When we had Floyd, many friends sent heartfelt baby gifts before and right after his arrival. These gifts were particularly meaningful because all of these well-wishers knew what we had gone through. Each package that arrived in the mail came with what felt like the warmest virtual hug; an understanding that something beautiful was arriving after experiencing something utterly horrific.
One of these such gifts were a collection of books. They were for Floyd, but aged appropriately so that my daughter could steal them for a couple of years. One of the books bore Floyd’s name in the title. The friends who bought the books told us that the book was obviously for an older child but they thought we would enjoy it. I read the book aloud to Floyd for a few days, but he became antsy as there were no pictures. My daughter found it and asked me to read it to her. We got a few pages in and found that there was another character named Jay. I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be, but she loved it and asked me to keep reading.
Each day we read 1 or 2 chapters, and even though I often had to stop to explain to her what was happening in the book, she kept spurring me on to read further. I finally realized that she was waiting for the Jay character to make another appearance. We got all the way to the end and realized that he really just had a bit part in the book. I knew she was a little disappointed, and to be honest, so was I. I enjoyed reading this book where both Jay and Floyd were together.
The next day we looked online and learned that there were more books and toys to go with these characters. What? We could get a Jay doll? We were discussing the possibility of getting it when my daughter said, “Mama, remember when you said that you felt like Jay talked to Floyd when he was in your tummy? Well, I think he did.” She was referring to a conversation we had awhile ago when I told her that sometimes I felt like Jay met Floyd somewhere along the way because they are so much alike. It was such a short conversation that I was surprised she remembered it.
Then my daughter disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a note, written in her handwriting. “Mama, guess what I found! It is a secret note from Jay.” She reads the note aloud. “Dear Mama, Papa and . I miss you and hope to see you again. Love, Jay.” She looks up from the note. “Mama, I actually found this secret note and it’s from Jay.” And then she pauses. “Actually, I wrote this, but I want to pretend it’s from Jay.”
I smiled at her. “I would love to pretend that.”
She went on to produce 3 or 4 more notes from him. It seemed to make her feel so good to pretend to communicate with him. She wrote him back each time, and she wanted to make sure they were put somewhere he would be able to find them. She took them to his urn and placed them there. It made her happy to know he’d read them, and afterwards we had dinner and nary another word was discussed about it.
Later that night I came downstairs to go to bed and saw the urn again. 2 bright yellow pieces of construction paper lay against it with my dear daughter’s handwriting. What was a happy-ish occasion a few hours earlier just looked like the saddest thing ever now. Handwritten notes from a child to an urn of ashes.
At 17 months in (Wow, 17 months exactly today. Whew.), I am asking myself daily how we ever got to this place. And while I can take that feeling and jump down into a deep, dark hole, I have to remind myself that what my daughter did the other day was helpful for her. This is an OK thing to do in her eyes. She carries a sadness around with her that she can’t always access, but the image of her letters up against her brother’s urn is much worse for me to see than it is for her. She’s not quite old enough to fathom how utterly depressing that is. Images like that make me feel like I will never have hope again in my life, but for her it’s a way to talk to him. A way to feel a connection when the real connection was severed so suddenly. My flippant comment about the idea that Jay told Floyd about his soon-to-be family sparked hope in her, even when it is absent in me. Was it OK to give her something to believe in, even if I might not believe in it myself?
I think the answer is yes. I think she needs something to hope for at five years old. And even though my rational mind may say otherwise, I thought up the image of Jay meeting Floyd in my head for a reason. It feels good to have hope. It feels good to believe in something, even if you’re lying to yourself. It gives you something to grasp when you’re falling from a cliff. Where hope is concerned, sometimes you gotta fake it till you make it.