's a betrayal to Eliza to throw myself into Easter with her sisters and delay my grief until later. If anything, she's the reason I treasure those moments so much, and if time does give us any gifts, it allows me the space to have that enjoyment.
But in the quiet spaces at all the end of the day, I take my grief and I cradle it tenderly and I miss my first baby and my would-be biggest girl and I cry. And after a while, I marvel at the fact that somehow, six years later, I haven't cried myself out of tears.
Life is sweet. But I miss her still.