Sunday, December 8, 2013

On Eliza's Third Birthday

I wanted you more 
than you ever will know,
So I sent love to follow you
Wherever you go.

As usual, the lead-up was harder than the actual day.  On Friday, David stayed home from work and I stayed home from work and Zuzu stayed home from school.

Actually, that morning we loaded up and took Zuzu to JCP to get holiday portraits taken.  I think studio portraits are kinda cheesy, which is also why I can't get enough of them.  My favorite pictures of Zuzu (besides the candids we snap on our phones) are the ones we've had taken by professional photographers in our home or in the park.  More lifestyle, less posed, or even when we do smile at the camera, we're relaxed and we look like ourselves, more or less (David doesn't look as stoned in real life as he tends to look in pictures, I swear).

But sometimes even more than I want a picture of Zuzu, I want a picture of a particular outfit.  Especially a Christmas dress or Easter dress.  And in those cases, I want a white studio background and a cheesily posed picture.  So that was the plan for Friday morning.  Get us out of the house, get me out of my head, get Zuzu's Christmas pictures taken in her adorable Christmas dress.  I needed a distraction, and let me tell you.  Zuzu was MORE than willing to distract me from my grief and replace it with exasperation.

Any trepidation or uncertainty she might have felt about being in an unfamiliar place was obliterated by enthusiasm and curiosity.  (Note:  David and I have no idea how a child of ours ended up like this--our parents report that we were both more cautious toddlers).  So, the photographer set up our white background and Zuzu refused to stand in place in front of it.  She would not sit on a sled.  She would not sit on a stool.  She would pick up the school and charge at us, running with the legs of it sticking out in front of her and giggling maniacally.

The photographer squeaked a dirty rubber duck to get her attention.  She charged the photographer, grabbed the duck, and then refused to let go of it (it shows up in a couple of pictures, which I have to admit made me smile).

I offered her a jingle bell, thinking she'd hold it and look at it with large eyes, bright with wonder, and it would be a delightful Christmas photo.  Instead, she screamed, "BALL!" and then proceeded to throw it across the room (it appears she has her father's arm).  She launched the jingle bell, then a series of fake ornaments that we thought (mistakenly) might distract her.

She was a toddler terrorist.  It took a full 30 minutes to get 20 shots that were halfway decent and in the last one she had her eyes closed.  There was one shot of her smiling.  In the best one of her in her Christmas dress, she has her tongue sticking out.  I kind of wanted the photo that captured her in a sprint across the room, but she has snot running out of her nose and one eye is squinted nearly closed as she smiles mischievously demonically.

We left the photo shoot craziness and came home to chill out.  Our toddler terrorist proceeded to fall asleep in the car which meant she had a 45-minute nap before lunch and you know she wasn't going to go back down after lunch (we tried).  So then we took her out in the snow to play.  We had a nice dusting of about an inch (just enough to cover the leaves and grass) and she LOVED being pulled in the sled.  See exhibit A:

But it was really cold outside--about 20 degrees--and her cheeks and nose got rosy and Mama's toes got cold and after a stroll up the block and back with Cooper, it was time to come in.  Which was basically the greatest and most tragic disappointment in Zuzu's entire life and resulted in a full-fledged, body-melting temper tantrum, after which I thought FOR SURE she would take a nap.


Earlier in the day, David and I had decided that it was going to be too cold to take Zuzu out to the candlelight vigil.  I also didn't want to deal with the distraction of a potentially whiny (or screaming) toddler at an event where so many hearts are heavy with the ache of loss.  So I e-mailed a friend who, fortunately, was able to come over with her family and hang out with Zuzu for a couple of hours.  Zu was exhausted (go figure) so after play time and reading time, she was in bed asleep before we got home!

The day wasn't terrible, all things considered.  I was comforted by many texts and e-mails and IG posts from people telling me they were thinking of Eliza.  David's grandma bought a poinsettia in memory of Eliza and David's grandpa at her church and sent us a note to tell us that, which made me cry in a good way.  I read a little and snuggled with Zuzu (when she'd slow down long enough for a squeeze) and then it was time for the candlelight vigil, which is sponsored by the Share organization in our area and is held on Eliza's birthday every year.

So once my friend arrived, David and I made the long drive out to the park.  It was weird to me that this was only our second year going to the vigil.  Since it is held annually on December 6th, I was checking in to the hospital while the vigil was happening in 2010.  Last year we went with Zuzu in the Ergo carrier and that was the first time.  But it felt like we'd been going forever.  It was familiar and sad and comforting and heartbreaking.  (And cold--I lost feeling in my fingers by the end of it and it lasted less than 30 minutes).

We didn't want to wait around for the long line of people at the end who leave flowers at the base of the angel of hope statue (even though the cold temperatures resulted in a much smaller turn out than we saw last year).  So we pulled our white lilies out of our grocery store bouquet and placed them up there before the program started.  Then we lit our candles and stood facing the angel and I cried and breathed and cried and thought about Eliza and so many other babies who are loved and missed, so many other families who feel incomplete.

I just still can't believe it.  I cannot wrap my head around the idea that our first baby girl died.  All the fun we had with Zuzu--and all the frustration--makes me more and more curious about Eliza.  It's like as Zuzu gets older, she reveals clues about Eliza--she might have been like this, or a variation of this, or the opposite of this.  We just don't know how to read the clues in order to find out.  Would she have been cautious where Zuzu is fearless?  Obedient where Zuzu is defiant?  Would she boss her sister?  Or oblige her demands?  And so begin the list of questions that have no answers and mostly just serve to torture me.

In my dream-version of Eliza, she is our mellow baby, our easy-going child, cautious around strangers and less prone to bone-melting temper tantrums than her sister.  She has blue eyes and a chin-length bob and is a picky eater and loves to swim and says adorable and precocious things and wants a dollhouse for Christmas.  Oh, sure.  It's easy to imagine her.  I just wish I knew her.

For the second year in a row, on her birthday, we stood outside the the freezing cold and held candles to light up the darkness with many other broken-hearted families.  We love her and we miss her and everything is different because of her.

You are my angel, my darling,
my star ... and my love will find you,
wherever you are. 

(Italics are excerpted from Nancy Tillman's book Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You and were inspired by my friend Brandy's post about her son Andrew, whose birthday is the day before Eliza's).


  1. Big hugs. You are fit, it's easy to imagine, but we want to know, we want the time we never got.

  2. A friend gave me that book after Avalon died. It is supposed to be about a mother's love following her child throughout life and beyond, but unfortunately for me it is only beyond. There is so much sadness, and a little comfort, in knowing that my love will follow wherever she is, even though I don't know know where that might be.

  3. I love your dream version of Eliza- I don't doubt for a second she would have been exactly that.

    But had she not been, had she been a bossy, absolute terror of a big sister, you wouldn't have wanted her any other way. Obviously. Just her and Caroline and the happily ever after.

    Three year olds are just… So big. Ya know? So many people tell us how magical this year with Grace will be, but then remind us how much better next year, when we have a 2.5 year old. and I logically get it, but can't help think of how wonderful a nearly three year old would be this very year.


  4. I wish she were here in all her 3 year old self. Sending you much love and remembering Eliza.

  5. Our rainbow baby is three weeks older than Zuzu and had I not known you were describing her photo shoot I would have thought it was ours! I just wanted to share something about getting our pictures taken tho. We had never met the photographer before, and she knew nothing about our first daughter. Despite being introduced to Pippi and us calling her by name constantly, the photographer called her by her sister's name the entire time. It was so out of the blue, but I just know Harper must have been with us. I am positive Eliza is with you too, and she knows how much she means to you.

  6. Those Nancy Tillman books are just so comforting and heartbreaking for me. I love reading them to Finn for him and his brother. I wish so much that you had answers to the questions of who your little girl would be. I just wish you had her.

  7. I love that book.

    Hugs to you.

    Zuzu is definitely at that hard age for pictures. Luke is just now finally getting better but basically Amanda has to chase him around and laugh with him and snap pictures like crazy to get any way would a studio work! I love the idea of it though!

  8. What a beautiful way to remember Eliza :-)Sending hugs and comfort to you.

  9. Oh, the questions and the not knowing.

    I can't believe your Eliza died, either. How can it be?

    Sending love to all of you.

  10. Knowing the tenacity of Zuzu and not knowing how Eliza would be, I've always wondered myself. Upon meeting and getting to know your Zuzu, I always try to place how the older sibling would've been.

    You guys have yourselves an amazing little firecracker of life in Eliza's little sister. I can only wonder and also contemplate that Eliza would be like you-- more reserved, cautious, quiet and studious. She would've been more calm.

    I love that Zuzu is who she is, but I can totally picture Eliza being the calmer, more sensible older sister who is always trying to get Zuzu to mind her manners. ;)