Almost three and a half years ago I was thrown into the world of the grieving parent. At the time, I was in a highly alert state, taking words that were said to me and dissecting them one by one. Sometimes people said things that I found confusing, and maybe even hurtful. I started reading…
I have a daughter. She looks just like me. With strawberry blond hair and blue-green eyes that change color with what she wears. Saying “tis” she points her chubby toddler finger at the black and white picture of a baby in the scrapbook in front of us.
Softly correcting her I say, “baby, bei-bi”.
She looks at the book and then looks back at me, pointing at the little girl with dark lips and sleeping eyes that will never wake, trapped in time in the still photo.
With more determination than the first go around, now correcting me as if I did not understand her, she repeats herself.
“Tis.” Which is toddler speak for “This.
Her resoluteness and willful spirit remind me of me. So much so I smirk as I recall back to the love letter I once wrote her dad six years ago. My husband and I were newly dating and he was stationed in Hawaii for three months with the Navy. Missing him, I wrote him a real handwritten letter. One you send in the mail. In it I described our future together. I described her. So much so, looking back now it’s as if I painted her into being with my words.
In the letter, I wrote how our eldest child would be a daughter. She would have my strawberry blond hair and hazel eyes that change color with each outfit and were lined with her father’s long dark lashes. She would inherit her will from her mother; being strong and fearless in nature while gaining her intelligence and kind heart from her father.
Looking back at those words, its like she was meant to be. That I had written her into life and authored our future story before it even happened. Here were my eldest daughter’s features and personality characteristics–written years before her arrival in a love letter I had sent my husband.
But the letter, like life; lies.
For sometimes, the real story that lies within what is not being said in the letters we send or the Facebook post we share or in the tales we tell each other. Sometimes the story is in the parts that cannot be seen. In scars that are missing or stretch marks that have faded away, or in baby weight that never stayed.
Because there is more to my story than meets the eye. There is a part that cannot be seen in that love letter I sent my husband six years ago.
I have another daughter. She looks nothing like me. She had dark brown hair and big soft lips. Her eye color I could not tell you, for I never saw them even though I held her in my arms.
My dark-haired daughter is another part of my story. The story within the story that cannot be seen, for when she left she also left nothing behind, except the picture that my redheaded daughter now points to.
‘Tis,” my eldest-but-not-first child says as, she runs her palm along the photo that is placed in the memory book we keep of her. The photo of her older sister.
As she again tries to pronounce, “This,” when speaking of her sister, I think to the definition of the word.
- used to identify a specific person or thing at hand or being indicated or experienced.
I ponder how ironic it is that my one daughter keeps saying, “Tis,” in reference to her sister but she will never really be able to identify the specifics of her. That she will never be able to experience her as in the definition of the word states.
It’s as if “Tis,” is a perfect question mark left on her older sister’s life.
It’s as if she is asking, “Who is this person?” “Where is this person?” “What is this person to me?” “Why is this person missing from my story?”
I’m not sure how I will answer her as she grows more and more into this question. As I have questions of my own. Lately I have moved away from the “Whys?” of early grief and I no longer ask the questions that are filled with the, “This.” Questions such as who was this girl and who would she have become. No, now, two and half years into my grief I have moved toward the questions of, “Where?”
Where are the marks, the footprints, the tangible things she left behind? Where will I find remnants of her again? For unlike with my pregnancy with her sister I hold no c-section scar of just my dark haired daughter, no stretch marks formed on my belly as a reminder of our time together, no battle scars of extra pounds of bringing her into the world are left from her upon my body.
She came quickly and left even quicker with no remembrance of her to be found. If you look closely and you have a knowing fellow bereaved mama bear heart you might see where my first daughter still lives in me. You might notice in the dulled glint in my eyes or the slightly restricted laugh of a saddened heart that is searching for where her first-but-not oldest-daughter went.
Since she left nothing physical behind, besides a few photographs that are as delicate and impermanent as she was, I decided to imprint her on my body in a way that was as permanent as the memory of her life will always be for me. I needed to be able to carry a physical scar of hers with pride as I do the c-section scars I carry of her sister.
So I got a tattoo for her. One bird for her and one for her sister. Her bird even has pieces of her in it as we put a pinch of her ashes in the ink that created her remembrance image that is now forever branded on my body. Like how she is forever branded on my soul.
I look forward to one day soon. When my red-headed daughter, the visible part of our story, asks the same question she has been asking about my tattoo as she does the baby pictures that are not of her. By then maybe with better pronunciation too.
“This?” She will ask as she will point to the bird in flight inked on my ankle.
And this time I will have an answer to this difficult question.
“This? This is the mark of a memory of a story within a story that is often not seen but forever felt and carried upon the heart. This is my battle scar of being a bereaved mother. This is where the memory of your sister lives on me, because her memory will always live within me. This is my mark of my motherhood to her for the world to see.”
Then, because she will only be two, she will likely ask, “This?” again. And I will reply simply that time with, “This? This is your dark-haired sister.”