The year after Hadley passed away I made three little birthday cakes. Only Parker and McKenna would dig tiny fingers in and blink cake from their lashes but I made three because I had to, I couldn’t imagine not. On the day of their birthday party I got out the tiny cakes, balanced on one plate and I put them back. I closed the refrigerator and wanted to open it again and need each of those little cakes.
The rituals of my grief, the needing to pretend, left me suddenly embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know I made three cakes, picture me crying over cake batter or worry about tears in their frosting. I reached in and transferred two small cakes onto their own plates, carrying them carefully to two babies tugging at their party hats. Hadley’s cake sat in our refrigerator for days, the saddest little reminder of wishes not granted. The day I threw it out I knew I would never do that again. There wasn’t a band-aid made to fit this kind of pain.
Six years later and I still haven’t found one. Every year I try to figure out the secret to how you do this. I try to place the pieces carefully and hope they somehow fit, hope it is easier or lighter or just not so much work for my heart. In a few days I will have two six year-olds and there isn’t a thing about five I wouldn’t keep. On days when they are at their sweetest I wish for their sister the most and on days when they are at their worst I wonder if she would have balanced it out a bit or just added to the symphony of whiners. I would take her either way.
It turns out that by six years you don’t grieve day in and day out all year long and it is pretty easy to get out of bed in the morning but you pack together all your tears to be opened a few times a year. When they start to tumble out of their neatly folded package they are met with children who almost know what death is and where your tears are coming from so you have to own it all, the bittersweetness of celebrating what is as you mourn what isn’t.
This year I am making one cake for Parker and one for McKenna, both ridiculously complicated. I will pour myself a glass of wine and make them after they go to sleep and wish I could make one more even after the hand-cramps have set in. I will insist on singing them each Happy Birthday separately while my husband rolls his eyes and wish we could sing it one more time so he could eye-roll again. I will run out of tape while wrapping their gifts and wish I had an even bigger pile left to wrap without any means of holding the paper together.
I’ve never found a way to stop wishing for what I don’t have and maybe that’s because I never will. The days I turned from one baby to the next to the next were the best days of my life and I didn’t realize it until they were gone. I know just how crazily amazing it is to watch the pieces of your heart walk freely out in the world, arms dangling and teeth a little brushed. I will always wish I had that one missing piece to smile back or stomp away or blow out her own candles, on the cake I didn’t get to bake.
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I’m always amazed at your heart and insight through grief. I know many that your words bring a comfort to.
Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms says
I wish I could be there to share a glass of wine as you bake those cakes and give you the biggest hug. Ellen
Lori Wescott says
This is so incredibly touching. Thank you for sharing this.
julie gardner says
This post is just….wow.
I don’t even know what to say.
You are so honest and raw and lovely.
I don’t know anyone else who can piece together words the way you do.
We come here and read your whole heart.
It’s an honor. A gift.
Julie I can’t tell you how much your comment means. This was one of those posts that I wrote and then debated on publishing because I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to hear all the goings-on of my mind. Sometimes I just have to write it all down to get through it, I can’t thank you enough for being here to read. xo
Beautiful post. I wish that we both had our missing pieces. Sending you hope and hugs. xoxo
I wish we did too Lanie. Thinking of you as always.
Such a raw, honest post. I want to reach out and hug you!
I’ll take the hug, thank you :).
You know how much I love and care and think about you right?
My heart breaks every single time. And I want you to know, that through her, your stories, your pain…you make me appreciate all of those little things that my son does. You may not realize but I bet every mom who comes across your blog feels the same way. xoxox
Thank you so much for saying this Kim, this was a post that I wondered whether I should publish or not. If it was too raw or something I should just keep for myself. Knowing that you get something from it makes me feel so much better about deciding to hit publish. Love you too! xo
Kathy at kissing the frog says
Seriously, we need to meet and have wine and a long talk. Having lost a multiple, I know that it is so hard to know what to do on the surviving one’s special days. You don’t want to ignore the one you lost in favor of the one(s) who is (are) still here, but you don’t want to make it about the loss either. Joey and Slim’s birthdays are on New Year’s Eve, so we usually party with Slim on NYE and then celebrate Joey on the 1st. I don’t like doing that because it was not his birthday, but Hubby thinks Slim should have his own special day apart from our grief. We usually have a Joey party in June when we lost him to celebrate his life. There’s no easy or right way to deal with it – just doing whatever makes your heart feel okay and making NO apologies or explanations to anyone else over what you have chosen. xoxoxo
Yes we do, how far is halfway between the two of us? Maybe we could each take a cab :). I always feel like you deal with all of this so much better than I do and you have so many more memories to make the grief that much more painful. I always end up doing sort of okay on their birthday and then we keep Hadley’s day just for her but I wish I could just be completely happy for them. You know? Thank you for always being here for me.
Apart from their first birthday, where we did nothing, I have baked Caitlin a cake for the girls’ birthday. But, I don’t want people to know that I’m doing it (both because it is not their business to know, and I don’t want it to confuse Julia & Gabrielle. Because I just make cupcakes though, it is easier. The first party (when they turned two), I made two different types but had three different decorations on top, which meant nothing to anybody but me. The 3rd and 4th years, I let them each pick a cupcake flavor, and let David pick the third (I think he knew what I was doing). When I eventually stop doing cupcakes – either because they ask for cake or because I threaten myself every year that I am not doing cupcakes because in the end it’s harder than individual cakes – I will do something else; add in homemade ice cream, maybe. It only matters that I know what I’m doing.
I love that idea. Every year I buy flowers for Hadley and put them on the table on their birthday. It’s just one of those things I do for her (and for me) and no one else really has to know. It only matters to me, just like your extra flavor of cupcakes.
Oh Jessica. I don’t even know what to say. I wanted you to know that I read this, tears fell, and my heart is broken for you.
tara pohlkotte says
oh darlin. these days mixed with so much. holding you close. no words, just hands reaching out to yours. loved watching your video too about what you would do differently, and what helped you. As I walk into our town’s grief center this week to walk with families who are hurting too, this helps so much to hear directly from others who have grieved different ways to walk through this path. so much love to you. xo
I should have known that you would be supporting others who need it most. You have always been such an amazing support and I appreciate you reading on the days when my words aren’t very pretty. Sending you lots of love and a million thank yous. xo