Tomorrow is a new day. Six years on, but today was a tough one anyway. Miss you, Simone.

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Drawing to an inescapable close are the ten weeks in which Simone lived. Every year these weeks are like a sacred space I go into. This is the actual time in which she lived, shifted a few years on, but still there, ever returning. It’s like going under the hill, or stepping into a circle of toadstools.

I haven’t, perhaps, as many words as usual to say about this sad day. I made it to the end of it, and the space of Simone is turning away again. Tomorrow, I go back to all the other pieces and parts of my life, the ones that never had, never will have, her in them.

Stepping over is easy, inevitable. But it is not without grief.

The great Chilean poet, Neruda, wrote this: “es tan corto el amor y tan largo el olvido”. This is how I feel today, that love is so brief, while forgetfulness lingers long. His words will have to do for me, because I’m foundering in search of any of my own.

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My dear Simone –

You would have been four today. It has been a hard and debilitating winter but all around plants are blooming and birds are singing, coming back to life, expressing breathtaking beauty. It is a rebirth, but not for you. I thought I might not write you this year. I thought I might move on. It is bitterly amusing to me how much of my ‘moving on’ is external only. I hold you tight and close inside of me and think of you often, but I never talk about you. I sometimes think I’m going to say something about you to someone, volunteer your existence to someone who doesn’t know about you, explain that I wasn’t always a person who cries at everything. But despite my image of myself as someone who talks incessantly and unstintingly, I never quite get to the point where I share you aloud. I write about you, of course, I let myself do that, because its possible to let you through on my fingers in a way I can’t seem to with my mouth. Sometimes I think it is wrong to spend so much time hiding you. It is a deliberate moat between myself and others: you do not know me, because you do not know Simone. Then I decide it’s a favor, really. People do not deal well with grief, specially a grief that’s not their own. Who can care whether I mention you but me or you? And you have that great luxury of being past caring now. So it’s just me, then, and I like keeping you in the depths of my heart. I don’t have to share you the way I have to share the living child.

On the few occasions where I’ve had to explain about you, I’ve found myself allowing misapprehensions and misconceptions. If someone fills in the blank themselves I go with whatever they’ve said. “Did she die of SIDS?” I was asked once and I just nodded; it seemed so much easier than clarifying. And in the end, that was the result of the autopsy, though it leaves out everything that counts. Which is a funny thing about facts. They don’t explain much. At the gynecologist, I am asked each year by the nurse whether I have two kids, because I fill the form out and state I’ve had two pregnancies and two full-term deliveries. I always say “No, just one.” and it feels like a lie even though it isn’t. The nurse then mutters to herself and fixes the chart. They assume two deliveries means two kids, why wouldn’t it? But I haven’t the energy to correct them, and what does it matter?

I have days of doubt, but I am mostly at peace with our decision not to have another child after you. I still have issues with my body about its failure to keep you alive, but most days I’m not foolish enough to think another run at pregnancy will change this. I remember more often now that I don’t actually like babies all that much, and I’m less conflicted at the sight of other people’s infants. I rocked a child to sleep a couple of months ago and it was not a fraught or terrifying experience. The coarser aspects of the trauma of losing you continue to recede. After I wrote to you last year and I confessed to my fears about Sophia’s only-childness, a dear friend of mine wrote to me and gently reminded me that she herself is an only child and that it has its rewards and that everything will probably turn out just fine. And she’s right, of course, it will. Sophia still periodically asks for a sibling, but she also periodically asks for thirty pieces of candy in a row, too, and she doesn’t get that, either. I’m less bound up in her request as the signal of a great void in her life. Which is good. She may have a harder time making family connections, but so long as she has other social safety nets and sources of stability, her life will work out just fine.

I grieve for the fading of my memories of you, Simone. It is not as though I can forget you, but the moments I had with you grow indistinct with time. I can still feel the weight of you against me while you nursed, and I can still see the sunshine dappling your face as you screamed while I bathed you, and I can still touch the fine strands of your dark hair…but sometimes I sift through these senses of you and I know there are minutes that are not represented. There are times that have vanished. I want each second to remain vivid. I wish I knew how to preserve every moment but I cannot. I have lost you and I will lose even the sense of you as time goes on. I think I can’t stand this slow erosion, but of course, I can. With sorrow and helplessness, I am losing you a second time.

I sometimes think Sophia has forgotten you. She talks about you as little as I do, but when she does, I can tell that she too holds you inside of herself. For months at a time she makes no mention of you. Then, a couple of weeks ago, she asked me when your birthday is. Then she asked how old you would have been and expressed sadness that you would not have a party.

Many things change, but not the fact that we miss you. If you were here we would have a party. And cake. I will eat no cake today without you.

I love you still,

Your mother

Simone's Memorial

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29 Jun 2007, by


Rest in Peace, Simone my daughter, gone too soon.

And Kurt Vonnegut Jr., gone too recently.

And my grandfather, gone a long time now, but much on my mind of late, with his large hands and direct gaze.

The dead remain dead, and the rest of us keep breathing. Borges thought it was a great relief to have the certainty of one’s own end. He believed in nothing beyond this life, and treasured the inevitable cessation of existence. Safety. Rest. The Null. He has reached it now. It’s not a very Christian idea, but it appeals to me, and I don’t think belief in the hereafter is one of the make or break Christian doctrines. This is probably why I never told the living kid the dead one might be in heaven, resisting the pressure of those who would tack on a happy ending, try to soothe today’s hurt with a promise of a future none of us could know or even, perhaps, understand. Loss is loss, not hidden gain. I cannot stand to make it other than what it is: irrevocable, binding, final.

And yet, I’m still breathing. You’re still breathing. The essence of the numinous is breath.

The living kid has been up to some interesting endeavors lately, more of which can be read about here. She made her own flute, with her own hands, and the guidance of her father (another man of large hands and direct gaze). The sound of her flute, breath pushed through it, is like hearing the wind in the canopies, or in tall grasses of the prairie. The sound is small but strong, and she’s learning to add trills to the wispy notes, invoking birds and flight along with the free wind.

Let’s share a breath together again next year, if we can, and share the memory of our loved ones who breathe no longer.

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My Dear Simone –

You would have been three today. You would be doing all those things you never did: walking, running, talking, singing. Would you be ready for Montessori school? Would you have been a Montessori child, quintessentially so, like Sophia is? I don’t know, sometimes I doubt it. I often think of you and Sophia as opposites: her fair and you dark, her abstracted and intellectual while you embodied the present moment and the physical being, her alive and you dead.

Happy birthday, dear child. It is a beautiful day, with sunshine and breeze and birds singing. If you were here, we would have had cake. I don’t think we’ll be eating any cake without you. Not today. It is a hard day, and a long one, and there are no shortcuts through the minutes of it. And in ten weeks comes that other day, the one in which I usually write to you. Though perhaps I shall not have to this year.

We miss you still.

I haven’t yet moved on the tree I want to plant for you. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I’ve realized something about myself, which is that I’m slow, slow, slow to absorb things and to do things. I have glimmers before I have ideas and I hold ideas for a long time before they become plans and I work plans through and through before I act on them or let them go. All gestations span extensive durations with me.

We had expected you on the journey with us for the foreseeable future, and the suddenness of your departure wouldn’t fit into my mind. I couldn’t explain it, and I still can’t. It is a mystery. However, it does clarify the futility of plans, doesn’t it? No future is foreseeable. And yet, planning is part of who I am. I think about almost everything I do before I do it. Visualization. Focus. These are held to be good things. I’m not so sure that they are, but I’m sure these qualities- whether they be helpful or sabotaging- are a part of my self.

Do you know that at one point in the hospital, before they told us you were dead, they told us you were moving to a pediatric intensive care unit? I wonder about that moment, about how you would have been if you had survived then. You probably would have been brain damaged in some way. Could I have handled that? It’s a place where my life (and yours) might have forked. Is it selfish that I sometimes prefer that potential to this reality? Do you mind that I wish for you at any cost, even the cost of your ability to think and live like the rest of us?

It is probably good that we are not given these choices.

Here is the choice that I am given: I can try, if I like, to have another child. Not for much longer is that choice available to me, but for the time being, it is. I’m afraid of that choice, Simone. I cannot replace you. I do not want to replace you. You and your space within our family are sacred and immutable. What I want, and I’m not sure I can even describe it in a way that will make sense to anyone not me, what I want is a chance to overlay the failure of having you die with the success of having a live baby. I am at war with my body. It was the last safe place for you, and somehow it was not enough. I know it is not my fault that you died. These things happen. But blame or blamelessness do not affect the aspect of failure. I failed to raise you. My body failed to nourish you. I don’t want that failure to be the last word on my physical self.

And I can think of no worse reason to have a baby. Because I was unsuccessful last time around? Because in order to fix my own self-image I need to mother again? WTF?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too scared to have another kid. I am really scared; I won’t lie. The idea of it gives me headaches and stomachaches. What’s more, proving to myself that I can do this even if I’m scared seems like playing a game with stakes that are too high.

I have wanted all the kids I had. I planned for them. I expected them. I focused, I visualized, I foresaw. I failed, half of those times. Can I get up and try again? Should I get up and try again? I have never been more ambivalent about anything in my life.

And if I procrastinate long enough, the question will make itself moot. It will be out of my hands, and I won’t have to think about it. This too, seems like cowardice. In fact, it all seems like cowardice: having a baby to prove I can, not having one out of fear, taking precautions and leaving the whole thing aside until biology takes over.

There’s one more thing, Simone (two more, actually, but one is your father and he is responsible for his own decisions in this regard). I never wanted your sister to be an only child. I want her to have siblings, and I feel like she’s incomplete without them. But that’s what I want. I look at her and I think she needs siblings. But maybe she doesn’t. Maybe that’s just what I think she needs, and maybe I’m wrong. How am I to know, Simone, what’s the right thing to do for her, for me, for my husband, for you? How am I to know?

I carry all this love for you. Mostly, I carry it hidden. Once a year I bring it out, survey it, cry over it, then tuck it away again. But I can never put it down in this life, Simone. It’s meant for you, and since you are not here, I have to bear it still.

Happy birthday, dead daughter,

Your mother

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My Dear Simone –

I suppose I don’t have to write to you only on the day you died. I do sometimes think of things I’d like to tell you at other times, but I’m afraid to sit down too long with memories and thoughts of you, because I know how sad I will be when I do so.

Your sister misses you. She says so in words, and in other ways. Sometimes, she will say to me, “Look, mama, a baby!” and I’ll look around and someone will be carrying an infant. I don’t look long; I check Sophia. In her face I can see the most heart-wrenching mixture of longing and confusion. She doesn’t understand it, still. Nor do I.

Sophia’s one, and only, baby doll is still named Simone, after you. I thought she might change her name, but she has not done so. To her, all babies are you. Sometimes she declares she never wants to have a baby. I assure her she doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to. But her adamancy puzzles me. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t.

Can I say that I still miss you? Is it untoward, unseemly, should I just be “over it” by now?

Sometimes I can almost touch the person I was before you were born and before you died. It’s like a paperfold in time that brings me to another me at ten or fifteen or twenty-two; a me that has no idea what’s in store. I’m always too startled that I’m there to warn myself of what’s ahead.

You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) to discover the number of people who think it’s acceptable to tell me to have more kids. Like it’s ever acceptable to tell anybody how many or how few kids they should try to have, even if they hadn’t already failed at keeping fifty percent of their offspring alive. I’ll admit I feel like saying,”Did you forget that I’ve already tried that?” but I never do. People have their own inexplicable reasons for trying to direct other people’s lives. Besides, I think it’s actually meant for encouragement, though it just makes me despondent.

I wonder if you have any ideas about what I should do with your ashes? They’re still in that temporary box we got from the funeral home. I don’t know whether to put them in something pretty and fragile, whether to throw them away, whether to bury them in the yard. I want to plant a tree for you in the yard, a beautiful weeping willow like the ones I love so much in Cordoba. In University City, there’s a home with a tree in the front yard that has a plaque at its base that says “Anna’s Tree”. My tree, and I didn’t even know it was there. I want to have a large, lovely tree and a plaque that says “Simone’s Tree”. I don’t want to explain it, or put dates on it or anything like that. I just want it to be your tree, growing tall and strong, like you didn’t. If I did that, would you want me to put your ashes there, underneath the plaque?

A while back, Sophia asked me to see a photograph of you, because she couldn’t remember what you looked like any longer. I remember well how you looked, but – and it makes me more sad than I can explain – I don’t recall anymore how you smelled. I remember how the smell of you pleased me. I remember leaning into your warmth and inhaling it, and how it wasn’t like anything else. But the actual sense of you? It’s gone, dissipated, like everything does.

Here’s the thing that I fear, and I can tell you, because it won’t make you afraid also. I fear that because I lost you, sibling to my living daughter, that when she grows up and I and her father have died, she will not have any family in the world. It’s probably a stupid and irrational fear, but I cannot quell it or still it. I see her in the streets of some large city, alone and bereft. No family to call on, to accept her regardless, to give her a place that she can always return to, a refuge. She has no cousins on one side (and is unlikely to) and on the other side her cousins are more than 6000 miles away, remote and unavailable. I guess everyone worries that their kids will need them after they are gone. And obviously I see that I’m idealizing family relationships that often don’t work out to be supportive. Lots of siblings fall out, quit speaking to one another, try to harm each other. Plenty of people get along on a close circle of friends they make their family, instead of the folks they share their surname with. Those rationalizations don’t seem to help. I don’t know why this fear should be so deeply burrowed into me. I don’t know what to do to make it go away.

We are a broken family. We have a fissure to the core, a sinkhole that nothing or no one can ever fill. I thought, once, that time would fill the bottomless pit, but time does not work like that, apparently. Time erodes the sharpness caused by the cataclysm, but does not knit back the seam.

It is who we are without you. I don’t know who we would have been with you, just like I don’t know who you would have grown into with us. It is one of those things I wonder about sometimes, because I’m a wondering sort of person. Yes, I still miss you. It would have been something to hear your words. Next year I will try again to mark your birth instead of your death.

I love you, dear little one, my Simone,

Your Mother

I am surprised at the number of you, friends and relations, who continue to mark this day with me. Thank you. Your kindness moves me, and it is my own difficulty in holding back tears and expressing my gratitude that makes me unable to answer you, each one, as you deserve. You are all a comfort to me.

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Dear Simone –

I had thought to be writing you this letter on your birthday. To write on your birthday would have made it more celebratory. Happier. It was a fine plan, but as it turns out, the major portion of my feelings about you remains sad.

I do remember your birth. I had stored up stories to relay to you about how the doctor turned over and went back to sleep for ten more minutes after I called her and missed it. About the capable, assured hands of the large nurse who delivered you. About how she called you, with a smile, “the bullet baby”. About how I gave birth to you without the epidural, with the anesthesiologist standing right there but unable to do anything because you were coming out already, barging into our lives without waiting for medical procedures. I never thought I would be able to withstand labor without drugs, knowing my low threshold for pain. And yet, you made me do that. The first thing you taught me, dear one, was “you are stronger than you know, mother”. It was a lesson I have more call to remember than I would like.

More vivid, however, is my memory of you – one year ago today – laid out on that adult-sized table in the emergency room. You were dwarfed by the sheet they’d used to cover you. Your lips looked bruised, and there was a small amount of dried blood at the corner of your mouth, where they’d been too rough in their attempts to revive you. When I touched you, you were as cold as you were colorless. I remember how strange it was holding your body, how limp it was. There was math there that didn’t compute. I knew that on a scale you would weigh no differently dead than alive, but it didn’t seem so because you didn’t wriggle or exude warmth or breathe. Can a soul have mass?

Afterwards, outside, the sun blazed down on me like I was in a desert. My head ached, and I was numb all over, and there was a brilliant glare wherever I tried to turn my eyes. It’s too easy to be there again, lost outside a suffocating parking lot, walking away from you and what had been your brief life. I’m still walking, along time, further and further away from you. Sometimes though, like today, the road doubles back again, and I’m feeling the heat like a hand pushing me to the ground and I’m disoriented and I wonder if I ever really get away from that harsh, unflinching light. I just want to make it to the end of today, and maybe tomorrow, it will rain.

In the afternoons, during the days in which I was home with you, it often rained. I would sit in the kitchen and eat some lunch, looking out at the slicked crepe myrtle. Sometimes you would sleep in the infant car seat, but other times I would have to hold you, or balance you along one leg, ankle over knee and you tucked into the crook and supported by the chair. It was kind of hard to eat that way, but I don’t remember minding much. The days would unfold themselves lazy and cool and grey. We had all the time in the world to watch them. I remember wrapping you into the sling, and taking you and Sergei for walks. We often met a woman with a stroller, walking her child or possibly her grandchild around the block. Many were the days after your death that seeing her with her stroller and its growing baby squeezed my insides until I cried.

One day I had miscalculated the darkness of the clouds and the density of the humidity, and it started to rain on us as we walked. You slept through the drops that pattered down on your head, like a baptismal sprinkling. I tried to shield you with my arms but it was kind of a hopeless effort, and I didn’t want to jostle you awake by running. All three of us got pretty damp. It was grey much like that at your funeral, which is mostly a blur, though I remember the rain. Then I went back to work, and the sun came out and shone for so many days in a row that I forgot about rain. About six weeks after you died it rained again. I thought I had mastered my endless bouts of weeping only to find that the weather had brought them back to me. It is so hard to face your absence every day. I do it, because I must, but it is a herculean task and I am not any kind of hero. The pain doesn’t lessen, I don’t think, but it doesn’t control me as much as it used to. I can walk down the baby aisle in the grocery store now. When I see other people’s infants I can make the approved social noises instead of fighting back tears. There are all sorts of people I know and talk to almost daily who have no idea that you ever were. I don’t see it as concealing you so much as protecting you, and me, from the voyeuristic impulses of others. I discovered, at your funeral, that there are a great many things people can say that aren’t terribly helpful while very few things people can say are really meaningful. I told you that the funeral was largely a blur, and I wasn’t lying, but I remember with sharp clarity a co-worker of mine whom I hadn’t even expected to come looking at your photographs and then saying, simply “She was a beautiful baby.” She expressed it so honestly and I am sure for those five words at that moment she gets laurels in heaven, or good karma, or a multitude of blessings, or whatever it is that people get for doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time for their fellow man. Most people are not like she is, and most people can’t help but say things that approximate large doses of salt into my wounds. It is not their fault. Very few are the people who can understand. This is one of the reasons I’m not all that interested in talking about you. Maybe one day it will get easier. When I’m ready to write you a letter on your birthday instead of your deathday, perhaps.

Yesterday someone asked me that question, about having other kids. I think of your dark hair and sweet-smelling skin whenever someone asks me about a bigger family. I did alright, I suppose, and answered, “No, I don’t think so.” It’s hard not to say I’ve already had another and she was taken. Can you imagine the utter standstill that would bring to the conversation? This is another thing you have taught me, Simone. Everyone has a past with hurts in it, so anything you say could be twisting a knife into someone’s pain, no matter how inconsequential what you’re saying seems. I can’t say that knowing this has changed my impulsive and direct manner of speaking, but I understand the lesson, if not how to act on it.

I was so fooled by you, my little bunny. I thought you were strong, much stronger than your elder sister, in fact. So much more active in the womb than she, so much quicker to master holding your head up, such a fierce reflex grip in your tiny hand. I didn’t think there was anything that could take you down, much less out. I could not have been more wrong. Something learned about the damage of expectations, there. I had visualized so many happy moments in our life together as a family. There’d be first words and sibling squabbles and mastering walking and Montessori school and all sorts of wonderful things to come. There’d be life, with its glittering necklace of strung together moments. But there wasn’t, see, at least not for you. And all these things I had not only imagined but pretty much banked on: whoof. Gone. Up in smoke. They’ll never happen now. I suppose this is the sort of life experience that creates people who shelter themselves from investment in others and in themselves. Maybe that’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn here, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I continue to invest and dream and hope, as fully as ever, aware now that this is an extremely dangerous thing to be doing, instead of thinking my faith actually has the power to bring my future to fruition. I know exactly how far it is to fall, and I fear it, but I carry on. Do you think that’s foolish? I do too.

I miss you. The you that was and the you that will never get to be. I still find it hard and hurtful that I have never heard your laughter. Smiles you had started to give, but not laughter. It was something I was anticipating so eagerly. I was ready to relish your joy. I have all this love for you, stored up in my heart, that I cannot deliver to you. It sears me. There is no safe place to leave it. I must carry it until the day I, too, can die.

Have I told you that our new house and our new neighborhood is brimming with rabbits? I think you would enjoy watching them darting across the yard or the street, or sometimes frozen in place and staring intently to divine whether they have been noticed. They remind me of you, with their quick motions and their little white tails that vanish too quickly into the bushes.

Goodbye for now, Simone. Thank you for letting me write to you,

Your Mother


If you are a relative newcomer to my blog and would like to read more about Simone, here is her birth announcement and here is something I wrote when she died. My co-worker was right, she was a beautiful baby.

Thanks to all of you, friends and relations, who have me in their thoughts and prayers today. My need for your support is very great.

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11 Jun 2004, by

First things first : expose rules. Truly, it does. It’s something I’ve always needed in order to use my desktop sanely, and never had. I love it with all my heart.

Simone is sitting next to me, gurgling, cooing, kicking her legs and waving her arms around. Her movements are still fairly random but she enjoys the exercise of moving and seems quite satisfied to be left alone while she tries out her limbs. It’s easier to let her flail now that she’s outgrown the trembly shaking stage that newborns have when they move. Her actions seem vaguely purposeful. She’ll move one arm, then another, then both together. Then she’ll try the same thing with her feet. If I touch a limb lightly, she moves it in response. It’s kind of cool. She is picking up her head pretty consistently as well, and yesterday she started holding it up for between 10 and 20 seconds. She’s a very physical infant. I joke with Kurt that he needs to look to Simone if he wants a hockey player. So far, she’s the athletic one. Of course, she’s a student of Sophia Fu. She’s wearing the official uniform right now:
<%image(20040611-B00005RCSI.01.MZZZZZZZ.jpg|150|144|)%>. It seems that the student is likely to surpass the master. Isn’t that always the way these things work?

Simone is also response smiling pretty consistently now and it’s utterly contagious. She’ll smile when she hears my voice, or sometimes just when I come into her line of sight. It’s such a goofy lopsided grin and it reminds me so much of Kurt. There’s nothing in the world like a baby smiling at you.

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