A dead child doesn’t make a Christmas list. She doesn’t want French toast on Sunday morning or beg for one more goodnight hug. There is nothing to be done for her — even if her laundry needs washing, even if her homework is unfinished, even if the soft chenille socks you ordered to keep her swollen feet warm have finally arrived. Those socks will sit, untouched, in her dark room. They will sit there forever, if you let them.
When I lost my daughter 32 months ago, I lost the many ways that I expressed my love for her. With one last exhaled breath, the light in her eyes stuttered out and our lifelong bond abruptly severed.
Or did it?
It felt like the invisible umbilicus that connected me to Ana, the one that extended from my heart to her physical self, had disappeared into an abyss. My half of the connection was still intact, but there was only silence from Ana.
I needed to establish some kind of meaningful connection with Ana’s spirit, or grief would ruin me. I looked for Ana, searching for her in ways that existed beyond my understanding.
At first, the links were physical. That’s all I understood of Ana — her physical self. I found a ring beside my bed the day after she died. It had been Ana’s and although her fingers were much slimmer than mine, it fit my left ring finger perfectly.
Thank you, Ana, the ring is beautiful.
I’d said her name. I’d spoken to her and, in doing so, received a millisecond of solace before the truth hit me. She would never hear me say her name again. She would never answer me when I called her, no matter how loud I screamed.
The next link was a tumbled opal that I found under my bed. I’d dropped my reading glasses there and, cursing, had flattened myself on the floor and peered into the murk. A ray of sunlight made the opal shine as it lay beside dust bunnies, discarded socks, and my glasses. I retrieved the stone and watched as it glimmered in my hand.
Thank you, Ana, the stone is lovely.
That first summer without Ana, I walked many miles on the rail trails near my home with my eyes cast down, looking for feathers. Each time I found one, I’d pick it up, say Ana’s name, and bring the feather home. I’d placed each feather on a makeshift altar with a dozen tiny treasures. The items carved a path to where Ana waited.
Hummingbirds were the next link. I lured them to my yard that same summer. In my mind’s eye, I saw Ana laughing as the hummingbirds quarreled and fed. I saw her blue eyes widen when the tiny birds hovered, then seemed to disappear across the yard.
I saw her in my heart and the ache felt softer. I began looking for her in the moment of weightlessness between waking and sleeping, in the orange ring that surrounds the full moon, in dreams of her which were precious and fleeting. I wrote her letters. I spoke to her as I walked the dog, telling her about my day, visualizing her gliding beside me.
Ana is as real to me now as when she was alive. She can’t answer me when I say her name, but I can still hear her. I can still see her. My love has found her. She was there all along, inside me, around me, in the first blush of dawn and the last gasp of sunlight at dusk.
I don’t care if I sound crazy or desperate or misled. My love needs a place to land. Don’t you see? Love doesn’t die when your child dies. If you don’t figure out how to live with that truth, then you can’t live at all.