I read an article recently in which the author explained how having a stillborn baby had made her feel like an adult for the first time. I understand this feeling. With Anja’s death I have entered a new time, a less naive, more treacherous and grave time. I feel suddenly old. I am keenly aware of not only the loss of my daughter but also of the wide-openness of my future. A part of me has always continued to feel like my 25-year-old self, with my life stretching out in front of me, endless time to accomplish my dreams, to become who I want to be. Now, suddenly, I feel my age and a sick, panicky fear stutters around my head: I’ve wasted too much time; I’ve done everything wrong. For weeks, I’ve laid in bed at night replaying my past and questioning choices, admonishing my younger self. I was foolish. How could I not have realized that I would someday have to grow up? How could I be so unprepared for this adult life where I have responsibilities and bills and children, for god’s sake?

This weekend R and I are in Whistler, alone for the first time in over a year while E stays with her Gran. The Village is full of young people, kids like R and I were, choosing to ski and travel and experience instead of to ‘grow up’ and get a ‘real’ job. To me, right now, these kids give off a kind of glow: they are so young, so free. Their lives do still stretch ahead of them, all possibility and dreams, unconstrained by the full weight of adulthood that comes with children and careers.

At the pub last night, listening to old songs and reminiscing nostalgically with R, I watched a lovely young girl with a red flower pinned into her blond waves. Watched her laugh with the two guys at her table, pull her hair back, hold her hands around her pint. Watched her face turn thoughtful when she was alone at the table for a moment. R and I walked past her on our way out and a wave of what I can only describe as love for her washed over me. I thought: enjoy it. Enjoy every second of this, sweet girl. Be young and love it all.

I feel peaceful here amongst these young happy kids and all their promise. The love I felt last night for the girl with the red flower was also love for my daughters and a sense of one’s future, one’s terrible loss. And it was also love for myself, my younger self who sat in bars, and travelled around Mexico in a van, and lived in a tent in Ireland, and never believed she’d ever really have to grow up. This weekend instead of berating that girl, I am forgiving her, encouraging her. Pin a flower in your hair, go barefoot, put the future off even longer. And I am hoping that E will someday do the same, not rush into adulthood, but be the girl with nothing but dreams in her head and a wide open road ahead of her. And mourning all that Anja won’t ever know, barefoot under the stars, figuring out who she wants to be.

And I want to take all these beautiful young girls aside and tell them not to hurry: enjoy it. Enjoy every second of this, sweet girl. Be young and love it all.