Two days ago I made the mistake of mentioning to Annabel that the next day was my grandmother’s birthday. Mistake because when you say the words “birthday tomorrow” to Annabel, you have to be prepared to deliver on the cake and celebration. Annie started asking when we were going to buy her a present, what kind of cake she was going to have, when were we going to her house. My gramma passed away eleven years ago, so there was no house to go to – at least, not the way Annabel meant. I told Annabel that, like Maddie, my gramma lives in our hearts. She accepted this and I hoped that she’d forget about it, but of course she didn’t because she’s three, and three-year-olds never, ever forget anything.
Yesterday, the first thing she said to me when she got out of bed was, “It’s your gramma’s birthday today!” I told her that we would bake cookies to celebrate, since one of my grandmother’s greatest pleasures was making food for her loved ones. Plus, then we’d have cookies to eat. Annie was excited about this idea, and so we got to baking.
After the cookies were in the oven, Annie said, “When the cookies are done, we will take them to my Great-Gramma’s house, and we will sing her happy birthday.” I reminded her that we couldn’t go to my gramma’s house, but that we could sing her happy birthday anywhere. “But why, Mama? Why can’t we go to her house?” So I finally said, “Because…she’s dead.” The word “dead” is not one I particularly enjoy saying (unless I’m referring to a dead spider), and it’s not one I like to use around Annabel. As I’ve mentioned before, we follow Annie’s lead when it comes to her sister – we don’t saturate her with information, just what she asks for.
“Why is she dead, Mama?” I tried to keep it simple, telling her about old age instead of cancer. She looked at me and then she said, “Reilly says my sister Maddie died.” “Yes, she did. Do you know what that means?” She took a sip of milk, then said, “It means that she can’t play with me. ”
Waiting for the cookies to finish baking didn’t hold her interest, so Annie went to play with her dolls while I tended to the food. I rocked James while I watched Annie happily play, and for just a minute I let myself imagine what it would be like if Madeline was here to play with her siblings, and my grandma was here to help me bake.