It poured here yesterday. Just warm enough that it was rain, not sleet or ice or snow, but a frigid rain. We took a neighbor with us to the movies, and otherwise hunkered down inside.
But when we left the house around 6:15, the rain had stopped, the clouds were breaking, and the temperature had gone up a few degrees. We were all bundled in layers, Bella even sporting her new snow pants, and hoping Children's would set us up outside under the sky. Bella even swore she could see a few stars peaking through the gray cover.
It was not to be. Faced with a day of deluge, I'm sure Children's expected the worst, and prepared to put all of us -- 1,300 there to represent 345 children -- inside. They nicely set up three viewing areas to spread the crowd out, but somehow the evening loses something when you're inside peeling off layers and trying not to spill your hot chocolate on the rug and Bella is helping you with your glowstick. No live candles inside, save for the one the person running the ceremony lit on her dais, and promised to keep lit for at least the full hour.
Grief has nowhere to go inside, but up into the ceiling, where it forms a cloud and simply rains right back down.
I saw a few moms I recognized from my old support group, and watched for their children in the program. As always, there were the children that for some reason dropped on your conscious: for my husband, it was the small child who died on his birthday this past year; for me, it was a boy born mere weeks after Maddy who died this summer. That cleaved me in two for some reason -- made me mutter, Son of a Bitch under my breath. He was a blond boy with wide, deep brown eyes -- the kinda boy that a few years ago would've made my ovaries hurt just to look at. To think he escaped our vortex of death and destruction only to be felled two years later by god knows what. You're on my mind today, sweet Joseph.
Bella watched with rapt interest, and when the screen was blocked from view, she settled down on the floor with the book to follow the names and pictures in there as they were read. I was amazed at her ability to see straight through wires and IV's and bald heads and central lines, and coo, "Oh how cute, look at her Santa hat!" or "Aww, she had a dog, too mom." She took in the surroundings of Children's -- their Holiday decorations, lights of all sorts (mostly not holiday, I'm guessing), and even gamely tried to sound out the names of some of the buildings. This comforted me. I remember driving by Children's in Phoenix growing up and shuddering. I viewed it as a leper colony, a place where monsters lived, and children were sent to die. It was the place of nightmares. I don't want her to view our Children's as that place. I wish I didn't.
I recognized the boy in the program who died a day after Maddy and I believe had the bed right across from hers. I believe I found the baby born right after Holly's Ruby, who died a month or so later. I found a toddler who died the day before Maddy, and her parent's missive in the book began with "Saturday." I knew it was a Saturday. I will always know every numerical day and the day of week it corresponds to in that week for as long as I live.
Walking out I reached in my pocket for my ziplock baggie of names, and . . . it wasn't there. I panicked, thinking someone inside had probably just reached down and found an unusual souvenir on the floor when I checked another pocket and there they were. I had placed them in an interior pocket earlier in the day so I wouldn't forget them, and so they would stay dry. The pocket right next to my heart. They're all home, in a bowl, with a candle. The stack is incredibly big now, and I don't have the heart to count how many names. But they're there, keeping Maddy company. Keeping me company.
I noticed this year that the short entries in the accompanying book came from people three years out. Interesting. They increased in length after that again. I'm wondering why that is. This year we just couldn't seem to come up with anything to say that we hadn't already, that matched what we still felt three ceremonies in. I have a feeling regardless of what happens next year, Maddy's memory will come flooding back to play a central role and we'll have more words to put down on paper by next December.
It's been almost three years now, although often it feels as though you were just here. We think of you daily, we miss you mightily, and we remember you always. You're still the most delicate yet strong human we've ever encountered.
Mom, Dad, and Bella