Great math, five-year-old.
He's too young to understand algebra. He doesn't know that 2 + 1 + k = 4. It's always a strange sort of thing whether it's a kindergartner or a woman in a store who stops me to say, "So you have the three boys?" It's the very worst when a well meaning person says, "Time for your girl now."
There's an awkward pause every time as I struggle to figure out what to say. Usually, I just say, "Yes." Or, in the case of the people who tell me it's time for my girl, I smile and reply, "Well, I'm happy with what God has given me."
Yesterday though, the little boy in kindergarten got a longer pause and, as sometimes happens, I felt the tug not to erase my daughter from the equation. "I have three kids with me and one in heaven." I don't know if I'm allowed to mention heaven in public school but it's as much a part of my reality as breathing so there you have it.
Another boy instantly joined in the conversation. I don't know his story. Maybe he's lost someone close to him, maybe he was just curious, but that little guy wanted to know. "Oh. That is sad," he said. "Your kid went to heaven?"
"Yes," I replied.
"A boy or a girl kid?"
"A girl," I answered.
He lowered his voice and asked, "What was her name?"
And at that, he seemed content to move on.
I've thought a lot about grief in these past 21 months. My heart had never broken like that before and I needed to know that it was the worst grief anyone could ever feel--because I could not imagine anything worse. Except my head knew that it could be worse--that one day, it would be worse. And so I walked a precarious tightrope of emotions, upset with everyone who said they knew how I felt and upset with myself for embracing, so intensely, a grief I have sometimes felt wasn't mine to experience.
She had never really been mine.
Only the dream of her belonged to me. How can the loss of a dream hurt so completely and how can I think, every day, of that little dream and what she would have become?
I struggle to find answers. I continue to peel away the layers of the feelings, to understand more and more as the pain becomes less and less. I mourn the loss of the dream. And I mourn for Kate. For her life, unlived.
The stillborn are handled in one of two ways. They are buried or cremated for the purpose of memorializing them or the hospital disposes of them. We could have stayed in Utah. The baby would have been disposed of according to hospital protocol. We would have grieved our dream and, one day, moved on. That would have been it.
We didn't stay. We went to her. We held her. We gave her a name on a stone and a piece of grass that belongs to her. We made her ours. She was our dream but she was reality. Her unlived life mattered. I think that is why I grieve so tremendously a little girl I never knew. Because if not her mother, then who?
I know that if she had been born alive at 32 weeks gestation, instead of still, I would have rushed to her side and sat in the NICU until she was healthy enough to go home. I would have loved her and cared for her and rejoiced with her and cried with her and raised her as best as I know how. She was born still and I was not afforded the opportunity to do any of those things. What I was given was the great privilege to rush to her side and grieve for her.
Now, I have the privilege of thinking about her every day, wishing I could visit her grave every day, and struggling with how I answer the question of how many children I have. Because I have four. And I really miss one of them.