Every time my four-and-a half-year-old daughter, Miranda, sees a butterfly, she exclaims, “There’s Allie!” If we are outside, she runs and tries to catch up with the butterfly. If we are in the car, she wants me to pull over.
It happens all the time.
Allie was my first daughter. She was conceived out of love and very much wanted. She was due a few weeks before our first wedding anniversary, and I was almost breathless with anticipation of holding her in my arms.
Six years ago, Allie died three weeks before she had a chance to be born. One moment I was feeling her kick inside of me and the next minute, I wasn’t. I am not meant to understand what happened to her, I suppose, as no one seems to know. In many ways, she is my greatest joy. In other ways, she is my greatest sadness.
When Allie’s sister, Miranda, came to us, we were nervous and anxious and scared. Now we had the chance to parent a living child, and that was all new territory for us. We had become masters at memory walks and support groups and grief but were completely in the dark as to what to do with a living child. And we were so so worried that we were going to lose her, too.
Eventually, we found our rhythm. We began to trust that Miranda was not going to be taken away from us. She was ours, and we were hers – for better or for worse.
I love being a mom to a living child.
Motherhood looks good on me, if I do say so myself. I like being needed and wanted, and the unconditional love is a perk, too. Less and less do I worry about losing my daughter and more and more, I believe that I am the luckiest mom in the world to be her mom.
We never kept the fact that she is a baby sister a secret. When she was little, we would mention Allie’s name here and there. As she has grown, we say it more and more. We have explained that butterflies remind us of her sister. In her little brain, she now thinks her sister is a butterfly.
Both my husband and I have tried to tell her that Allie was a person. She was a baby. She was real. But how do we do that without her sister asking questions that we can’t answer?
Why isn’t Allie here? What is death? Will I die, too?
The fact is, there is so much we do not know and do not understand. And if we, as grown up individuals do not “get it,” then how can we expect a little human to understand?
Is it so wrong for her to see the beauty in a butterfly and want that beauty to be her sister? Is it so terrible that she does not understand?
I am shaking my head “no” as I type. No, it is not wrong. It is what is right for her and what is right for our family.
One day soon, she will start to comprehend death. It happened last year when our cat got sick and didn’t come home. She understood a little bit and was sad for a few days. Even now, she sometimes wants to know when our kitty is coming back.
Once she understands that Allie was a person, she will surely be sad. There will be no protecting her from that. She will comprehend that they will never meet. They will never play together. They will never go to school together. They will never share toys or get their ears pierced or shop for clothes together. And she may be sad.
Well, guess what? I am sad, too. I want them both. Is that selfish of me? Too bad. Allie was very much wanted and not a day goes by that I do not think of her. My heart soars when I see a butterfly. Is that a sign from my first born that she is nearby? That she misses us, too?
Or is it just a butterfly flying in the sky?
It doesn’t matter, really. If a random butterfly warms my healing heart and gives me comfort, then so be it. If that same butterfly somehow makes Miranda understand that her sister is not here with us, then I can accept that.
There is so much in grief and death and dying that makes me sad. Butterflies do not. Butterflies give us hope and make us happy. I hope it stays that way.