On Birth and Death and When They're Connected


At my dad’s wake my aunt shared a story of my father from his toddlerhood.  As a small child, she said, my dad would play quietly in his crib in the early hours of morning as he awaited his release into the day.  My aunt said my father could be heard at this time saying to himself, “what should I be happy about today?”

It is a fitting story of my dad.  He was always pretty happy.  And it always seemed to bother him when we weren’t happy.  It drove me nuts in my teenage angsty years, the way my dad would implore me to “be happy” when my latest crush/friend/school/rejection drama left me feeling anything but.  My dad though, was pretty much always happy.  I think sixty some odd years after he asked himself that question in his crib he was still finding ways to wonder what he could be happy about each day.

I think of this story almost every time I put Louisa down for a nap or to bed.  I wonder if she will be like my dad in this way?  If some morning I will hear her pondering what to be happy about that day.

Because I was very newly pregnant when my dad died I think we all hoped Lou would fill the void he left.  My mom and I were both convinced she was going to be a boy, I think in hopes that somehow he would be reincarnated in her.  On her journey earthside my dad must have kissed her in someway, her red hair bearing witness to him.  But is that all?  Will I see other similarities?

When she was first born I worried about her.  I worried that because she grew so close to such a broken heart for so many months she would enter the world broken-hearted, filled with an inherited sadness.  And when I lay her down on her polka dotted bedding, thinking of the story of my dad in his own crib, I still worry.

I worry she will know how hard it was to grow her.  How I despaired comments about my growing belly and reminders of the passing weeks of pregnancy.  Her growth was a physical sign that we were all moving away from my dad, moving away from a life that included him.  Her entrance into the world would be a reminder of his absence.

I worry she will bear the weight of his legacy.  That we will all try to convince ourselves she is like him because she came when he left.  And she will wear that legacy like a heavy, ill-fitting coat.  Unhappy about playing the role of someone she never even knew.

Louisa’s life feels so connected to my father’s death.  It was such a strange, hard season, growing new life, while viscerally mourning the end of one.  Everything was upside down, topsy turvy and impossibly hard.

I wonder what it will feel like when I look back on this season five, ten, twenty years down the road.  Will time have a way of softening reality?  Will my fears about the effect of my grief on her come to fruition?  Will my memories of her first months be so tempered by mourning?  Or will I look back and only remember what was happy and light?

Probably yes to all.  Or something completely different.  I haven’t lived through enough hardship to know what time does to these things.

I hope I see glimpses of my dad in Red in the same way I hope to see it in Ryann and Liam.  Not because they replace him but because he was incredible and his characteristics worth inheriting.    And I pray that time will separate these two events, his death and her birth, so that some day they won’t seem quite so entwined.  So that some day they will stand alone with only the happier threads connecting them.