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Guilt.

Guilt is an ugly five letter word that eats me up and spits me out. Guilt sits on my chest heavier than the proverbial elephant so many speak of. Guilt is grief’s friend that I did not invite to the gathering…I’d say party but this is a shitty party…and he won’t leave. Guilt darkens the sunniest of skies. Guilt awakens in the quiet and stillness of the night. Guilt forces me to shut others out because guilt tells me that they feel the same about me as I feel about me…and I know if I could, I’d run as far away from me as I could, but there is no running away from yourself…so I run away from other people. Guilt lights up the movie roll…the one that plays with a dim glow in my mind every second of every day…the one that replays that afternoon…every step we took…every chance I had to stay home…Guilt lights that movie up in the stillness of the night with such a fiery light I am certain the world will be dark forever because all of the sun’s energy is being used to project the movie roll into my eyes…Guilt tells me that every time something goes wrong that it has gone wrong because I have been given what I deserve. Guilt melts away happy dreams and twists them into nightmares….so that even as I sleep I am terrorized. Never allowed a moments peace.

“You have to let it go,” they say. “They”….they are well intentioned, well meaning friends and family and counselors…who just…cannot comprehend. It is an impossible feat you are asking of me.  “You have to forgive yourself,” they say. Absurd. I have let go of so many would haves and should haves and could haves. But there is one. One that will not fade away. One that resides in my bones. One that chips away at my soul. For I know. Beyond a shadow of a doubt….that ONE choice… that ONE moment… is one that would have allowed my daughter to live. Would have stopped death in it’s tracks. Guilt shows me this moment every day. When I am quiet. When I am talking. When I am playing with my child. When I am reading. When I am eating. When I am taking in a sunset. That moment replays over and over and over.  And nothing I have done thus far silences it. Softens it. Releases me of it. No matter what I am doing or thinking of ….guilt sits beside it… those moments play on and on and on.

Guilt lives inside of me. Guilt stabs my heart as I hold my six year old daughter while she weeps for the sister she feels like she is forgetting. Guilt wrenches my mind as I watch all of her friends grow up and make memories and live life….and she is not there.

Grief is love with no place to go. And guilt is the enemy within…trying to stomp out the love…the happy memories… the connections. I wish I could let it go…forgive myself. But how? How do you look at an empty room….look at your youngest child growing older than your oldest child…look at her dusty toys and the empty backseat….and just… let it go? How do you forgive yourself for the ultimate choice…your god damn choice… that led to the death of your precious child? How do you live with the fact that all you have are fucking videos and pictures and memories? How?

I do not write this in an attempt to hear how it’s not my fault….because no matter how many times I hear that or read that….it will not change how I feel. It just won’t. I write this to get it out… for the words that sit in my mind….threaten me… so I put them on paper….or well, on the computer…. and hope that they resonate with someone… or help someone….it’s all I know how to do.

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Tomorrow You Should Be Eleven

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. It’s her birthday tomorrow…and she isn’t here. When she turned 4 recital fell on her birthday and I thought she would hate having to be there all night…instead of out celebrating…but she didn’t hate it all… she was in her glory…she was showered in love and attention by all the dancers and families and teachers… she felt like even though she was on stage with more than just herself that all the clapping was for HER birthday ❤ We talked every year from that point on about how she couldn’t wait until recital fell on her birthday again. And this year….it does. And she’s not here…she’s certainly partying it up…up there in Heaven… but not here…not with us…

Tomorrow is her 11th birthday…I cannot put into words…I have struggled to come up with the right words….I cannot put into words how much this hurts. A day that…four god damn years ago… FOUR….would have been filled with utter joy…unfettered celebration… Her 11th birthday… Her 9th year dancing…so she would have received a trophy ON her birthday…Carly’s 4th year of dancing… I mean, for a dance family it doesn’t get much better… and there IS a lot of joy… but with that joy there is SO MUCH PAIN.

I will not watch her glow with joy as everyone sings her Happy Birthday….I will not watch her gracefully move across the stage… or shake her hair around with a face full of happy….I will not wake her up with balloons and presents and I will not take her to favorite place to eat…or her favorite park to play… I will not see her proudly receive her trophy from the studio she was meant to dance at forever…not just 6 years… I will not see her hold her little sister’s hand as they make their way down the hall in their costumes or their way to the backstage…I will not take a single picture of Maddi…not one.

I WILL sit by her grave and weep as we place balloons and a number 11 candle and flowers next to it….I WILL go out to eat with two of my favorite girls at her favorite place….when I know there should be three…I WILL go to her favorite park and beach…and throw flowers into the ocean for her…and leave buckets and shovels and bubbles for someone else’s child to play with…I WILL look for signs from her and I WILL see memories there of times that didn’t hurt like this…I WILL joyfully ready Carly for her show…. primp her hair…take a million pictures…I WILL see these pictures and see what is missing….I WILL see her friends…who are so big and so grown up and look nothing like seven year olds dance and leap and laugh and, some will accept their trophies….and I WILL see her spot…the place that she belongs…I WILL cheer Carly on and laugh and smile and hug and kiss her…I WILL feel every feeling that is on the spectrum of human emotions all at once…..I WILL be broken in pain and lifted in pride….

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, Maddi, you should be eleven, tomorrow. But…you won’t be. And I am so sorry. And I am so sad. And I miss you so much….I love you even more.

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Grief, Addiction, and My Family

This is a difficult post to write but one I felt I needed to write. I have gone back and forth in my own mind as to whether or not I should share this part of our life. Writing a blog…sharing so much of myself and my family allows for others to learn from our experiences….share in our experiences….find comfort from our experiences BUT it also opens up that can of worms called “judgement.” And this topic…oh boy, it really welcomes the critics and the nay-sayers….the throwers of rocks in glass houses types of people. My husband and I have discussed this idea, at length, and he has been sharing very openly (much to my surprise) with just about everyone he knows…so, with that in mind, I decided that today….right now….is a good time to share what has been happening in our family. I share it openly and honestly, as I always intend on doing with all things in my life, and in particular, all things that pertain to grief… to losing Maddi….to this life they call “after.” I share it because I think many, many, many families are facing this same compounded layer of pain while grieving the loss of their child. I share in hopes of shining a beacon of light for others on this road… a beacon that says “we are not alone”….for others…and for our family, too.

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So… with that being said…

My husband is an addict. He has been for a very long time. For more than a decade, really. Before…though…before…. he could manage it. WE could manage it. It was a beast but a tamable beast. We fooled ourselves into thinking it couldn’t get worse. But then….the unimaginable happened to us. Our daughter, our first born, our sweet, bright, funny, beautiful, seven year old daughter was ripped from our loving arms and we were left behind…we were left here to pick up the shattered pieces of the life we once knew…left here to take those tiny bits and splinters of the life we had planned and we had to try to piece them together again…against our will.

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For several months after we lost Maddi…my husband was straight as an arrow. Someone actually gave him pills at her services and he showed them to me, and I watched him flush them. Blinded and disorientated by grief…I believed that he could fight his demons. I could not have possibly been more wrong. He went from drinking and using pills regularly…to using pills every single day. To using heroin. Yes, I said that. Heroin.

It has been 3 years, 3 months and 12 days since Maddi vanished from before our very eyes. During this time, I ignored the warning signs… I went against my gut feelings…and my husband grew sicker. At one point in his life he was taught that this was the way to handle such painful things…. this was the way to keep moving forward. Pretend it never happened. Drink and drug the pain away. So, that’s what he has done for 3 years, 3 months and 12 days. That is…until the shit hit the fan a little over a month ago. I will not get into the ugly details of what happened….I will not add shame to my husband’s already deep self loathing. And truth be told, the what’s matter a lot less than the why’s. I hit a breaking point. I made phone calls to rehab facilities…our insurance company…addiction hotlines. I needed to find him help. I couldn’t make him get the help….but I could find it for him. I could show him his options: Get help or lose everything good you have left in your life. And that is what I did. I told him he didn’t have to go. I told him he could do what he wanted but that in order to continue our marriage…in order to continue being the wonderful father that he can be when he is sober…he would have to go to rehab. And counseling….and continue to fight for his sobriety. I told him…. you fight, I fight. He chose…us.

His addiction is complicated by his grief. It’s not just about fighting this demon called addiction. It’s about facing the pain he has stuffed down for so long. Getting sober is easy. Staying sober is the hard part. Feeling everything we as humans in this human experience we call life feel….that is the hard part. Grieving. That is the hard part. We don’t pretend or romanticize that this rehab is going to “cure” him. What it is…is the start. It is the giant leap off the cliff into a life more reflective of the love he feels for Maddi and Carly. A life, that when his is over, he can scoop Maddi up into his arms and tell her, I lived a life you would be proud of.

This challenge we are facing. He leaves tomorrow, for 28 days. This challenge poses an ever more difficult one… how do we talk to our six year old about this. What do we tell her? How do we explain it? She is only six…but she has been through more than many adults… she understands and experiences things that many adults do not. To pretend that she is still of an innocent mind, would be naïve. But that doesn’t mean we want to necessarily discuss addiction and drugs with our six year old. So we approached it as tenderly as we could.

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We told her Daddy was going away. I refused to lie and tell her it was “work.” We told her that sometimes our feelings are too big. Sometimes those big feelings make it hard for us to work, to live life, to be the best parent and person we can be. And when that happens we have to get help. Not to get rid of the feelings, but to learn how to carry them. She got it. But she still hates it. She is angry. She is scared. She is sad. She is hurt. And all the while, she is also grieving her big sister. As has been the way since that awful night in February, we are trying our best. Trying to navigate a forest we are unfamiliar with while trying to help our little one navigate it too. Sometimes we do pretty damn well, if I do say so myself, and other times….well, we misstep. We have to walk a fine line…between telling her enough and not telling her too much. Between understanding her behaviors and attitudes as a reflection of the hell we are all going through…. and ensuring she doesn’t take advantage of our understanding and become a whiny, disrespectful kiddo. It is hard. So hard. When we do misstep, I think it is exceptionally important to apologize for the missteps. Tell her that we are trying our best but that even grown ups make mistakes but that we love her, no matter what. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, we love her so very much.

So that is it. This is the beginning of another phase of this life called “after.” I will share more as time goes by but for now that is where we are. Grieving, broken, and trying.

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Dear Whoever….

Dear Whoever…

I am not a religious person. I have never been. I will never be. I believe in spirituality. I believe in kindness. I believe in Heaven. I believe our souls continue on long after our bodies have been recommitted to the Earth. But I am not religious. So I am not sure “who” to write this letter to…so…Dear Whoever it is…

Her name is Madison Charlotte. She has shoulder length dirty blonde hair. She has big brown eyes. She has a smile that makes you smile back. She loves to dance and to sing. She has a major crush on Harry from One Direction. She loves horses and is the best big sister ever. She is a fierce friend and has a heart that is kinder and full of more love than anyone I have ever known. To know her…is to love her. She is one in a million.

Give her back. She belongs here. She had a life here, you know? A really happy life here. She was only in second grade when you stole her from me. From her family. From her friends. That’s right. YOU STOLE HER. I did not give her back. I did not let her go. I fought for her. I begged and pleaded and bargained and screamed and cried. You pried her tiny fingers from mine…and you stole her away. AND I WANT HER BACK!!! She belongs here. She has a little sister. They were best friends. She had so much love to give to her little sister…so much to teach her…she was supposed to grow up with her. She was supposed to protect her. She was supposed to fight with her and steal her clothes. She was supposed to share secrets under the covers long after bedtime by the light of her little pink flashlight. Give her back. She has missed her 8th….her 9th….her 10th…. birthday. Soon she will miss her 11th. Next year her baby sister will be older than she was. THAT’S WRONG!

Give her back! I was told that “God has a plan”…. “Only God knows”. That is bunch of horse shit. WE HAD PLANS. Did you know that when you ripped her from her loving family’s arms? Did you know that she was going to be a veterinarian? That she was going to open a clinic that offered services for free to families in need? Did you know that? WE DID!!!!! Did you know that she never learned how to ride a bike without training wheels? Or that she had just gotten up the nerve to get her ears pierced but never got the chance? Did you know how badly she wanted to join her studio’s competition team but never ever got to? Did you know that she wanted to grow up? She wanted to be a Mom. She wanted to get married. DID YOU KNOW THAT??? WELL, WE DID! WE HAD GOOD PLANS! OUR PLANS WERE BETTER THAN THIS ONE!!!!!! We had plans to watch her grow up. We had plans to have her and her family to our home for Christmas. We had plans…her and I…to be best friends. You know, that happy Mom and daughter relationship we all dream of. That was OUR plan. Your plan. If that’s what this is….is pain. Is suffering. Is longing and missing. How is that better than our plans?

Give her back! She has fishing to do with her Daddy…. animals to rescue that she would find in the woods….She has a little sister’s hand to hold. She has memories to make with her friends…she has dances to dance…she has songs to sing….she has stories to tell…she has days along the shore of the sandy beach to bask in the sun…she has high school dances…she has boy’s hearts to break and heartbreaks that we are supposed to love her through…she has bad choices to make… she has college applications to fill out…She has hugs to give…She has books at bedtime to hear…She has a life to live!!!

Give her back! Can’t you see how loved she is? How missed she is? How broken our family is without her? Haven’t you seen our tears? Heard our screams? Haven’t you watched us kneel in front of the stone that should have never bore her name crying a painful cry that I never knew existed before? Don’t you see all this life down here and how much more beautiful it all would be if she were just here?

GIVE HER BACK. GIVE HER BACK. GIVE HER BACK.

Maddi and Carly Dance

 

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I AM Miserable and I Am Not Sorry if That Bothers You

(Writer’s note: This post contains unfiltered, honest truth. It contains a significant number of swears. If this type of thing offends you…scroll on.)

On February 19, 2014 at 3:30 in the afternoon…I had two living, breathing, happy daughters. Maddi was seven years old. Carly was three. We were a family of four visible, living, breathing, happy people at 3:30 in the afternoon….At 3:30 in the afternoon I was the typical Mom…I was messaging about Girl Scout cookies and an upcoming dance-a-thon my daughter Maddi was to be dancing in. At 3:30 in the afternoon Maddi was your typical second grader…riding on the school bus…chattering with her friends…carrying a school project under her arm. At 3:30 in the afternoon…I was looking over the weather forecast…and making a decision about whether or not to drive Maddi to her Wednesday afternoon dance class. At 3:30 in the afternoon we were planning our February vacation…Destination Imagination rehearsals…the Ice Castles…sleepover at Grammi’s…Maddi was finally feeling brave enough to get her ears pierced. At 4:30 in the afternoon…this beautiful, happy, busy, enviable life came to a violent, terrifying, deafening end. At 4:30 in the afternoon black ice ripped my vehicle…with my beautiful, bright, kind, funny seven year old daughter with her perfect ballet bun and sparkly pink shoes in the back seat…off course….sending us into a snowbank. At 4:30 in the afternoon a distracted motorist didn’t see us somehow…didn’t avoid us…and SLAMMED into the door that was merely inches from Maddi’s beautiful little face….and stole my daughter from me. At 4:30 pm I wept into my phone…as I spoke to my husband…that I didn’t know if Maddi was okay. At 4:30 pm I performed cpr on my beautiful, kind, bright little girl…my first born…the child who made me a Mother…I performed cpr….a skill I had practiced for nearly twenty years only to have my first time using it be on my lifeless child….on a motherfucking snowbank on the side of a fucking highway. At 4:30 pm…I brought her back…I saved her. But only momentarily. At 8:53 pm…Maddi was gone. And since that tick on the clock…. I HAVE BEEN FUCKING MISERABLE.

Recently, someone…well actually, several someones….had the cruel audacity to tell my husband that I just seem miserable because of MY FUCKING FACEBOOK POSTS. That I always seem to just post about my misery and maybe, it’s a bit much. To these people…I would like to kindly say…GO FUCKING FUCK YOURSELF. I have a newsflash for anyone who cares to anonymously watch my life unfold via blog posts and Facebook updates…who have no interest in reaching out to me and offering kind words and support…who don’t ever come and sit beside me at the fucking grave of my seven year old daughter, who, in case you were wondering, should be TEN now…nearly ELEVEN…I AM FUCKING MISERABLE. My daughter has died. Do any of you judgmental fucks know the pain of even typing a sentence like that let alone living the life sentence of an existence without one of your children?! Some of these “people” do not even have children but yet feel the responsibility to tell me how to grieve mine.

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I AM MISERABLE. I wake up every day with an ache in my chest that has not dulled in the least since the moment I was told…I am sorry but Madison didn’t make it. I wake every single morning and the reality of my life hits me the way the heat from an oven cooking your family’s supper hits you when you open the door to check on it’s progress. I pull my head away from the reality as you would the heat…but when I turn back my reality is still there. I have buried my child. I have watched a pink box being lowered into the ground with MY CHILD INSIDE! I have gone to memorial tree plantings for my seven year old daughter. Bench dedications. We hold an annual motorcycle ride in her memory to raise funds for a scholarship for someone in her class…because MY CHILD WON’T EVER FUCKING GO TO COLLEGE. We pass out kindness cards with our random acts of kindness adorned with my beautiful daughter’s photo. All the while…there is a voice in my head…a voice that says…NO! NO! This cannot be. This tree is for someone else’s child. This motorcycle ride must be for someone else’s little girl with big brown eyes and dirty blonde hair…who should be ten, nearly eleven. I say goodnight every night to a fucking photograph of my daughter. I place a kiss on the glass that preserves her memory. I sit in a cemetery beside a headstone with my daughter’s name carved into the pink granite. I touch things she once touched…searching for traces of her. I hold onto things…that before, I would’ve tossed into the garbage without a second thought, that now have meaning even I cannot explain. I watch her friends growing up. Living life. Making memories. And I see in their photographs where Maddi SHOULD be…but where she is not…I get lost in cloud formations…bright sunsets…spend hours combing the shores of the ocean for heart rocks…like maybe if I  amass a large enough collection one of those hearts will be hers….and it will somehow bring her back to me. It’s fucking insane.

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I sit beside my now six year old daughter, Carly, as she weeps for her big sister. Her best friend. I must hold her hand and wipe her tears as she cries for her sister. This is something I cannot fix for her. I must watch her suffer as she watches other complete families play together. I must explain to her things about death even I don’t fucking understand. We listen to and watch a video of her sister singing her to sleep every night before we turn out the lights. This is a crucial part of bedtime for Carly. Snuggling with Maddi and reading books before bedtime used to be…now it’s a video. A video that we both find ourselves tenderly running our fingers across the screen as we watch…in a desperate attempt to feel her hand against ours just one more time. I must grasp with the realization that Carly has now lived longer without her sister then she lived with her. Do you judgmental assholes understand what that fucking feels like? To know, that Carly has spent more of her life placing flowers at a grave bearing her sister’s name then she spent playing dolls with her. That is a fucking hard pill to swallow. But every day we get up and we swallow it.

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Our family has found joy in the past 3 years, 3 months and 11 days. We spend wonderful, happy, quality time together. We laugh a lot. We read together every night. We go on hikes and go fishing. We spend hours upon hours at the lake or the beach…even in the Winter time we find solace in the ebbs and flows of the ocean’s tides. We sing silly songs and take goofy pictures. We decorate for the holidays…though we do so through tear stung eyes. We have dance parties in the living room and Carly is a rock star on the stage, just like her big sister. We spend time with friends and family. We go to the movies…we play board games…we swing at the park. My misery…my family’s misery…doesn’t negate these times…for us it’s not one or the other…it’s not joy or sadness…it’s not misery or jubilation…it’s not laughter or tears… It’s all of that…all at once…all of the time.

What would these judgmental pricks suggest I do? What would their recommendations be for how I should live my life now that I must live it while one of my children lives in Heaven? Maybe I should paint a smile on my face…only share stories and photos of the happy times…only share my sadness on during the expected times…her birthday…the anniversary of the accident…Christmas…maybe I should do this so you are more comfortable with my grief. So that you can say “See it’s not as terrible and unimaginable as I thought. You do get over it eventually.” That would make you feel better, wouldn’t it. Maybe I should do what so many others do….I should push it down…take some pills to numb the pain I feel…to quiet my grief so it’s not too loud for you…or maybe I should try and drink it away…I mean, I know loads of people that’s worked out splendidly for….don’t you?

I will not. I will not pretend I am okay when I am clearly not. I will not ever paint a smile on my tear stained face just to ease other people’s suffering while my suffering sears and burns inside my soul. I will not take pills that attempt to cover up the pain that will always be there and that will persist long after the pills effects have worn off. I will not attempt to drown my sorrows in a bottle of whiskey because with sobering up comes reality knocking again. I honor my daughter…my sweet Madison Charlotte…by being honest, open and raw with my grief. I will not hide my grief….as I would not have hidden my love. As I read somewhere…grief is love with nowhere to go. So I must find a place for it to go…and I do that through the keys of my computer…through the pen as I press it to the pages of my journal. Writing is how I handle this…this…life. And if you or anyone else doesn’t like that…you can fuck off. Fuck anyone who has a problem with how I am handling my shit. How any grieving parent is handling their shit, for that matter. Feel free to scroll past my posts…my photos… Feel free to unfollow me….better yet…delete me from Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else…and pretend I do not exist….as you plainly wish I would pretend Maddi never did.

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Unsettling Comforts

There are many things about a life lived in the “after” that just make absolutely no sense. They do not make sense to us who are living this life and they are utter nonsense to those who are not.One of those nonsensical happenings is that in the way our mere existence each day is like living an oxymoron. Painful beauty. Deafening silence. Joyful ache. Unsettling comfort.

That last one – unsettling comfort- is a phrase that defined today, for me. When Winter reaches out it’s icy grasp and takes hold of our lives, the cemetery…where my precious child, Maddi, lies…closes it’s gates. As do almost all the cemeteries in New England. I mean, it makes sense. Plowing can cause significant damage. The expense to repair damaged headstones…not to mention the undo pain such a sight would cause a grieving family is undoubtedly why they make vehicular travel impossible over the Winter months. It makes sense. It hurts like hell…but it makes sense. We have finally had warm enough weather for a long enough stretch that those locked gates have reopened. A flutter of joy surges through me when I pull up and, much to my surprise, I can pull right up to my daughter’s headstone. This, to me, feels like an unsettling comfort. 3 years, 2 months and 4 days ago – this passage of time’s marker would have gone completely unnoticed by me. Now, open cemetery gates are comforting. Nonsense. Even to me. Bullshit, really.

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With the gates open, my little one and I load up the trunk of my car. We carefully place flowers, wind chimes…whose beautiful tinkling sounds less like music to me and more like Spring’s siren song… angels and fairies, little rubber ducks, ladybugs, flags, stone statuettes. I breathe an odd, gentle breath of relief as each item is gingerly placed into my trunk. My little girl can finally have her things back now. This to me feels like an unsettling comfort. I should be pulling out jump ropes, bicycles, bubble wands, sunscreen. I am. But…for one. Not two. Nonsense. Even to me. Bullshit, really.

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We pull into the cemetery, through the open gates, and my little one breathes, “Maddi” with a sense of how deeply she has missed our time here. My six year old should not look forward to the cemetery. She needn’t go to a place like this to see her sister. She should need only to awaken from a good night’s sleep to see her sister’s smiling face. My little one delicately places her sister’s trinkets around the pink stone that bears her big sister’s name. She has now spent more of her life repeating this ritual, then she spent playing with Maddi. This fact feels like a cold, steel pipe being shoved through my soul. It is utter nonsense. Bullshit, really.

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A hawk flies overhead. “Maddi” my little one say matter-of-factly. I nod my head, “Yes it is baby.” A few butterflies flutter around us. The sun seems to beam directly on us, like a beacon. A scent of incense wafts through the air. The hawk comes back several times, swooping closer and closer. It’s beautiful. Signs. These are some of the signs we have become accustom to since February 19, 2014. They tell us that Maddi is here…that she loves us and knows we love her. Unsettling comfort. I should just be able to see her. I shouldn’t need signs. She’d be ten by now. I should just be able to hear her say I love you. I should be able to hug her…kiss her…snuggle her. Instead, I cling to signs. Unsettling comfort. Nonsense. Bullshit, really.

This is life – after. After your child runs ahead of you and cannot return. After your child takes her last breath and somehow you go on breathing. After you commit your seven year old little girl’s body to the Earth. It is a mixed up life….full of oxymorons. Painful beauty. Deafening silence. Joyful ache. Unsettling comfort.

Easter Basket on the Highway

We’ve all driven by them. I cannot count how many I have driven by, in fact. The sheer amount of them is staggering to me now. Did I not notice them as often in our before? Is it like when you buy a new car, suddenly you see “your car” everywhere you go…whereas previously, it’s as if the vehicle had never traveled a road at the same moment as you did. I am sure they were always there in huge, crushing numbers. They just sort of call to me now. Maybe I look for them. Like, if I find a certain many of them I won’t feel as alone. I’ve seen hundreds. I still feel just as alone. But maybe, the next one. I am referring to roadside memorials. Some are large. Some are merely a small cross and a bouquet of flowers. Many times (in our before), I’d wonder about the people behind the memorials. Wondered their stories. I always found them to be incredibly heartbreaking. But as I would pass these tributes, the flowers would be gone from sight…they would be gone from mind. Not so much now.

Because now. Now we have one too. A roadside memorial. On Mother’s Day (the first one that I suffered through without my Maddi)  my husband, his Father, his brother, myself, my nieces and nephews and my little girl…gathered on the side of a busy highway (not so much highway as very busy stretch of road) and we built a garden. We attempted to make beautiful the ugliest place in the world. The place that stole our Maddi from us. We shaped the garden border out of stones that we had handpicked from the woods behind our home. Dug up the dirt…laid out mulch…planted beautiful flowers. And this… this place…is where we bring her Easter basket now.

I used to fill her basket and her sister’s with candy. M & M’s….Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (mostly so I could steal them) and pink peeps. Her Daddy hates peeps but Maddi and I, we love them. A chocolate molded into the shape of a bunny. I’d make sure that each of my daughter’s baskets had stuffed animals and bubbles and seeds to plant and maybe a jump rope or side walk chalk…shovels for the upcoming Summer, Easter stickers, a coloring book. I’d line the baskets up next to each other on the kitchen table…pinkalicious, candy filled baskets ready for their little hands to tear into on Easter morning. I loved shopping to fill their baskets and always went overboard.

Now…I still buy candy, stuffed animals, bubbles…all of it. But now I buy it all for one…just one basket. I still set the basket on our kitchen table…but now there is only one…just one basket. We still hide Easter eggs, too. It’s not very silly or competitive anymore…just our little one…searching all by herself…she gets all of the eggs…but if you ask her, would she like all of the eggs or would she rather be sharing with her big sister…she’d give you all the eggs she’d ever collected just to have her sister seeking those eggs right along side of her.

We make a basket for Maddi every year still. I couldn’t live on without all these rituals we have developed. What once felt so foreign, now feels painfully, disgustingly like our “new normal”….a bullshit normal.

Her basket isn’t made of pink wicker anymore…but pink, weather resistant metal. It’s not filled with candy anymore….the first year, I did buy candy and put it in her basket…but watching it rot away, untouched was worse than just not buying it at all. We put Easter eggs in the basket…inside we each write love notes to Maddi. We don’t ever read each other’s. These are our private messages that we write only for Maddi. We put fake, decorative, sparkly eggs in there too. A stuffed bunny. A garden statue. Then…after our little one has opened her goodies. Eaten a warm, home cooked breakfast. Searched for Easter eggs all on her own…we get in our car. And we drive to Maddi’s garden. The ride is usually very quiet. Very quiet….but the silence is ever deafening. We park on the side of the road. My head swirls with visions of that night. The sounds….the lights….my child, lying on a snowbank almost in the exact place where we planted her garden. We get out and we walk over together. We place her basket. Full of our love letters and trinkets. We use garden stakes to hold the basket in place so that the weather or the 18-wheelers speeding by don’t blow Maddi’s basket down the road. We kneel on the stones we placed as a border. We weep as cars fly by blissfully unaware of our pain. I am sure they see us but as they round the corner…we are out of sight and out of mind. We stay until our little one asks if we can go to Easter dinner. We say our goodbyes. You see…that’s the hard part. Going isn’t hard. It’s the leaving…leaving every single time…without her…somehow hoping against all we know to be true…that one of these times we will go there…and find her…and leave WITH her…not leave her behind. I fucking hate that so much. I feel like I am abandoning her over and over and over again.

We get in our car. We hold the sign for “I love you” out of our windows and call it out to her. Hoping against hope that one day we will hear it back.

And then we pull away….from the Easter basket on the side of the highway. Out of sight….but never out of our minds. Just like her.

Maddi Easter3