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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