How I Remember the Shape of My Child

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Portrait of Ana by her sister, Emily

the early days after my daughter died, I didn’t see her anywhere, so I held onto my grief as tightly as possible. The deep ache in my heart, the endless emptiness of the spaces where she used to be, the longing — all of it hurt, but it was the only thing about Ana that was real.

It was too hard to stay in that place of deep pain. After a few weeks, it didn’t provide any solace, so I let it go (fearfully, lest I lose what I had left of her).

I began seeing Ana in new ways. First it was close to home. I found a tumbled opal under my bed. It was one of Ana’s and I had no idea how it got there. I began walking outside and the trails seemed alive with her spirit.

I often found feathers directly in my path and I collected them, tucking them into my bag. I talked to her as I walked, telling her about my day, telling her I missed her.

As more time passed, I began to visualize the way her spirit had touched other people — her teachers, friends, family, and peers. Ana loved frogs and Ana’s friends would often post photos of frogs and tag her.

There are people who think of Ana whenever a frog crosses their path. This is miraculous to me.

She was a musician and when her teachers held a concert in her honor, a boy who Ana had once (briefly) adored, made sure he said hello to me. He’d chosen a song called “Ana” to include in the set list.

There are people, like this boy, who will think of Ana when they meet their first love.

Her dearest friends, Evi and Marissa, come and visit from time to time. I’ve left some of Ana’s things untouched on her shelves, including the perfume oil she wore. Whenever the girls visit, they leave smelling of this oil. The room smells of it too. I’ve since bought them each their own bottle of oil, but I still leave Ana’s out for them.

There are people who will think of Ana whenever they breathe in a certain smell.

My younger daughter, Emily, spent months painting a portrait of Ana which she started soon after Ana died. The painting is luminous, serene, and emanates peace. In fact, all of Emily’s paintings do.

There are artists who will think of Ana as they create.

Ana was a child. She didn’t have much time to leave an impression on this world, but the people who love her will remember her forever. As her mother, my dearest (and most desperate) wish is that people know her, that they know my child was here. And there are people out there that do.

Ana’s best friend once said to me, “I feel so lost. Nothing seems real. One day I’m going to be 40 and my best friend will still be 15.”

My heart broke a little for her in that moment, but I told her this. “Ana’s body may have stopped at 15, but her spirit is always changing. When you’re 40, she will have been with you for 25 years. Imagine her changing with you.”

There are children who will grow up missing Ana, holding her in their hearts, and whispering to her when they need guidance, comfort, and love.

That’s how I see Ana as “being.” We carry her with us. She’s changed the shape of our spirits.

Written by

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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