One time six years ago, we were having this same little memorial event. C. Peevie said, "I miss you Caitlin, even though I never got to meet you."
And A. Peevie, who was four at the time, was not to be outdone. "I miss you, Caitlin," he said, and continued happily, "You poo-poo head."
I don't know if this tradition is weird, or nuts, or psychologically damaging--but it feels right for our family. I'm pretty sure that it arose out of our children's unquenchable desire for cake, rather than from their feeling of loss for their sister.
Remembering Caitlin didn't always involve cake. In the beginning, Mr. Peevie and I would just quietly mention our little girl's name to each other, and futilely wonder what our lives would be like with her in them. We wonder what color her eyes were, and if she'd be a gymnast, or a tennis nut, or a piano player.
We still cried, back then; occasionally, we still do. Not so much because the feeling of loss is still painful--but because we can clearly remember the pain of losing her. (I read somewhere that our brains do not have the capacity to "remember" pain. I call bogus.) I remember the strong urge I felt for months, when I would see people going about their normal lives, to shout at them, "I had a baby, and she died!"
Telling Caitlin stories brings tears to my eyes, but they're good tears, if you can understand that. Caitlin is a part of our family, just as much as if she had lived. Losing her is no longer the most important part of my identity (as it was for many months), but it will always be part of who I am. To not talk about her is to deny her, and to deny a part of me.
Shortly after Caitlin died, I read an essay about grief in the New York Times by Anna Quindlen. She was speculating about why grief "has the power to silence us." Here's a slice of her beautiful, powerful words:
Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are."The presence of an absence"--if you've lost someone, you know what that means, what it feels like.
Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later. Or maybe it is unspoken because grief is only the first part of it. After a time it becomes something less sharp but larger, too, a more enduring thing called loss.
Perhaps that is why this is the least explored passage: because it has no end. The world loves closure, loves a thing that can, as they say, be gotten through. This is why it comes as a great surprise to find that loss is forever, that two decades after the event there are those occasions when something in you cries out at the continuous presence of an absence. "An awful leisure," Emily Dickinson once called what the living have after death.
Yesterday I was wearing my "Caitlin necklace"--an April birthstone pendant on a slim gold chain. My friends gave it to me for my birthday, six weeks after she was born. It was a beautiful, touching, sensitive gesture, from gentle friends who understood that even though remembering might bring tears, it also brings healing.
M. Peevie noticed my necklace, and I asked her if she knew why I was wearing it.
"Because Caitlin died," she said matter-of-factly.
"Yes," I said, "That's part of it. But also because tomorrow is Caitlin's birthday."
"Oh, mom," M. Peevie said, "Let's have cake tomorrow night, and remember Caitlin together as a family!"
Great idea, little girl.