Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Paging Joy

Today is my daughter Rebecca’s birthday. I want to be able to honor her birth with gladness, but I can’t seem to even think about it without weeping. I can’t because her death happened too close to her birth, only twenty years apart, way too soon.

But twenty years is long  . . . . long enough for me to accumulate memories of her accomplishments, her pluck, her humor, her sweet gentleness, her beauty, and her love. When she first died, I was so traumatized, I couldn’t remember her beyond the first days of her life. But now enough years have passed – more years than she lived! – that I can finally remember her at every stage of her too-short life . . . infant, toddler, pre-schooler, grade schooler, adolescent, teen, young woman.

I miss her so much, although she’ll never be gone for me – she is frozen in my memory at age twenty and all the ages she lived before that. I want to wish her Happy Birthday, but I can’t call her and there’s nothing happy about her being gone.

But her birth was a joyous occasion, and that’s what I want to remember and celebrate today.

I remember the joy with which we planned for her arrival. My mother and I went shopping together, we bought a lot of things for the new baby, but mostly I remember the little kimono with the violets printed on it. Mother and I both loved that. I miss my mother, too, now also gone. I wish I could call her and say, “Do you remember that little kimono with the purple violets?” and, depending on her age where her soul rests now, she’d either say, “I certainly do,” or “No, Dear, I’m sorry, but I don’t.” As the end of her life approached, she had forgotten so much that surprised me, things that I thought she would never forget.

So I am the sole holder of that memory. Precious memory! When I have forgotten it, no memory of it will exist.

Is that the sadness of loss? That we are the last holder of the memories of the times we shared with loved ones? That when we can no longer remember something, no one will know that it happened?

Is that why I write? To pass the memory on, and hope it will outlive me? And is that reason enough to write?

I think that our memories are gifts we can give each other. I treasure the stories my mother told me about her life before I was born, the experiences my mother-in-law shared with me of her life before she came to this country, the pieces of their past my good friends have described for me, so that all our lives have been connected by the threads of our lives interwoven, and our learning about the amazing complexity of life from each other.

So to honor the birth of my daughter forty-four years ago today, I share the memory of the joy of her birth. I tell you that telephones rang as we broadcast the news to family and friends, that we gathered to greet and celebrate her, and we bestowed upon her the most beautiful name we could think of after months of deliberation and consideration of many beautiful names. She joined her older sister in the newly-shared position of Center of our Universe. Soon afterward they became and remained almost inseparable for many years, until they went their separate ways in their teens. Before her life came to its unexpected end, they had begun the natural coming together again of adult sisters.

Today is her birthday. I need and want to stay with the joy, and not be sad, but grateful and happy that I am and will always be her mother. She is and will always be my daughter. I am proud of the gentle soul she was, the way she could laugh and make others laugh with her, the pluck with which she tackled the tasks that challenged her, that she had so many friends who cherished her, and that our relationship was close and trusting and loving.

I wish I understood the lump that keeps rising in my throat, and my tears, and could stop them. SInce I cannot do that, I helplessly allow them to be, observe their coming and going, as I ride the swells of sadness and joy, focusing hard on the joy.