So, once one of my posts was published on the Times parenting blog, I received a few comments that seemed, well, just a bit judgmental. A few people believed I was “burdening” Audrey with the extra responsibility to remember her father. A few just couldn’t understand why it would be important to me that she remember her father.
These are clearly people who have never suddenly lost a spouse and had a young child at the age of 22 months to care for amidst this overwhelming grief.
I think prior to this, I would’ve been bothered by the comments. But at a time when I am so vulnerable and broken, it just doesn’t matter. I gave one response explaining as graciously as I could that I would never place that burden on Audrey- that I had in fact taken many practical measures to do this for her, by placing photo albums and photos around that she seems to enjoy looking at — she even picks up our honeymoon album and says “uhny moooon!”– by having photos and video taken at both memorial services, and by collecting words from hundreds of friends and family to create a bound memorial book about her father for Audrey to read through. This blog may also be read by her- but as I state in my profile, it is primarily a means for me to process. I called it “Dear Audrey” because I liked the sound of it, but most of the entries end up a conversation in my mind or with Dan. The particular post they read is a part of a collection of writing that is more about process. What was described there was a poignant, symbolic moment shared between mother and daughter I wanted to memorialize in words, and by no means an essay or guide for dealing with a grieving toddler. In later entries like this one, it is evident to me that my grief is evolving and there are many layers and reasons as to why it is painful for me to think about Audrey forgetting.
But then just now as I was thinking about it again, I was stunned that it would be that hard for people to understand my sadness at her lack of memories of her father. Is it not sad when an Alzheimer’s patient succumbs to the disease and has no recollection of his wife or child? Is it not sad when the years of investment in a relationship are erased by a fallible memory? Audrey had a loving relationship with her father. He was the second most important person in her life for her entire life. Their relationship was foundational for her and that is obvious by the number of times each day I hear her say his name or make some association with him. Audrey has no future with him. He will not accompany us on her first day at kindergarten, he won’t attend her first ballet recital, help her with her homework, wave her off to college, or walk her down the aisle as we’d imagined. But she does have a past with him. And this past is not just about the love he had for her, which I could easily remind her of if this was the case. But it is also about her love for him. If he ceases to exist in her memory, will that love she had also cease to exist? Or can it be refashioned into something even more sacred and beautiful? I hope so.
So, even though a child losing early memories doesn’t seem as unnatural to us as an Alzheimer’s patient losing his, for me- to witness my daughter forget her own father- is quite unnatural. But I am trying to believe that, just as my grief counselor said a few weeks ago, “Whatever you need, it will be there. God will bring it,” you also will find what you need, whether in the form of memories or something else, to feel the love of your Appa. I will do everything in my power to make it so. I find myself helpless in so many things, but in this way, I will honor him.
I hope you won't let anyone ever make you feel like you are doing it wrong. You are giving the best of yourself to Audrey, and that's what a great mother does. There is no better than that.
Keep your head up, darlin'. Your openness and willingness and love with bring you both through. You are in the thoughts of so many, and in mine.
From one mom to another … you are strong. One foot in front of the other.
that's how i found your blog…through the NYT this morning at 4:30 a.m. and have just finished reading straight through…i absolutey cannot in any way imagine what you and sweet audrey are going through, but YOUR unconditional love for both Dan and Audrey is incredibly apparent…your vulnerability and honesty is to be respected…anyone judging you is scared, as you said, your situation touches on some people's greatest fears…i have thought of you all day including the times i have actually allowed myself to step away from the computer and remember i, too, have children to take care of:)…thinking of you and audrey, sending you positive energy, in awe of the example of strength you are setting for your daughter, as grieving is such an important, vital part of even every day life…you words have caused me to weep, helped me relate to a dear friend who lost his wife, also a dear friend, several months ago; they have made me smile and laugh…i will be stalking you daily and am planning to start a gratitude basket w/ my boys next week..but for today i am grateful for all you are willing to share…with lots of love!
I also found your blog thru the NY times article. I was up at 3am this morning, unable to go back to sleep after my 3 yr old vomited all over herself. I picked up my blackberry, checked Facebook and saw that one of my friends put in her status "Praying for Dan and his truly amazing wife Julia and daughter Audrey". She included a link to the NY Times article and from there I was hooked on your blog. As a mother of 2 young kids and a husband who travels frequently, I often have these irrational fears that something might "happen" to him. . .it's not like I'm a 1950's wife who can't function without a man, quite the opposite actually, but I just can't bear the thought of going through all of this without him which is probably why I really felt connected to you (is that odd?). I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. It sounds like you and Dan had a truly special love and friendship. I admire your honesty, compassion, and strength. Your writing is beautiful, and I found myself at 3:30am this morning curled up in my bed reading your blog on my tiny blackberry screen with tears rolling down my cheeks. You seem like such a great person, and someone I probably would be good friends with. I wish you and Audrey all the love and strength in the world. She is such a lucky little girl to have you as a mother and you are doing something so wonderful for her, and yourself.
Count me among the readers who came via the NYT.
My four-year-old son and twenty-month-old daughter both love looking at our photo albums and the framed pictures around our house. They beg to watch the videos on my computer. They particularly enjoy watching our memories over and over when their father is out of town. All of this, yet they have not experienced a loss like you and your daughter have.
Children adore repetition. They love being reminded of happy things. It's not just about grief–this is how children process LIFE. This is how they learn. You're not only doing a wonderful thing for Audrey by keeping her father's memory alive for her, but you're encouraging something that is a natural part of development for toddlers and preschoolers. What a good mother and wife and wonderful teacher you are.
I'm deeply sorry for your loss.
I also found you through the NYT, and reading this post about Audrey and her memories reminded me of my father-in-law. He's an 80 year old extremely shy man – it took me 5 years of being a part of the family before I learned he was born and raised in Lappland and Lappish was his first language.
At a recent family gathering the topic of first memories came up. After a long discussion with the rest of the group, he finally spoke up.
'My mother died when I was two,' he said. 'But I remember her. She is my first memory. And it is one of the most precious things I have. I remember her giving me a bath in the sink. I remember the way she smelled. I remember how she put me to bed'
And then he was silent again.
It think you are giving Audrey a great gift.
I posted on a different entry of yours the night I found you on NYT. Your entry really moved me but I was also so very pissed at some of the NYT comments. Those people commented as if you were writing a fiction novel, not as if you are actually living through this. This is no place for a critique. Don't bother to read them or even respond. Unless you were to say, "fuck off". You do what you have to do. And that's all that matters to you and your little girl.
You are right to talk about her father. My father died when my mother was pregnant with me and she never talked about it. She also seemed so pained when I asked questions that it made me feel bad, even as a young girl. I never knew his side of the family or anything because she cut us off from them and I felt like I missed out on a lot.
I am so sorry for your loss.
Try not to let the commenters on NYT's Motherlode get you down. I read there frequently and they can be a tough lot, often very judgmental.
So sorry for what you are going through.
I also discovered your blog from NYT, and have been reading through it little by little each day. (It's too overwhelming to read all at once, and I find myself frequently in tears while reading.) What you are undertaking here is an amazing gift to yourself, to your daughter, and to anyone else who might ever have to go through what you are suffering through now.
Please ignore the comments on NYT. Only you know what you are experiencing, and you cannot listed to the idiots who think that anyone is going to change her actions to suit their opinion. Know that there are anonymous strangers out here who have been touched by your writing and the memories of your amazing husband you have shared with us. We are all better for having caught a glimpse of who he was and who he will continue to be through your daughter.
shanahane (a) hotmail (dot) com