But I will try. Not for me. Or, you. For her.
My next door neighbors, a lovely couple in their mid-30's, had a little girl this summer. She was born on the Fourth of July. But I haven't been able to go visit. Or even think about it. Nor have I been able to welcome the new life into the world properly. But tonight I bravely walked into a children's clothier and, amongst the living babies and mothers, picked out a gift for the new soul, as well as her older sister. Matching dresses with matching cardigans and a number of accessories dressed in matching gift boxes with navy blue ribbon. I spent far too much money, but I was compensating for my own loss: #Emma
Her name came from her father. But I realized it was an acronym, too: "Everything (in) My Mind Awaits." Ten months before she was even conceived, I saw her. We did. It was part of what drew us together. Her father and I. We are both gifted that way, even though I rarely speak about it publicly. How can I? I'm an academic. A scientist, even. How do I describe what I cannot quantify? So I just treat it like breathing. No big deal. But it is a big deal. Because we saw her. We were both right, too. About Emma being Emma. Despite our gifts, we did not see how things would end. The tragedy that would befall our partnership. And by extension, our daughter.
That was nine months ago. Much has happened in that time. And yet, nothing has happened at all.
The front bedroom in my house in Atlanta, the one with the cathedral window and the tree outside of it, was going to be Emma's room. She could see the stars at night, the blue skies during the day. I had looked at baby furniture a month or so before I lost her. Wandering through the outrageously beautiful textiles, sophisticated patterns, painted finishes, and hand-carved furnishings made me feel total awe. And, total excitement. I didn't yet know for sure I was pregnant. But I had hope. And more importantly, I had faith.
Perhaps one other person on the planet knows that my faith was so great in this effort, that months before I could even begin to try, I went to the store, and bought a dress. Not for me. For Emma. It was a symbol. Of faith. I hung it in my closet. I'd look at it every day. Like a prayer, I'd visualize my little girl wearing that dress. Hear her sounds. See her movements. Smell her baby smell. And I felt the most incredible joy. I had denied myself that wish my entire adult life. But now, I was going to live. As bravely as my friend Jim had died. Jim inspired Emma in the first place. So it seemed apropos.
Jim passed suddenly, tragically, in 2013. When he did, I realized it was my responsibility to live my life as fully as possible. Not for Jim. For me. As a self-aware, educated individual living in America, I was actually obligated to do so. Funny how people judge you when you act with courage; I believe that judgment is derived out of jealousy. No one walks in your shoes. No one will die with you either. But everyone wishes to dictate not only the limits of your life, but how you behave within those socially-imposed limits. These people are usually healthy and young. Or, unhealthy and old. Either way, their misery loves company. Fools all. Because the closer one gets to acute mortality, the more compassion one has for others. Judgment of another person is a waste of precious time when you have your own life to live. And, live well.
Two nights ago, I watched a beautiful film called Mr. Holmes. Part of the plot involved a case with a woman who lost two babies while pregnant. One at three months. The other at four. She had head stones made with the names of her two lost children. Along with a third. For her. In the end, unable to share her pain with her husband, she stepped in front of a moving train.
A month after I lost my daughter, I bought a plot in a cemetery near Atlanta. I put down money on a double plaque. One side had my name; the other read "Emma Lily Rose." There was no body. But there had been. She was a fully-formed human when she died. Completely complete. I was very sick before she died. And, after. I hoped I'd join her. Sooner rather than later.
I felt so alone. Still do. The physically empty feeling has gone away, though it took months to not feel her phantom heart beating, or the "popping" of her movements. Had she survived, she would have surely been an early walker like my son. Like me. Sometimes I'd wake up with my hand on my stomach looking for her, tears down my cheeks, though I wasn't aware I could cry in my sleep.
No one acknowledged Emma. Or, me. I ended up not going forward with the plaque. Mainly because I had to give up my job and leave my home. Emma's father had disappeared weeks before she died, but not completely. He stalked me for seven months thereafter; it only stopped because I moved. I'm not entirely sure why and often felt he was checking on me--if not in a very odd way. The shame and guilt he must have felt when he learned what happened, combined with male pride, had to be at least part of the reason. But the reality of his actions were not reassuring. He had not contacted me directly so I had no way of knowing what his actual intentions were; according to Department of Justice statistics, stalking ends one of two ways--either the victim leaves her life behind and starts fresh somewhere far away, or, she is killed. More than 80% are. And the activity was escalating; I had to make what was an incredibly difficult decision. Not only had I lost my daughter, but I was now losing my independence. Something I worked my whole life to achieve. None of it was easy. None of it was my choice either. However, there was something that mattered even more than my ego or pride.
You see, I believe survival is more important than anything else. It's what Emma would have wanted. And although she is not physically here with me, I am still her mother. I still hold myself to that standard in my behavior. And nothing less. What would I wish her to do if she were in my position, as many women are? In fact, three out of every four women will have a stalker in their lifetime.
Would I tell my daughter she deserved it? To be stalked? Brought it on herself??? Or would I help her understand that one cannot be an extraordinary person and expect to live an ordinary life. That, her survival was of the utmost importance. Because she would make the world better. And, as any good parent understands, you cannot expect more from your child than you do from yourself.
Emma was destined to be healer. Maybe her short life had the power to do just that. Only time will tell....
I'll still cry about her loss. Grief is an individual process. There is no deadline. It's the same for love. You will always feel it; it just gets easier to live with the pain. The difference is that losing my daughter is permanent; I cannot change it. The loss of love is often a choice. And with each new day, a new choice can be made.