Tonight I had to run into K-Mart for some diapers. It was a "surgical strike" trip as we call them, a "get in, get out as fast as you can" emergency run. Bubba and J. were waiting in the car and it was getting perilously close to Bubba's supposed bedtime (he actually stayed up until 9 p.m. tonight...surprise!)
Anyway, I'm cruising through the baby section to get to the diapers and I see little pink Easter dresses hanging on the racks at the front of the section. Even in my haste I stopped for a moment and looked before heading to the checkout counter.
Later, as I was thinking about the moment, it struck me as odd how the yearly commercial ritual of the Easter dress has become a moment that brings me to my daughter, my little girl I lost in 2003 (see "My life in a long nutshell" post if you're confused).
When I first lost Hope, I had no idea of all the things that would remind me of her. The first year, in fact, nearly everything did. It was either a commercial on TV featuring a little baby girl or a pregnant woman selling cocoa butter cream for stretch marks, or the "stroller brigade" at the mall. If it didn't remind me of Hope, it reminded me of Hope's absence. The empty house, the Christmas without a little baby for us to fuss over, the empty yellow room that was supposed to be her nursery.
Over time, many of those reminders dropped away, or if not disappeared, have moved to a different part of my emotional landscape. The commercials and the stroller brigade I now look at and remember the agony they caused me just a couple of years ago, but I don't really feel it now. Our house is now loud with Bubba's squeals, laughter and crying, and the yellow room is now my son's nursery. Little reminders of Hope have been placed in that room deliberately, but they do not sadden me--the room is a joyful place where I hold my son and tell him about his sister.
For some reason, though, many moments of deeply missing my daughter, while simultaneously connecting with her in a more loving, wistful way, happen in department stores. I remember particularly one day, just before Bubba was born, going to JC Penney's. It was a moment unto itself because I was finally feeling positive enough about the pregnancy--literally a few weeks before he was born--to be able to buy anything for him. J. and I went together. As we were moving toward the infants' section, we had to go through the older kids' section. Suddenly I was standing in front of a whole wall of training bras. A sea of flat white triangles connected by the thinnest of elastic bands loomed before me. The little bras were so innocently sweet that it hurt, and all I could think of was that I would never be taking Hope to get her first one. I cried openly in the store, then went on and got a few things for Bubba. But that moment stuck with me, and whenever I see that section, I think of her.
The Easter dresses have become a similar reminder. Even though the dresses come at the same time of year, every year, they somehow still always surprise me. I will just be doing odd shopping and then see the pink or purple or foamy green spun-sugar fluff of dresses floating in the little girls' section. The first year, it blindsided me much like the training bras. I fingered the soft fabric with tears coming down my face, thinking of all the beautiful things I would have bought for Hope to wear, how cute she would have been in them. Since that first year, the pain has eased, but those dresses still cut to my heart like a symbol of all she would have been, all she should have been, all I should have had with my daughter. And, to be completely honest, now that I have a son who will most likely be our only living child, those dresses remind me of all the "girl stuff" that I will never have the chance to do with my own child.
I know I am lucky to have my son--losing Hope has made me all the more aware of that. I laugh when I hear him already making car noises at 17 months, and I love how enamored he is already with his boy parts. I still manage to find him adorable little outfits that, for the most part, don't have sports symbols emblazoned all over them (although that means he does have a lot of construction-themed clothes in his dresser), and I do think he is the cutest little boy in the world.
But the Easter dresses can't help but remind me of what was lost on that June evening, and remind me of how much I always will love my little girl who never got to take a breath in this world. I think when I am old and gray and hobbling down the department store aisle for my Ben-Gay and Depends, I will still stumble upon those Easter dresses and think of my daughter, who lives on in my heart if nowhere else. And for that, I love those Easter dresses.
This post is inspired by and dedicated to my coworker, whose 16-year-old son tragically committed suicide last night. I can only imagine how many reminders will loom before her after having had 16 years to love and experience her son. I hope with all my heart that someday, she will find at least some of them comforting.