Today, she would’ve been 36 years old. I remember standing outside the hospital nursery, searching for my niece. Through the glass I could see her tiny red cheeks and black hair. So small, so precious, and yet, so daunting.
I was twelve years old when she was born and I could only imagine her life filled with birthday cakes and birthday parties. I couldn’t wait to hold her, to touch her toes, feel her finger wrapped around mine. My life was changed. I never imagined my life without her.
She has been gone since Christmas Eve 2007. It sounds cliché to those who have never lost someone they love, especially a child, but there is not a day I don’t think about her. Some days, I can smell her, feel her. And, on her birthday I close my eyes and imagine her tiny hand in mine, growing from that of a scratchy-nailed toddler to the long, slender touch of a young woman.
On this day, my heart is heavy with grief, but it is not the weight of my own grief, it is the weight of a family’s grief. At times, the heaviness is so much I have to sit down for fear of toppling over. But, it is at those times I feel her taking the weight, holding it in her hands. I imagine her moving through a crowd of people, possibly downtown Chicago. She is just out of reach, but I watch the jostling of her worn backpack, her fuchsia-streaked hair. She turns, smiles and lifts her hands to the sky and our grief explodes like fireworks over Navy Pier, warming our faces.
We move forward without her, because she is there to help us, encourage us, remind us, shield us from our pain. Happy Birthday, sweet Andrea.
To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated,
But to the happy, I am at peace,
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea – remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty – remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity – remember me.
Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,
the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.
Margaret Mead, American writer and poet (1901 – 1978)