For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a memorial video for my Aunt Kathy. I’ve looked at hundreds of pictures of her, from birth through this last April, when she Marched for Maddie with us. I carefully picked songs and had basically finished the video, but I felt like something was missing.
I took a break and started going through old emails Aunt Kathy had sent me. My aunt and uncle loved to travel, and they often used her breaks from teaching to explore the world. After Maddie passed, she emailed me this:
Dearest One, Today I wanted to tell you something about myself that nobody else in the world knows. Whenever I take a trip and find a place I really love, a place where I know I could live, I think about the people I love who aren’t here anymore and imagine them in that place. At first, I’m sad because my loved one won’t ever be able to see my favorite place, but then I imagine what they might say or how they would react.
When I was in New Zealand, Maddie was always with me. I know she would have loved seeing the sheep that dotted the hillsides everywhere, and she would certainly have laughed when a New Zealand parrot came up to your uncle. One of my favorite places was the botanical gardens in Christchurch, and as I walked alone along this river, I could see Maddie walking beside me, maybe stopping to pick up a leaf or hurrying towards the river to see the ducks with their ducklings. She didn’t say much as we walked, but I knew she liked this place as much as I did.
Attached was this picture:
I took the top paragraph and worked it into the video amongst the many pictures she’d sent me from her travels. It was just what the video needed.
Yesterday was a crisp day. It rained overnight and then cleared, so the air was clean and the colors outdoors were beautiful. I took Annabel to an overlook near the beach, a place I’d been to with Madeline.
We sat on the grass for a bit, and got to know our surroundings:
And then, when that proved boring, we moved closer to the ocean:
I scooped her up and brought her to the edge, and let her gaze down on the massive sea, like her sister had two years before:
While Annie called to the seagulls and laughed at the wind, I held her tight and remembered being in the same spot with Maddie. Then I imagined my Aunt Kathy there with us. We’d have laughed at Annie’s crazy noises, and I’d have told her how much Maddie had liked the birds.
I know she would have liked this place as much I as do.
Kate @ UpsideBackwards says:
Oh Heather, how very beautiful!
And I’m so glad that it was New Zealand your aunt saw Maddie in I’m honoured. I hope you can bring Annie here one day too – and let me know when you’re coming!
I too love that Kathy came to New Zealand and saw Maddie here. The Avon River (in the photo) is gorgeous!
Loving the blue blue sky in Annie’s photos
Laura Lohr | My Beautiful Life says:
This post took my breath away.
Annie Y says:
Such a beautiful post Heather.
All of it the email from your aunt, the pictures of your
Daughters your words,
Brought tears to my eyes.
Just beautiful all I can say.
Your Aunt Kathy was obviously a very special woman and a beautiful writer like you. Maddie is truly missed and Annie will know how incredible they both are.
I’ve never experienced what you’re going through but I hope you know we’re here for you, unconditionally.
Today I cried reading your post. Pregnancy hormones probably don’t help. We found out last week that we are expecting our third child. We have also had one miscarriage. Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I was up at 3:30 reading through my journal about my three previous pregnancies. Comparing and contrasting each of them to the current one. I cried as I remembered my pain as I found out my baby’s heart was not beating at that first ultrasound.
Although sometimes I look back on that time and think I was silly for being so broken over a miscarriage… it was still a dream of a future and a child that I loved. I remember how hard those days were and how bitter I was. I can only imagine how you feel having known and loved Maddie for so much longer.
Maddie and Annie are so lucky to have a smart, funny, strong, and loving mommy like you. Thank you for allowing us to be on this journey with you.
Your post left me without words this morning.
I’ve been surrounded by death this week. The parent of a friend and the suicide of a high school friend.
I wish I had family as close as yours is, but your wonderful aunt’s letter reminds me what I can give to my own children, my niece and any siblings that may join them
I’m so sorry you’re going through these things. I lost a friend I had known practically all my life to suicide. It happened this time of year, seven years ago and there’s just so many emotions, especially the why factor, this time of year.
I don’t have family nearby either, husband is in the military, so I know how challenging it can be to say the least.
Wow, what an incredible woman your Aunt Kathy was/is. I am thankful you saved so many letters and emails and you are able to look back at them with love. I know your video will incredible.
Your Aunt Kathy sounded like she always had just the right words to say so that you would remember them forever. What a beautiful, and special lady she was.
Katie in WI says:
Love the pictures of Annie and Maddie.
Move by this post beyond words….
I meant *moved*
just tears. we’re burying my wonderful great uncle today & i hate that i will have to close my eyes and imagine him with us at thanksgiving and christmas, see him playing with my little girl…you’ve inspired me though.
it’s nice to know that your aunt kathy is with maddie every day now..holding her hand..
My sentiment exactly.
Rebecca Percival says:
You are such a beautiful writer. I look forward everyday reading your blog, no matter if its funny or sad or a combo of both. You make me remember the precious little things in life. I have not had a daughter that has passed away but I am a mother who needs to be reminded from time to time of the things you write about. Thank you.
Mary Ann says:
That was beautiful. Your Aunt Kathy sounds like an incredible woman, how lucky you must feel to have had her in your life. That video must be amazing, you are so talented.
Jen L. says:
How beautiful! I love hearing about your Aunt Kathy.
I am so glad your aunt took the time to share this with you. What an extraordinary, kind, caring woman!!
Our sweet family friend, who was the same age as my son, passed away 2.5 years ago at the age of 4. I often imagine her alongside my son, marking the milestones with him. It is not enough, though. I wish she and your Maddie were still here with us, sharing the big and little moments.
I do not think it is just the sunlight. Maddie lights upevery picture.
This is so beautifully written, Heather. You should be proud of it. It has the wonderful qualities of happiness and love and melancholy all wrapped up in one.
Another Mama says:
Oh Heather- your aunt was also a beautiful writer! I love the way you interweave your grief, your joy, the current and the past. All of the entries you write will help Annie to know her sister more, and help her to know how much you love her. Thinking of you all often during this week and sending you as much love and strength as we can.
This post is beautiful, simply beautiful.
Love and hugs.
I’m sure Kathy would have loved it as much as you, Maddie and Annie did. I’m glad you got to go there with both of your girls. I know, I wish it was at the same tine too…
Holding you close to my thoughts, and heart during this devastating time.
Always with you…
Beautiful, moving post. Thank you for sharing with us.
Such a sweet post, Heather. Your family has been blessed with some very beautiful women, inside and out.
Heather, this is the most beautiful thing i have read in a very long time. You must get your gift for writing from your Aunt Kathy. What a special treasure you share…Thinking of you.
Four Gambel Girls and a guy - documenting the adventures we call life says:
Your Aunt Kathy was so special…..what an uplifitng post about a difficult subject. Thank you
Thinking of you, Annie and Maddie sharing those special moments together through your pictures, thoughts, dream and those of us who wish those things for you as well.
LOTS of love.
XOXO from GA,
Your aunt Kathy’s letter reminded me on how I view heaven. Similar to the movie “what dreams may come” its the most beautiful, welcoming place that we can imagine. Personalized for each of us, where our loved ones can visit us when they pass. While there I know that I will be sad for those that I miss but I know that I will see them someday again. Its very comforting to know that Maddie and Kathy have each other. It was a beautiful post. Thank you
Heather – what a beautiful post. I’m thinking of you and your family even more this week – and how much Maddie deserved to celebrate her special day – and every day – with you.
What a wonderful, breathtaking post. Your aunt sounds like a wonderful person. I’m glad you got to walk with Annie in the same place you walked with Maddie and that it brought you a bit closer to your girl.
Wow! Beautiful post, Beautiful girls.
I’ll bet Aunt Kathy was holding Maddie and watching you two. Smiling.
I am sure that your Aunt Kathy and Maddie know this as they stand together watching over all of you. This was a beautifully written post Heather.
catherine lucas says:
Heart breaking… How we can miss people that are no longer with us… Wherever they might be now. Sometimes it would indeed be so nice to show them where we are and how we live…
amy d says:
Heather, this is so beautiful. You are such a thoughtful spirit. Touching how you worked your Aunt’s words into the memorial. The pictures of Maddie and Annie are lovely. Please know you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers this week and always.
Momma Lioness Michele says:
Stunning post, Heather. My thoughts are with you and your family during this incredibly difficult week.
Today, after reading, I can’t stop crying for you, with you. I wish I knew your aunt Kathy. I wish I knew your Maddie. And I am so sorry you know this pain.
I wake every morning now and wait to open your blog until I have some time to myself. I read through the archives last night until I couldn’t cry anymore, and until I was giggling more than sobbing at videos of your beautiful little girl.
Your post today, lovely, wistful, and heartbreakingly beautiful, makes me wish I had known your aunt as well as the famous Madeline. They are both beautiful souls, and I like to think of them exploring new places together. I cannot begin to imagine going back to her favorite places and how that must feel. I cannot remotely pretend to understand any of it, and I feel like this helpless person who used to know what to say, and now my words have all been stolen.
You inspire me Heather. Not because of your tragedy, but because you find beauty and grace in the things that so many take for granted. Since finding your blog, I take more pictures, more videos, and I make the most of every single moment I have with the people I love. I celebrate evey single moment of my baby’s life, even the not-so-fabulous teething or sleepless nights. My appreciation for the day to day has taken on a whole new context since finding your blog.
I cry a lot more these days, but I live more, too.
Thank you for sharing your life with us.
Such a beautiful post. Tears.
This post left me speechless, so beautiful. Sending hugs your way…
This post is so beautiful. You are so good at sharing Maddie and Aunt Kathy with the world and keeping their memories alive.
Eric's Mommy says:
That was so beautiful Heather.
This post was beautiful, made me ball like a baby. Thanks for sharing – I hope you also share the video with us!
This is just beautiful; thank you. Made me cry. Your aunt was a remarkable woman.
You guys totally need to take Annie over by the water and let the tide tickle her toes and let her dig holes in the sand. I’m beach deprived and want to live through you guys….please.
What a beautiful woman your aunt was and is! That is seriously the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in living on thru our lost loved ones….I’m glad you are picking up where she left off and taking her with you guys! So proud of you! I’ve been thinking of you since the weekend….knowing the 11th is right around the corner. I think Maddie wants her little sissy to try ice cream and have a small party of purple balloons and bubbles floating around for them to catch as they giggle!
Beautifully written Heather!
Simply breathtaking. I have tears in my eyes. I know both Maddie and your Aunt Kathy were there with you.
Heather that was a beautiful post. I really enjoyed your Aunt’s letter too. Though she and Maddie are both gone, you have some beautiful memories to hold in your heart forever. And thanks to you, Annie will know them both.
Grief has been on my mind these days too. There was a death in our family, not unexpected, but still… it’s a boon when you can take comfort in the simple, beautiful scenery around you. Places can provide more comfort than people sometimes. A tree can stand for a thousand years. And a river, or an ocean, a star–those are lifetimes we cannot really comprehend. It’s wonderful to be part of the fabric of the universe for as long as we have. That’s what I try to focus on–a life of love and joy shouldn’t be overshadowed by its death. It’s clear from this post that you recognize that too. Annie is lucky to have such a strong mother.
This is just beautiful. I wish I could have met your aunt. She reminds me of my own Aunt Jan who we lost three years ago to brain cancer. She was a beautiful woman, inside and out. I wish she could have met my Mea.
Dee Dee says:
What a beautiful view and beautiful girls to accent it! I was thinking of your friend the other day and tried to look up an archieve but I am not as computer savvy as you. If you find the time in your busy baby schedule (next week or two, not this week) will you please post a link to her site? I am referring to your friend who had a stroke and can not think of her name for the life of me…
Love it! Wonderful thoughts, wonderful pictures.
Be well, you will be well.
Angie M. says:
so beautiful Heather. this made me think of my grandma, now i too will imagine a place i love and picture her there. love & hugs
Heather, your eloquence blows me away. Yesterday and today and every day, my heart is with you. What amazing people your Aunt Kathy and your Maddie were. What an absolutely amazing person you are, and how lucky Annie is that she will grow up knowing your stories and memories of her aunt and sister.
Dee Dee: here’s Anissa’s site (I hope you don’t mind, Heather!)
Your aunt was such a beautiful person…. For some reason, her beautiful, sweet words remind me of my own mother – who always knows what to say and can phrase things so beautifully. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing aunt with us, and also your precious Maddie.
Heather D says:
Your beautiful girls and your beautiful words brought me to tears today. Thank you Heather for opening your soul to us. You and your family are constantly in my thoughts and in my heart. I have the utmost respect for the woman that you are.
What an amazing woman your aunt was. Thank you for sharing her beautiful words with us.
Heather, what an amazing lady Aunt Kathy. This post is oh so beautiful. Thanks for sharing Kathy, Maddie and Annie with all of us. What a beautiful way to take the ones we miss and lost with us on our journey of life!
What a beautiful letter she wrote to you. I’m glad her words give you some peace. She was very wise indeed.
Thinking of you all this week. I know it’s an especially hard week. I shall wear purple on Thursday just for Maddie. ?
Heather—what a beautiful and poignant post. Thinking of you guys this week.
Beautiful…brings tears to my eyes…
I have read every single one of your posts but never commented before. I just want you to know that this was absolutely beautiful and Maddie and Annie are very lucky to have you as a Mom. I will be thinking of your family this week, especially Maddie. She has touched my life. Thank you for sharing and continuing to share.
Sigh. Bittersweet. TFS, as always.
Kristi F says:
What a lovely post.
Shirley L says:
No one deserves the sadness you have endured. I hope you find some peace in knowing that your aunt and Maddie are together . . .
My heart constricted in my chest reading this post. And then a tear. And then another one. Shit Heather, you’ve just been through enough. I miss Maddie.
Your aunt sounds just lovely. I know she will be missed.
A beautiful post, brought me to tears. Your aunt was awesome, you were so lucky to have her.
Lucy's mom says:
This was incredibly beautiful and moving.
Long time reader, first time comment!
Heather, that was a beautiful post, your write so well. I think you have an awesome family and appreciate so much you sharing your story. It’s a very brave thing to do, and you should be commended for it. I look forward to continue to follow you and your family on your journey.
Oh, Heather. I just love this entry and I love your blog and your family. You just all exude SO MUCH LOVE. So much love. It’s amazing.
What a great idea your aunt made up: To imagine those who’ve left us, in our favorite places being with us. And what a beautiful thing to do in honor of your aunt: creating a video. <3<3