“Mom, we were counting our family members in school today.” The Kindergarteners have been doing a lot of exercises where they “find numbers” in the world, like counting steps, trees, etc.
“That’s fun. Do any of your classmates come from big families?”
“Yep! I didn’t know exactly how many to count. There’s four of us, but five if you count Rigby. Six if Maddie hadn’t died.”
– – –
In our house, we don’t make a big deal about Madeline. We talk about her when she comes up naturally, which means sometimes we discuss her multiple times a day, and sometimes we’ll go several days without mentioning her.
I, however, say her name every day, even if it’s just to myself. I wonder what she’d be like, who her friends would be, which classroom she’d be in. I think about her without even thinking about it. Missing her has become one of my body’s automatic functions, like breathing.
Protecting myself has become automatic, too. I rarely bring her up with strangers anymore. I know many loss moms never hesitate to mention all of their children when given the chance, but I don’t. Basic questions like, “Oh, do you have other kids?” don’t hurt me the way they used to. I don’t feel like I am denying her when I don’t mention her. Instead, I am saving myself the agony of having to answer additional questions, having to relive it, having to watch a person I don’t know process this complicated answer to their simple question. I know about her, the people who love us know about her, and our future friends will one day know about her, too.
Of course, the people who surround Annabel at school every day aren’t strangers, not anymore. But this is her domain, so I follow her lead. Her drawings are of the four of us and Rigby. She said that one time she mentioned she had an older sister, but her friends were confused. I explained to her why they might be confused, and I reminded her that she only has to say what she is comfortable with – it’s okay to talk about her sister, and it’s okay not to.
– – –
“I told my teacher four or five or six, and I counted everyone for her.”
“…and what did she say?”
“She said all of my answers were right!”