Coping When Your Child Begins to Be a Memory
I sat at your desk today. I sat at your desk and touched your name so neatly written at the top. I looked through the box of memories your classmates wrote about you in their imperfect 1st grade penmanship. I looked at all their Valentine boxes so carefully decorated stacked neatly along the wall, ready to be filled at the party tomorrow.
I sat and I wondered, what would yours have looked like? Last year you went with an Olaf theme; would you have different characters this year? Would you have carefully placed glitter hearts and construction paper bows in neat little rows? I imagined you signing every card with your name split in two because you ran out of room.
I imagined, because that’s all I have left to do. I sat at your desk today because I needed the reassurance that you existed outside the walls of our house. The desire to see your classroom desk has been a compulsion I’ve had the last few weeks.
I cleaned out the car. I cleaned out the car and wept as I vacuumed the last of your dropped snacks. I pocketed your hospital wrist bands and washed your forgotten blankets. I cleaned your fingerprints off the window and put away your booster seat. I feel you in my heart when I drive, but all I see when I look back is an empty, clean backseat. Almost as if that is as it always was.
I looked for one of your sister’s friends in the school directory the other day and happened upon our name. Just like the empty backseat, there was a blank space where your name should be. I remember filling out your directory information. I remember reminding myself that you were in fact a first-grader. I wonder what that person thought when they had to delete your information. Did they pause? Did they know that one day months from now someone would look upon that space and notice what was missing?
In our house your bathrobe still hangs in the bathroom, your cape in the laundry room, your picture on the fridge. You remain very present in every room of our house. When I am at the school, the park, just about the town, I see your friends. I see your favorite spots, and you are so very much absent.
So I sat at your desk today. I sat at your desk to remember that you were so very real. I sat and imagined what you would be preparing for today. I remembered your excitement to attend that first day. I remembered your bravery as you took your wig off so the class could see your “cancer fuzz.” Today I sat and wept as I prepared myself for all the coming days as you slowly disappear from the world outside our own four walls.
I couldn’t keep your crumbs and empty drink containers in my car forever. Next school year, your name will be erased and replaced with another name, hopefully one with so much more to look forward. For now, today, I got to sit at your desk and be reminded you were there. At least for today, I knew you still existed outside of my heart and our own four walls.
I never understood those plaques on park benches or engraved bricks on memorial walls until today. Today, as I sat at your desk, I understood why we honor our loved ones with something concrete away from our homes. Those concrete memorials remind us, and all those who pass by them, that you were real, you existed outside the walls of our home and our hearts.
You will always be real to me, my sweet girl. Even if I move your bathrobe or your cape, your presence will always be felt, everywhere I go, for as long as I travel.
I will never stop carrying you with me in my heart.