By early evening last night, it was quiet in the house. The guests had gone home. The kids were sleeping. The kitchen still needed to be cleaned. The activity of the day had subsided, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
We celebrated Autumn’s first birthday yesterday, surrounded by people we love. People who have been there for us for the past 35 months, without question and without condition.
As per usual, I planned more than I could handle and was scrambling at the end. A busy Friday left me with little prepared in advance and even the most detailed of lists could not get me though everything I wanted to do for Autumn, even with the help of my sister and her husband. I had little time to focus on the significance of the day: that my youngest baby will be turning a year old. No longer a baby, but moving into that “toddler” category.
My preparation speed increased as everyone else slowed. The kids and Ger were napping, and my sister and her husband headed back to their hotel for a quick break. I was alone in the kitchen, working on a puree for a chocolate mousse I was making. I fel the edge. The anticipation of wanting so much for the day to be perfect for her, and knowing that any type of “perfection” we envisioned for our lives vanished the day that Nelle died.
In the years since, I still haven’t managed to teach myself that I cannot control everything. I cannot control how other people respond to the way we continue to live with our losses, and haven’t managed to change my expectations. I cannot control the external forces of Life and sometimes terrible things happen. And I cannot control every detail of Autumn’s birthday: I can only do the best that I can, with the time and energy that I have. Nor can I control the thoughts that flood my brain as the food processor spins: I can only try to manage the response.
Alone in the kitchen, in a sleeping house, I had a glass of wine to take the edge off of the afternoon. The anticipation that I would feel sad was perhaps more heightened than the reality. I was so busy in my preparations that I did not have time for any mixed emotions to sink in.
Everyone came and went. We sang happy birthday to Autumn while she plunged her fists into a cupcake. She cried when the cupcake was gone. And she later explored the thoughtful gifts she had received, while also favoring the wrapping paper they came in.
I had decorated the house with bright flowers and butterflies, including butterflies lining the walkway leading up to the house. I had intended to tell all of the guests that they could take a butterfly home as they left, but I forgot and then was mad at myself that I forgot. Managing expectations again. The butterflies are still outside.
Then the bath. How many baths have I taken in the past 35 months, as a way to calm myself, or just cry into the water? Soaps, oils, scrubs became my self care – a way to soothe my weary skin. Softening in the water, and then applying an antidote to sadness in the form of a little luxury. My form of self-care.
A recent online order had arrived with small sample packets of the company’s other products, so I glanced through my options. A lavender body scrub sounded relaxing. Then I found one named “Iris Extract.” A light, thin essence to massage into my face. Of course that was the one I chose.
I can see it most in my eyes. As I looked through photos from the party yesterday, I can see the way that I look at Autumn, but I can see something else there. Loss is ever-present around my eyes. The physical reminders are not only in the pregnancy weight I still carry, or the tattoos that permanently altered my body, but my eyes. I look tired and older, in a way that no amount of the creams in my self-care can ever erase. Light mixes with dull.