I sat on the couch tonight with three babies in my lap. One asleep and the two older ones jockeying for position. The house is lit up in a weird festive display of taco lights as we prepare to celebrate Baby K's second birthday. The glow and warmth they provide are everything Christmas is made of and I almost forget what they are until I catch a glimpse of the pile of plastic cheese out of the corner of my eye. There we sat in our Mexican glow, Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving Special entrancing the kids, the whole house filling up with the smell of apple and peach pies, constantly reminding of the holiday that awaits us tomorrow. But I didn't cry.
I thought back to the Thanksgiving four years ago. The tall, articulate five year old now sprawled across my lap was just barely one. Today, just like that day, she sported fine curls and new Christmas pjs. Her eyes followed Charlie Brown and her shoulders swayed to the characters' songs. I can see that whole night so clearly in my head. That last night of normalcy. That last night before heartbreak. I remembered every conversation, smell, and taste from that night and my thoughts skipped ahead to the next day. But I didn't cry.
Friends have reached out this week with kind words and thinking of yous, their love never ending. My heart swelled with their generosity but my hands didn't shake. I heard Joe Biden speak on grief and nodded my head in agreement at the truth in his words. I didn't internally argue back that he doesn't know my grief. I showed B the slideshow from Momma's funeral again, pausing to explain whose baby picture is whose, laughing when she talked about Uncle Albert's head being lopsided and agreeing that Papa is so much better without the mustache. But I didn't cry.
In fact, I don't think I have cried at all this week. There has been no holding my breath or marveling at the fact that I am now the master of ceremonies. It has all seemed rather status quo, full of turkey crafts and pumpkin baking and kids hyped up and off schedule. There has been the usual longing - when I stare at her grandbabies that she will never meet. When I tell the car to call an old friend and instead her name pops up as the option. When I see my friends excited to head home to full houses for the holidays. The longing persists. But there are no tears.
Maybe it is the time passing. Or the insurmountable to do list of having three leaving room for little else. Geez, maybe it is the post baby Zoloft mellowing me out. It feels, though, like a corner turned. That the sheer weight of grief has lifted and no longer are my shoulders slumped in sadness.
The grief that has defined me for four years seems to be taking second place to other aspects of my life. To motherhood and marriage. To a desire to return to the girl I was. The one who laughed easily and enjoyed life to it's fullest. And so I don't cry.
I don't feel like I wear my grief on my chest anymore. It no longer enters a room before I do, announcing the sad little motherless daughter in it's wake. It still exists, of course, omnipresent in every moment, announcing itself in subtle ways and when I least expect it. Suddenly, though, it doesn't feel like it defines me.
Or, maybe I don't want it to define me anymore. Maybe I am ready to let it go. Not let her go, of course. No, she is intertwined in my every memory, feeling like every bit a part of me as my own children do. But maybe I am just ready to let the active, gnashing of the teeth, desperate grief go.
I know what came of this Thanksgiving four years ago. I have relived it over and over and thought if only that one day didn't happen. But it did, and from it sprung unexpected and crippling heartache and a loss that will never be filled. Those things have been so clear to me since the day we said good bye.
Now, though, I also know that a stronger family arose from those ashes. That my idea of motherhood was altered permanently and for the better, giving me more patience and love for the chaos around me. My faith grew as I watched my sweet daddy repeat "God is good. No matter what." next to his sweetheart's deathbed and every day for the four years following. Old friendships were renewed and new ones strengthened as those around me sustained us during the longest nights.
And so I don't cry. Not every day anymore. Though I think of her every hour and see her in almost everything I do, I don't cry. I head into Thanksgiving with a heart brimming over with love for the years I had her. I say thanks, too, for the four years since, that have shaped me probably more than any in my entire life. And I smile.