Friday, December 8, 2017

An Imperfect Birthday

All things said and done, Eliza's birthday was fine.

Nothing gets better after missing your baby for seven years, but what I have learned to do is predict how I'll feel and make plans (or cancel them) accordingly.

I basically knew that I would want to have a couple of crying spells and also be lazy and also get a few things done. So that's what I did. I took the day off work, though I checked e-mail from home. I watched some TV while I wrote thank you notes and Christmas cards and made lists of things we need to do this weekend. I also went to Trader Joe's and got flowers to take to the candlelight vigil.

I wanted white, as that's the color of flowers traditionally left at the angel of hope, and I chose a bouquet of white roses with beautiful, pale pink centers. They were so pretty that the cashier commented on them, "These may be the prettiest ones I've seen," she said, "That pink is so nice!"

I got teary-eyed when she complimented Eliza's flowers.

I didn't ugly cry until I got home.


I discovered on Tuesday evening that Coco was completely confused about the candlelight vigil. I'd been talking about it for a couple days, letting the girls know that Eliza's birthday was coming up and on her birthday I'd pick them up from school and we'd go pick up Daddy at his work and then go eat at a restaurant and then go to the vigil.

So Tuesday I said, "Do you remember what tomorrow is?"

Coco said, "Pajama day at school!"

I said, "No. That's not tomorrow."

Then Zuzu said it was Eliza's birthday and I said, "Do you remember what we are going to do?"

Zuzu said, "Go to a restaurant!" and then Coco added, "Go to the jail!"

I was like, "What?"

Coco repeated that we were going to go to jail.

Then I realized that when I was saying "vigil," she was hearing "jail." So I guess she thought that we were going to hold candles and listen to people talk after we got arrested? Obviously I had a little explaining to do.


Timing was off on Wednesday. I picked up the girls early, and according to my GPS on my phone, if we'd headed straight to David's school we would have been there 45 minutes ahead of schedule. So we made an impromptu trip to a craft store that I don't really care for but is close to the school.

I got the few things I actually needed, and then I let the girls look at Christmas ornaments. They were so enthusiastic. Zuzu loved a mermaid and Coco wanted a ballerina. I picked up a gingerbread house as a gift for the little girl whose crazy parents invited a bunch of 5-year-olds over to decorated gingerbread houses on Saturday morning (I'm tying it to the bottle of wine that I'm giving to the parents).

The girls were on eerily good behavior in the store and multiple people stopped me to tell me how cute they are.

I ended up buying the ornaments they wanted so much. It felt like something to do on a day when I wasn't buying presents for Eliza.


We got to David's school at the scheduled time, but he wasn't outside waiting for us because I hadn't texted him to tell him we were on our way. Unloading, going inside, leaving, loading up again ate up time and I was realizing that we hadn't allowed nearly enough time for the restaurant dinner we had talked about.

It was frustrating. Not because we needed to go have a nice sit down meal (it's not like my children make that experience all that pleasant at this point), but because plans were changing and I didn't WANT plans to change. I don't know why we didn't leave earlier. It felt like we were shortchanging Eliza and it made me want to cry.

At that moment, I got a text from my aunt Terri. A photo of an angel she'd hung on her Christmas tree. "Always loved, always remembered" was inscribed on the angel, and just underneath, in her pretty handwriting, Aunt Terri had written, "Eliza."

I did cry, then. But for a totally different reason.


We took our roses to the Angel of Hope early, because the vigil started at 7:00 and the line afterward is quite long. This would allow us to duck out early and get the girls home and in bed.

Coco threw a fit when we got out of the car because she couldn't get her zipper up but she didn't want anyone to help her. We were rushing her because we still needed to go eat dinner and she went into meltdown mode.

Zuzu put her flower on the angel and then ran off and I didn't know where she was. The photo I had planned to take of them with the angel didn't happen.

We loaded up in the car again. We had just under an hour before the vigil started and everyone was hungry.


We had dinner at Dairy Queen.

The girls were delighted.

I took them to use the bathroom before dinner and they each went into a different stall, leaving the doors wide open. I followed Coco in to help her up onto the potty and then a restaurant employee came in to use the bathroom and walked in on Zuzu (because the stall door was wide open).

"Oh!" I heard the employee say, "I'm so sorry."

"That's okay!" said Zuzu cheerfully.

"Sorry about that," I said as I led Coco out of the other stall.

"Oh, I just didn't want to bother anyone," she said. She stood back by the main entrance to the bathroom, politely waiting for us to finish up.

"That's okay!" Zuzu said again. At this point, she had exited her stall but had yet to pull up her pants. She'd evidently followed the employee to continue their conversation, even though the employee was clearly trying to avoid embarrassing Zuzu by witnessing her pee. Zuzu then mooned all of us as she pulled her pants up.


Zuzu ordered a hot dog.

Coco always orders a hot dog because it's what Zuzu orders, but she never finishes it because she doesn't really like hot dogs. This time I ordered her chicken strips. She loved them.

They split a blue Mister Misty.

I had pretzel sticks and a mini Blizzard. #selfcare #healthychoices

But the restaurant was clean and quiet and the girls were reasonably well-behaved. Before dinner, Zuzu asked where the food was, and I said, "The food is here. It's just invisible." Then David and I both began to eat our "invisible" food and the girls cracked up laughing.


We weren't late to the vigil. I pulled the stroller out of the car and didn't notice that one of the wheels had fallen off of it in the car. It tipped over during the ceremony, nearly spilling Coco.

I'd brought a cozy blanket, expecting the girls to sit quietly in the stroller, hold their LED candles, listen to a short poem, a brief speech, and two songs. I thought they could handle it.

They could not handle it.

Zuzu wanted to run around, crunching gravel and tipping over mason jars with LED candles in them that lined the path.

Coco wanted to follow her.

The singer they had lined up for the program was unexpectedly hospitalized that day, so they played a song and the sound system didn't work well, and during all of this, Zuzu attempted to climb a tree and David had to pull her down.

I was aggravated because I wanted them there with me, and I wanted them to experience the vigil, but I also did not want them to upset or trigger anyone else who was there. I know how hard it is to see babies when your baby has died, and I just didn't want them to be distracting or upsetting.


After the vigil, we ditched the lame stroller up by the parking lot and walked to find Eliza's brick. It was dark and it had been a while since we were there, so we had to search a bit. Other families were doing the same, with our cell-phone flashlights, and a man overheard me tell Zuzu to look for Eliza's name. When his flashlight illuminated her brick, I heard his voice say, "Eliza? Eliza Taylor Duckworth? Were you looking for Eliza?"

I love when I hear her name, but it was especially sweet in this casual context, to hear a stranger say it in this ordinary way, and to know by virtue of his presence that he understood something of our loss.

I tried to take photos of the girls and their hands next to the brick, but it was dark and my flash didn't work and there were lots of other people looking for bricks, and Coco somehow understood my request to put her mittened hand next to Eliza's brick to mean that I wanted her in the downward dog position completely blocking the entire sidewalk and then Zuzu lost interest and wandered off to climb another tree.


It was a bit of a trainwreck, I suppose, but the kind of trainwreck I can welcome at this point. One imperfection after another, adding up to a night that wasn't so terrible, all things considered.

We showed up. We did our best. It wasn't perfect, but it never will be.

Perfection is an impossibility.

What I want is an impossibility.

Not for Eliza to live, but for Eliza to live and for everything else to be the same.

After seven years, the grief is more balanced. The missing is just as big. I'm missing a seven year old girl, and I also missed every sweet moment of those seven years. Moments that I thought were mine after I heard her heartbeat for the first time. I thought I'd get her newborn breath on my neck. I thought I'd get her small hand folded in mine. I thought I'd get a lifetime of laughter and tears and big ideas and small frustrations. And I got those things, but not with her.

That loss cannot diminish over time, even though the ache of it does subside a bit.

For me, for this life, what I have now is as close to perfect as it can get.

Sometimes that really hurts. That I miss out on so much, especially when other seem to take for granted what I will never get: all my kids here.

But sometimes it feels like what it also means. This life of mine, with all its messy imperfections, is as close to perfect as it can get.


  1. Oh, you made me laugh and cry! The image of Zuzu mooning the employee. Hahaha! I'm sure that Eliza loved how you honored her.

    The gratitude thing is so hard, isn't it? I am grateful. I have to focus on being grateful to keep going. I doubt that my "normal" friends think on a daily basis how amazing it is to have all of their children alive.

  2. Though I have not experienced the loss of a child and cannot fully understand the grief you experience, your post made me cry because I know how very much I love my own child. I love all the ways you remember Eliza and want you to know I said a prayer for you today.

  3. I love you.
    I love her.
    I am ugly crying thinking of the baby breath you should have felt on your neck when you held her for the very first time. <3

  4. "We did our best. It wasn't perfect, but it never will be." Yep. I read your post this morning and have been trying to think of something 'perfect' to say to what I feel is a perfect post of how these birthdays go in our family, too. But there's nothing perfect to say, only that Eliza is missed and remembered. On Wednesday, I had to return marks to students. I print out copies of marking sheets and write the students' names on the back before I put them in our departmental mailboxes. I had three assignments to return a class with a student named Elizabeth - each time I wrote her name I stopped at 'Eliza' and thought of your little girl. She is remembered.

  5. Your life seems so perfect to me, even amidst all its imperfections. I especially envy your experience of pregnancy (even your first pregnancy, as sad as Eliza's death and loss of everything she was supposed to be was). Pregnancy must be such an amazing experience, and I am so sad that I will likely never get to experience it.

    A belated happy birthday to your first born daughter.

  6. The thought of you laughing with Eliza's sisters over imaginary food while your heart is aching is just so heartbreaking and wonderful. You're a beautiful mom to your three little girls. I wish you had what never could be.

  7. "It wasn't perfect, but it never will be." That, to me, is a perfect way to put it. ;) Thank you for sharing all three of your girls with us. <3

  8. We have survived another year. All my love to you and your Eliza.

  9. I love you, friend. I love Eliza.