This is the third time. It is brutal.
I haven’t felt it helpful or complex enough to say, “It’s not fair; it’s just not fair,” in the past three years. But on this day, I think those words a lot.
Unless your young child has lost a parent, you cannot imagine the kind of searing, puncturing pain one feels. It goes a level or two deeper than your own pain. You are helpless. You cannot provide what they desire, all that was lost. Some widows online today salute the women who they say are doing both jobs- mother and father. I don’t see it this way. I can only be Audrey’s mother. She is missing her dad. There is no way I can fill that gap- all of the many things you were going to do with her…I cannot teach her Korean, or piano, or tune her ukelele or build something amazing with Legos, or kick around the soccer ball, or explain how the World Cup works, or do any of the things that you would do because you are you and real, living people do surprising things we can never predict.
I am only her mother. And I am the keeper of the stories she asks to hear over and over again- how she pooped all over the first time while you were changing her diaper in the middle of the night, the first song you wrote about peanut butter and jelly as a little boy, the way we met and if you were silly. I am the messenger, “I know your dad would’ve been so proud of you on your preschool graduation. I know he is right now, somehow.” “I know your dad thinks you’re so pretty in your ballet costume, I just know it.” The answerer of questions, “Would appa like this game?” “Would appa have laughed while I did this?” “Would appa have liked me in my ballet recital?” Or this one, “Did appa love me?” many times, including today after leaving the cemetery- which she did not want to leave today.
I throw words into the gaping hole…”What do you think? Of course he loved you!” My voice is ridiculously enthusiastic. “He ADORED you! He was totally crazy for you- coo koo for you! There was no one he loved more…you were like a gift to him!”
This is my paltry offering today. And it is- so, very paltry. What words in the human language can one really genuinely use to depict someone’s love for someone else? The exact way he gazed at her in the delivery room? The way I caught him taking photo after photo of himself holding you in front of every mirror in our apartment, smiling this tired, goofy smile. The worried look on his face as you dug into the icing on your cupcake at your one year old birthday party.
In the very beginning- oh so long ago- I worried so much about your pain- reading book after book on children and grieving. Though too complex for both our minds- yours and mine- you experienced his loss in a very real way. It was evident when they returned his suitcase and you searched for him happily in the apartment, saying, “Appa??? Appa??” Or when weeks later, you started talking and saying what he did while he lifted you in the air on his legs. Or reenacting a game he played with you on your first airplane ride by yourself quietly. But I was told, in the books, by my counselor, about regrieving: “She will regrieve the loss with every stage of development.” I assumed I would be so much stronger by this regrieving. But I am not.
The memories you had of him faded away. It’s hard to ascertain if you have even one single direct memory. “But just because I can’t remember him, doesn’t mean I don’t miss him,” you tell me one day.
I have always wanted, partly through these words, to be the keeper for you Audrey – to record the stories and memories and somehow gift to you your father as best as I could. But words utterly fail- to recreate any semblance of the actual person. And you have forgotten. So, I convinced myself this entire past year- after we moved and your memory seemed to dissipate more rapidly- I tell myself, this is OK- as long as you just know two things- he was a great man, and he loved you greatly. I even came across a photo he took of you opening your first Easter basket. In some of the eggs he had decided to write special notes to you. And there it is, in his own handwriting, for you to see. And I pray this before we leave this morning- that the knowledge of his love would not be a source of sadness for you, but a source of strength.
The simple answer to your question that rings in my ears all day today is, “Yes.” But it is not enough.
It’s a lonely job being this keeper. I carry the knowledge of what two other people are missing for them. She doesn’t know just how much she is missing…you are mostly a flat character to her though I try so hard to make you round. Do you know all that you’re missing – watching your daughter grow up each day, month, and year? I don’t know if you do- so I carry that too.
So devastating, Julia. Audrey is so wise…
This is so beautiful and sad. I love the idea of being the keeper of stories. My kids are older 11 to 21, my grief newer, just 6 months. Like you I tell stories of my husband to them, they add their voices to the stories as well.
kae care of youselves on this most awful of journeys.
This blog is such a treasure for Audrey. I have been putting together the story of both my parents, who were killed when I was two. I'm lucky to have MANY momentos….photos, letters, journals, etc. But none of those things are directed toward ME. I have felt so detached from them most of my life (I am 47 now). What I really miss are the anecdotes that make them human and alive. The things that I can point to and say, "Oh, I'm just like my mother." Thank you for doing this for your daughter. And for yourself. Grief that occurs in toddlers can manifest itself in many ways later in life. I'm lucky I stayed on a good path, and that I'm still here. I think Audrey will so appreciate this blog when she grows up.
Love you, Julia