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Healing your body after the death of a beloved

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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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For My Daughter As She Leaves

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings. Hodding Carter Jr.

From the time she was little, Molly wanted to keep up with her older brother. Although she didn’t walk unaided until close to twelve months, right on schedule according to the baby book, she pulled herself up and started cruising at nine months. She wanted to see more of what was happening around her and to keep an eye on that big brother of hers who was constantly on the move.

Although they were four and a half years apart in age, Molly wanted to be part of what Jimmy was doing whenever she could. From the time she could walk, her attention and forward motion were directed at him. By third grade, she was sneaking into his room to swipe a pair of basketball shorts to wear to school. She knew how to push his buttons, drive him crazy and get him into trouble with mom, but she loved him dearly and soaked up his attention whenever they played together.

When Jimmy left for college, and we turned our attention to Molly, she announced with some irritation, “I never wanted to be an only child.” During breaks and over the summer, she would tell Jimmy how hard it was to be the sole focus, that she missed his calm, easygoing presence and the buffer he provided.

When a child dies, I think there’s a special connection that gets forged, if you’re lucky, between the parents and the living child. It’s a hard balance to strike — appreciating the time you have together while refraining from overstepping and manufacturing her safety because you know one of life’s horrible secrets … that children don’t always live. Maybe it’s more like a dance, and sometimes you misstep or move too fast, and your child will push back or pull away. She’s finding her voice, making her way, learning to live without her beloved sibling, the life long traveler that was supposed to be with her as their parents aged and eventually died.

Yet when she leaves college and ventures out into the world, she’ll take us with her. Whether she heeds them or not, it’s our voices she’ll hear in her head or perhaps on the phone, if she decides to call. She knows that we believe in her, and that as much as we want to cling tightly to her, we want even more for her to be free.

For Mother’s Day this year, Molly gave me a card that said in part, “You will always be Jimmy’s mother.” I will always be hers, too. The invisible thread that connects us is knotted and strong. We’ve walked through the fire together, each in our way and on our own path. We’re direct and honest and straight up with each other, and like Jimmy, we know what grace and courage and real relationships look like.

My great grandmother used to take great delight in my mom or her sister leaving a sock or some small item at her house after a visit because, she said, “It means you’ll be back.” Given that I have trouble clearing a pathway from the door of her room to the bathroom, Molly will be back, too. Not to live but to visit. To burrow into the room she grew up in in the house where Jimmy drew his last breath. To be with the people who love her fiercely and know her well. The ones who encouraged her to leave and are so very grateful when she returns.

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