June 2 marked five years since I held him. I’ve written that down in so many ways—
the fact that I held him.
It always goes back to that act, that hour, that contact. It’s all I had. It’s everything. And the rest of us have traveled around the sun five times since then.
Five feels like a landmark, both in the age of the imaginary boy and the time on this earth without the real one. “A whole hand,” I once put it when I turned that age. H. holds up three fingers. “Almost four,” she says. V., our golden baby, can hold up one. When I held him, I didn’t know anything yet of these sisters. He was the sun and the moon and I had to give him back.
Maybe one time of year shouldn’t be any harder than all the others, but at some point it is. Most of the people I interact with day to day are not surviving any of their children, and accommodating the most common denominator among us gets heavy—as it must for what they are surviving that the rest of us aren’t right now. This year, too, after all this time writing with a vulnerable pen, I was trolled. I was told I did not deserve my grief. I was told in a much worse way. Five years ago, when I learned “grief is not linear,” I had not accounted for this. But here it was, a new hurdle. (The timing, under the governance of a man who validates hateful expression at every turn, is not lost on me.) Here, too, was a community, the amazing Pregnancy After Loss Support, being true to their name in standing up for my grief so that I could continue to help others on a journey that is hard enough on a good day. I’m not giving up, fearful as it is to inhabit a margin these days.
So, I prepared. I talked to a professional. I thought about what we could do as a family to honor. We have traditions at this point—the heart sparkler Ryan and I light once it’s dark—but each year brings something new. We’ve lived in three different places now over these five subsequent Junes, the first of which we lived through in California—the place that made each of us before we became a family, the place we long for.
As a result, I don’t tie too much to place. I tether instead to how I feel in the morning when the reality arrives once again, the weather that day, what the girls might want to do. They don’t yet understand the reality of their brother. They know about hearts. They’ve heard his name. I’ve tried a couple of times to tell H. a version of the story a three-year-old might understand. But I haven’t forced. Knowing well the weight of identity, I’m letting their own identities bloom first while respecting how other loss moms deal with this impossible task of raising their non-living children alongside living siblings. Just as we might do as active parents, we all do it a little differently. I like that as Lorenzo’s sisters understand more, this second day of June will continue to evolve.
This year, all on her own, H. was inspired to write “birthday letters” in blue pen. (Who am I to say what she does and doesn’t know about her brother.) On this day, this June 2, the sun was out early. As we sat on the deck she kept bringing the birthday letters to me one by one. Little, square, blue notes. Ryan could be home this year, too, which always makes the day softer. We went to a nearby lake and stood as the tiny waves lapped a strip of sandy shore. Later, we planted seeds in a new pot.
Five years on, most of my day is in service of the living. I clutch these girls with every grateful fiber. But there is a boy who lives in my heart. The spirit is our “animating principle,” and when his name is mentioned, when I see him somehow in the world, a certain part of me animates. As it does when I witness my daughters love one another with such a genuine truth. As it does in the warm dark night, when my husband stands there with me in the sparkling glow, his arm around mine, which were once, 1,825 days prior, around our only boy.
As I said, it always goes back to that.