Is it forever, a flash, a still life or a moving picture? Is she a teenager or is still on the eve of turning seven?
Sylvia left us seven years ago this week. And surprisingly, it hurt like crazy because you think you can get used to the loss or the pattern of what happens mid-August, but it is always different and at some times, surprising. Out of the blue, the day we had to say goodbye was as vivid -- though honestly not as painful (how could it be/I could write a book about that) -- as it was seven years ago. How do you let go -- as if you could somehow stop it; confronting Life or more appropriately, Death, and standing in its path. We are powerless over every part of the process except ourselves. And we chose to live on, because there was no other choice. We had three other children who needed parents who could tell them everything was going to be all right.
Sylvia was a gift -- a fourth child at an age when we were no longer 'young' parents, but she completed the family. She was a firecracker, a soprano, a beautiful blond, a clown, a heart breaker, a compassionate human. She collected hearts, she loved animals, she stole, she loved to cook, she wanted to be a helpful human. She left behind gifts for her friends -- little treasures she had gift wrapped and written their names on, which we dutifully distributed.
How did we survive? We were welcomed into a group of bereaved parents. They had been gathering monthly, some of them for at least several years. I recall thinking that I would never be in this circle after that much time. What did I know? The group sustained us, connected us, reassured us that we were not freaks and taught us that we could help others who joined the club behind us.
We decided to create a legacy for her -- after all, had she lived, she would have made her mark on the world. Now, we would have to do that for her. The Sylvia Center came into being -- dedicated to less fortunate children and improving their lives with her passion for giving. Katchkie Farm came into existence -- and changed everything with its giant imprint and Farmer Bob Walker and the healing power of growing.
And life changed, becoming more about balance and sharing and giving and real values. And about living with a hole in our hearts -- and realizing that everyone carries something; that life is landscape or minefield of blessings and challenges that we traverse.
The hardest things? Answering the question "How many children do you have" -- and learning that the only answer I could give was to say "Nell is 20, Katie is 19 and Sam is 16". Or being able to acknowledge the crazy yet accurate statement "I am blessed". I have heard countless people say "I cannot even imagine going through losing a child" -- and all I can say is "Don't, you don't have to." We don't compare or measure grief or hardships. I often think of the horror of living in places like Somalia or Nazi Germany or dozens of other impossible settings, and I am thankful for my burden. We don't compare and we can't measure adversity and grief.
I am lucky. I get to say her name sometimes dozens of times a day as I engage in the mission of The Sylvia Center. Once in a while, someone asks me 'Who is Sylvia' and I try to deflect their question or change the subject out of consideration for their own feelings, because once I have to explain it, it invariably leads to an awkward moment. And sometimes, they just can't be distracted and I tell them who she is, almost apologizing for what they are about to hear.
I never mind crying -- it isn't a bad thing, its fine. I know it makes others uncomfortable, but it is important to learn the language and the nature of grief and loss -- and to acknowledge that life isn't always perfect. And yet, it can still be good.
Long ago, at an early stage of grief I came to realize the crazy dichotomy that now enveloped my life. The curse and blessing that was my new life. The joy and pain of memory. The struggle between living and wanting to be swallowed up in a giant hole in the ground. The trivial yet unavoidable nature of our daily focus on little issues. The force of will to live in spite of devastating loss. The act of getting out of bed, dressing and putting on matching socks. Blessing and goodness juxtaposed to the pain and heartbreak.
Seven years. I miss her terribly. I wonder what life would have been like had she grown to into her teens -- would I be complaining about her mercurial nature.
I think how she has changed my life -- giving it more meaning than it ever had before. The gifts she has left are not only changing my days, but she touches the lives of thousands of children. I am not the first to say 'I would trade it all in an instant' but I cannot make that deal. I need to count the blessings of each day and make it matter.
The magical thinking stage has passed. She will not change her mind and decide to come home. But I keep her close, as if she has never left.