Four years. 1,461 days. My baby girl, my first daughter, my Nelle Claudia Dej was born. She was given a name we had already picked out. When we brought home her ashes, it was to a nursery that we had already started to furnish.
In Year One, I wrestled with my grief almost every day. Triggers were everywhere and rampant. Her birthday was a reminder of how desperately I wanted a baby, had carried two babies, and still had no baby at home. A reminder of the nights I spent crying in the bathroom tub, choking and hurting, because I missed her so much. In Year Two, I had my rainbow baby, just shy of one month old, and was still so profoundly sad. In Year Three, we went to visit the tree, the first time taking Autumn. I had so much anticipatory emotions, but instead of being able to enjoy the peace of the moment, we were attacked by bees.
And now Year Four.
We drove again to Wisconsin for the Labor Day weekend, planning a visit to the tree. The arrival of Labor Day always brings back the memories of Nelle’s birth, even not being the actual day, because it was Labor Day weekend that year that she was born. My aunt promised that they had sprayed for bees near the base of the tree.
We walked up the steep incline behind my aunt and uncle’s house. Autumn was in the Ergo, my baby carrier that I have promised to give to another friend but made its final voyage with us since it would have been impossible for Autumn to walk.
This year, we were able to sit. Hold each other. Take pictures. It felt like a “whole family” photo, with the five of us living and the tree of our other two daughters spread to the sky behind us.
After spending some time there, we walked uphill a bit to a large open field. My aunt had brought kites for the two big kids. They had never flown kites before, but I have some muscle memory related to flying kites as a child in my front yard, just down the road from where my aunt lives. The kids had to run downhill to gather enough steam for the kite to catch and soar into the air. I was certain that they would complain after a few rounds of running up and down the large hill, but they were indefatigable.
The kites happened to be colorful birds. Everything around us was so green – the grass, the thick trees of the woods. As my kids ran downhill each time, I could see only their tiny shapes dotted against the green, with the bright red and blue birds flying above them. Birds always make me think of Nelle and Iris, so it was like watching the two of them soaring near the tree where they rest.
Back home, September 3rd hit me hard – the day that we found out that she had died four years ago. Somehow that day seemed harder than her actual birthday on the 4th. This year, it was the Tuesday after Labor Day and my big kids didn’t have school – a teacher in-service, making for a four-day weekend. They are old enough to entertain themselves while I work, but I was melancholy.
We had been talking about getting another cat for months. Our current cat, Libby, is 12 years old. I knew that if something were to happen to her, the kids would be devastated. Better to introduce another cat now, and have some overlap in pets. Ger doesn’t like cats and his agreement to bringing home another one was with the promise that after we have no more kids at home, there will be no more cats.
September 3rd seemed like an appropriate day to go to a shelter and look at cats. I could bring the big kids with me, and we would add to our family, whereas this day was previously one where the universe had taken away.
We played with cats at the shelter. Two cats “chose us” – an 8-month old with a lot of spunk, and a more demure 16 month old who curled up on my lap. The 8 month old would not sit still, and I thought that would not be a good fit for our older cat at home. I had come prepared with our cat carrier, so we took the 16 month old tortie home with us.
The debate for her name was long, finally settling on “Midna the Twilight Princess” – a character from The Legend of Zelda. I set her up with a cat cubbie, food, water, and litter in the bathroom so that she could feel safe. She retreated into the cat cubbie, but every time someone would pet her, she would purr loudly.
On Nelle’s birthday, I found that I was wishing Midna were a more established part of our family. That I could snuggle with her and love on her. She was still hiding out in her cat cubbie. Every few hours, I would go to check on her, smile, talk soothingly, and reach in to pet her.
Other people brought me comfort throughout the day: texts, messages, e-cards, ways of knowing that our family was in their thoughts. A woman I met through a gift swap for grieving moms sent me a photo of a yellow bird and told me that she had seen it and it made her think of Nelle and Iris. Yellow is the color that always makes her think of her own son, who died when he was 6.
In the past, we have gone out to dinner as a family for Nelle’s birthday, but I didn’t really want to leave Midna alone for a few hours. Which was silly, since she had basically been alone all day, only visited occasionally by me throughout the workday. Ger and I went out to lunch and on the way home, we stopped by Whole Foods and I bought a red velvet cake. A birthday cake. The kids could not believe their luck when I told them that we were having cake after dinner. I didn’t think to sing “Happy Birthday.”
And in the evening, after everyone had been tucked into bed, Midna ventured out of her cat cubbie. She cautiously walked up to me in the master bedroom. Once she was by my side, she rubbed against my legs, purring loudly. I knew that we had made a good choice and that she will be a wonderful addition to our family.