I was unprepared for how difficult E’s birthday was. I had planned a special party for her: a fancy tea party, with heart-shaped sandwiches and a pink cake and R’s grandmother’s fancy tea cups. There were pink and purple balloons and streamers and everyone dressed up and I made sure she felt extra special.

It is hard, sometimes (often) in loss communities to write or speak about living children. This is understandable. But, E suffered a tremendous loss this year, too. She lost her sister and – surely much harder for her – she lost the mother she used to know, too. Her year of being three (‘free!, she would say) was not the year it should have been. It was full of tears and rage and bewilderment and anxiety. She is bereaved, too. She has suffered and no mother wants their children to suffer. She has a place here, too. She has her own story and she is a big part of my story of bereavement, too. Anja’s death has changed so many things about how I parent, not usually for the better, and has had a profound effect on E’s young self. I wanted her to feel special yesterday, to feel loved like crazy, to try to atone – in some ways – for the grief and awfulness of this year. I welcomed four because it meant three was over and maybe four will be better; maybe I will feel less guilty for four, more full of grace, more able to be her best mother. I hope four is like that.

And all day long, alongside the glitter and princess dresses and party baubles, the shadow of her sister’s ‘birthday’. The little girl who will never celebrate a birthday, never ask for a ‘pink angel cake with sprinkles,’ never dance for hours with a little friend in pink tutus and sparkly ballet slippers, never look sweet and shy and so perfectly herself while family and friends sing ‘Happy Birthday’ just to her. That blue room, barely lit, quiet, a still, still baby girl with crimson lips and forever closed eyes, her weight in my arms and the feel of the white flannel blankets she was wrapped in: the shadowy side to yesterday’s pink and sparkle. It was with me all day, the shadow. Anja was with me, a wisp, a wish, wonder, and her sister, solid, warm, laughing, singing, dancing, here.

It was a hard day. And it was a beautiful day, too.

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