My sister texted me this morning to tell me that a six-year-old neighbor girl, a kindergarten classmate of my nephew’s, had died of complications from the flu.
In my nephew’s class.
The fucking flu.
This week on social media I learned of an 18-month-old who died. Drowning. In December, an old friend’s three-month-old died. At daycare, attributed to SIDS.
When my aunt and uncle lost my cousin when he was five days old, a lot of people said things to them like, “At least you never knew him.” Because it’s always a blessing not to get to know your own child (sarcastic font). To instead constantly imagine who he would have become. To wonder what his first word would be, what book he would want you to read to him again and again, what color he would want to paint his bedroom, what college he would choose, who he would marry. What career he would go into, what he would name his children.
Who he was and who he would have become.
It seems in 1998, when Michael died, people were even more ignorant than they are today about baby loss, and when they tell me these stories, I’m so freaking glad that no one dared say this to me. But I know people have thought it. I know people compare Lydia to their miscarriages. I know some people consider her a “pregnancy loss,” not a child loss. As if dying inside me makes her less of a person.
I know that I saw her practicing breathing just before she died. I know I didn’t lose a pregnancy; I lost a child.
Countless people told my stunned aunt and uncle “at least you didn’t get to know him.” But a friend of theirs, whose own 18-year-old son had died, said to them, “I got 18 years with my son. I’m grateful for every one of them. You only got five days.”
And me? With my daughter? I didn’t get one minute. I only got to hold her lifeless body. I will forever wonder who she would have been. I will forever wonder, imagine, and daydream.
I will always wonder if her dark hair would have lightened up. I will always wonder what color her eyes were – likely blue when she was born, but would they have turned brown like her dad’s and big brother’s? I will forever picture her kicking around a soccer ball and chasing her big brother, and yet, I know that’s a fantasy. I know she could have been nothing like me, nothing like I imagine. Instead, she very well could have been the girl who loved having her nails painted and going shopping.
I would do anything to have five days with her, to have six years with her, to have 18 years with her.
I would do anything to know her.
What if I knew her, and then I lost her?
I think what it would be like to hold Benjamin’s lifeless body. I think about how he is so excited to turn four, how he can’t wait to ride a school bus, how he is so protective of his littlest sister and such a bully to her at the same time, how he only eats carrots dipped in ketchup but at least he’s eating carrots, how he begs me to play hockey with him constantly, how he fills our home with so much noise.
I think about what it would be like to lose my oldest child, the one I know and love so well. I think about how deafening his absence would be.
I think about Josephine, how she wants me to hold her all the time at home. How my husband and my mother think I spoil her by giving in to her demands. How I am spoiling her, but how I’ve held her lifeless sister in my arms and how I’m going to keep carrying her around as long as she wants me to.
How empty my arms would feel if she was suddenly gone.
I think about her 6 pairs of shoes, most of them unused hand-me-downs from her big sister, that lay around the house.
I think of her, bringing me pop-up books to read and climbing on my lap, giggling and woofing when the dog pops out.
I think of her blonde ponytail, and how when I ask for a kiss, she leans in, allowing me to kiss her.
I think of how she signs “more” in the morning when I’m taking too long to get her breakfast, and also signs “more” when I tickle her.
I think about how every morning, when I wake up to their noises, instead of wishing them back to sleep, I think “Thank God they made it through the night.”
There is no good way to lose a child.
And while I wish I could have had six years with Lydie, and wish I could have known my own daughter, I also know that family will forever mourn and miss not only the person their child would have become, but her in her entirety, as she was as a six-year-old girl. I know that so much of what their child loved will become triggers for them. I know they had to return from the hospital to look at their daughter’s bed that she will never sleep in again. I know they’ll think about their last words to her, her last words to them. I know they will wish they read just one more story, said “I love you” just one more time. I know that no amount of stories and “I love yous” could ever be enough. I know they will watch my nephew grow and know their daughter should be growing alongside him.
I know no parent should have to make the decision about whether to cremate or bury their child, no matter whether the age.