Message in the Mirror

Last week Leighton turned three. Today, Libby would be nine. 6 years and 4 days apart, lives that never crossed, but closer to mirror images by the day.

I remember the night before Libby’s third birthday. I sat in a chair in our living room and wrote about where we were in the midst of a horrific fight, how we could not wish the year away faster – how we longed for nothing more than a healthy 4th birthday – a birthday we never saw. I wanted to wish that year away with a hop skip and a jump to July 2014, because our plan ahead was tough – but the plan would get us there- transplant, recovery, return to normalcy. Eye on the ball. A plan that worked on paper, a plan whose statistic challenges were easily ignore because this was our baby. She would make it.

And here we are 6 years later and Libby’s mommy is writing again on her birthday. But this is nine and she is not here – she’s not at gymnastics camp or playing tennis, having sleepovers with her friends, or working on summer reading. I watch the girls her age and cannot imagine that she, too, would be there because that is a world we don’t know. The world we knew for her paused at 3,  and that is where Libby will always be in our minds. She will always be a fan of pink and sparkles, dress-up clothes, make-up, and performances. She will always be a dark-haired, dark-eyed, mischievous beauty who could talk like a five-year-old and stole the hearts of everyone she met. She will always be a little girl.

But Libby’s little mirror image is taking us there again – to Libby’s 3. She is bringing Disney princesses back into our life, she has brought the plastic kitchen out of retirement, and is bringing singing, dancing, and performing back to our fireplace stage. Three has hit her (and us) by storm; she is soaring from babyhood and cannot be slowed. And it’s hard, and it’s wonderful, and it hurts and heels. It is smiles one moment and tear-soddened cheeks the next.

When I was pregnant with Leighton, I desperately wanted another little girl to walk in Libby’s footsteps (and plastic high heels).  I wanted to see her face again, do her hair, watch her sing and dance.  And now that we’re here, it does feel good most days to retrace those steps Libby forged. But many days, like today, it hurts. Seeing Leighton at 3 today, reminds me of what Libby was doing at exactly the same time in her life. I wasn’t arguing with her about taking a nap or finishing her dinner, I was arguing with her about taking medicine that would save her life and how she wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital room. I wasn’t taking her to the pediatrician for her well-child visit, I was taking her to the 11th floor of the children’s hospital, where no child should ever have to be. And with their birthdays just days apart, the parallel made between memories and real life is vivid. I look at Leighton watching fireworks on the 4th, and remember that exactly 6 years ago when Libby was her age, we weren’t watching fireworks, we were packing for the hospital. We watch Leighton run on the beach, and I remember 6 Julys ago staring out the hospital window while the world moved around us.

After this year, we no longer have a child as young as she was; our little living reminders will age on, and we will be left with cautiously preserved memories of both love and heartache. But every day, every minute our family continues forward, soaking up the wonderfulness of every age of our children, living each moment with the guidance of a heavy lesson on our hearts.

Six years after Libby turned three, her three-year-old sister and six-year-old brother are parented in a way we never could have before. We lose patience just like every other parent, but Libby stops us quickly, or tries. I look at Leighton and Will and see what Libby never got to be, never got to experience, and we apply that. We parent with empathy, love, hope, strength, determination, and an unyielding appreciation for the people they are and get to be – all emotions included, even on the hardest days.  And when we mess up, which we do often, we say we’re sorry because we know the years are short and the lessons of Libby’s story should be active in our home.

Today, on Libby’s birthday, remember with me. Remember the tragedy of her story, remember our excruciating loss. Take a moment and look into your children’s eyes and tell them you love them with such transparency, such conviction that they know it without a doubt. Let my Libby and the memories her little mirror image have brought back today strike your heart in a powerful, tender way.

Happy Birthday my Lib,

your very proud mommy