I had a post topic in mind – something about confidence and its importance to our kids – but I couldn’t write it. In preparing to write tonight I re-read a post I’d written on the subject years ago, and it knocked me for such a loop that by the time I finished my hands were shaking. This extreme reaction wasn’t because of anything insightful or deep I’d written, but because of who I’d written the post about: My Maddie.
It’s always very emotional to look through photos and videos of Maddie, but in many ways the hardest thing to do is is to read old posts written about her. Doing that makes everything I felt and thought back then race to the front of my mind. For a moment I’m right back there, feeling the profound love and happiness we had in our little family centered around Maddie, but then the post is over and reality sets in.
It’s funny/sad… I used to find movies where characters repress the memory of their past after experiencing a terrible tragedy incredibly cheesy. Trauma induced amnesia always struck me as an over-the-top Hollywood plot twist, but after losing Maddie I realized it wasn’t so far fetched after all. For me, the only way I’ve been able to keep moving forward and not lose myself in my grief has been to compartmentalize my life with Maddie; to force myself to not think about it. If I spent too much time thinking about it I wouldn’t be able to be present for Annie, to smile with friends, or to do my job. It’s just too painful. And I can see how someone could go over the edge and push their trauma so far away that they trick themselves into believing their past didn’t happen.
The world encourages you to forget too. Most of the time, when strangers see me with Annie, they assume she’s my first. Some even presume to call me a “new dad,” and tell me about what it will be like when Annie is older. A couple of times these strangers giving unsolicited parenting advice were men whose children were younger than Maddie would have been if she were here. It’s frustrating. I could have called them out and said, “Actually, Ive been a dad longer than you. My first daughter died.” But that just would have been cruel. So I grin and bear it in those moments, and know that I’m not a new Dad because an amazing little girl made me a Dad almost five years ago.
The Hollywood movies I mentioned before always end with the characters remembering their tragic past and breaking down crying. Melodramatic though these scenes may be, they strike me as the most authentic to my experiences. One can try to forget their past, but they can never truly forget something as important to them as Maddie is to me. And the breaking down crying part? That is very true as well. I’ve cried more than I ever imagined possible in the last three years, and know that I’ve got many, many more tears to cry.
My past did happen, and though I do what I must to persevere, I also honor Maddie and our life together by remembering. I just do it when the time is right, usually late at night, when I look at her photos, watch her videos, and say “I love you” to the sky.