Friday, August 31, 2007

On the doorstep

As I watched Maddie play in the water on the slide the other day, I came to an odd and rather uncomfortable realization. I have spent the past 5 years preparing for her funeral.

I watch her play and more often than I care to admit, a fleeting thought passes through my mind. “How will we describe her at her funeral? We’ll talk about how delighted she was to splash in puddles. We’ll recount some funny stories about her. We’ll say she was a ray of sunshine after the dark. We may even play some of her self-produced videos.”

It’s not that I spend a lot of time worrying about her imminent death. She’s a healthy, robust child who barely ever got sick until this past year at daycare when she was exposed to all the pesky bugs that love to breed in a room full of small children. Yes she has a heart murmur, but the doctors tell us it is very, very slight and nothing to be concerned about.

So then why am I preparing for her funeral? I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Nikki and Julie’s funerals, why Maddie?

The thing is, when you bury one child, death perches on your doorstep and you can never again live in a fantasy world that “it couldn’t happen here”. After we lost our son Matthew, we had a miscarriage. Throughout my pregnancy with Maddie, I waited for the day when the pregnancy would end. It seemed inevitable somehow.

When Maddie was born a healthy beautiful child, I thought “well, I’ll enjoy the time I have with her because it won’t last.” When the doctor discovered a heart murmur, I thought “no big surprise. I knew it wouldn’t last”. When they told us the heart murmur was so slight it was of essentially no concern, I thought “okay, then it will be something else that will take her.” I never said these things out loud, but somewhere in a hidden corner of my mind, I believed them.

I know it’s crazy and irrational, but it’s what the mind does sometimes. I don’t obsess about it, and it hasn’t made me into one of those overly-protective can’t-let-the-child-out of-my-sight parents, but it sticks with me and pops up now and then when I watch her.

I think it is the memory of Mrs. B. standing at her son’s grave that has brought this all back to me now. I wish I could banish death from my doorstep and go back to the fantasy that it could never happen here


Krista said...

Amen and amen. If you're irrational, then I'm there with you. On the other hand, maybe you get to see Maddie with new eyes every day because of the loss of that fantasy...

Linda said...

That Maddie is a special girl. I pray that you will enjoy her for as long as you live.

Liz said...

My mind goes to places like that too. It's a scary place.

Stephanie said...

Such a poignant and honest post. In so many ways I can relate.

karla said...

You know Heather, I can relate to this very much. Sometimes I worry that I am all too protective of Nathan because more often than not, I worry about doing things with him because scary things cross my mind.

Just recently we talked about going on an afternoon summer boat cruise and immediately I had visions of Nate getting thrown overboard and getting cut up in the boat motor.

I can't remember the last time I walked down a flight of stairs with him in my arms without clutching him so tight he probably can barely breathe because I'm scared I'll drop him and he'll break his neck.

I just can't get rid of these morbib thoughts.

But how can you not think about death and dying after burying your own child?

Vicki said...

though provoking post.

you are the kind of person I'd have a sleep over with. I just KNOW IT! The fact that you realized you were thinking and preparing for something like is admirable. People think and do so many things a day and never stop to pause and think why.

I've never buried a child. I've lost people close to me recently and I think of things that people would say at MY funeral.

Karmyn R said...

Be thankful that this is all in your mind and not reality!

She is a gorgeous little gal.

tlawwife said...

I have not done this with the kids but I think along these lines about my husband quite often. I think about pall bearers, music, etc. Don't know why. I sure don't want to lose him and would be totally lost without him.

Anvilcloud said...

Also, she's your youngest and may seem more vulnerable because of that.

Michele said...

sweet maddie.

Hope said...

The same thoughts you have , again, so hauntingly scripted are familar. With the birth of my son so many years later than his sister, many life experiences had taught me that life is fragile.
I still had the youthful feeling of immortality when i raised his sister.

Lucia said...

I want to have a sleepover too!

Sometimes life can be so fragile, it's like holding your breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Thanks for such a transparent, honest post.

Whippersnapper said...

I read this yesterday and keep thinking about it.

Luckily, all of our kids will outlive us and be around to zoom by for a few minutes on Mother's Day and place some dandelions on our tombstones. =>

Janet said...


You are so incredibly honest with your writing...and not afraid to share what scares you. Bless you for that.

And if we could only keep our minds from drifting into such scary places...


Gina said...

Sometimes I find myself getting a bit morbid about things, and I try to shake it loose. It works sometimes and not others.

Anonymous said...

*hugs* I wish there was something to say to this.

Pamela said...

My Aunt (who was 18 years older than my mother and died at the age of 98) had three girls - the younger died at 9 months (influenza probably) and then she had a 4th daughter.
But, she coddled that child so much that she never could be normal. She was just a misfit her entire life because of her mom's constant hovering and fretting. My Aunt could never grieve fully. I remember talking to her about her child's death when she was in her late 80's and she wept as if it was always new to her.

No one can understand who hasn't lost a child. Those of us who don't understand... don't want to.

You have to deal with it the way you can ..........

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