Today, sitting outside at a cafe on Grand Avenue, I met a two-month old baby, Stella, her mother, and her grandmother. We chatted under the shade of a tree, while Stella followed her grandmother’s words with her blue gray eyes, alert to every syllable.
I couldn’t help but think of my own granddaughters, their mother, Meghan, and their aunt, Maya. Today, is Maya’s 42nd birthday. Trying to imagine my 19-year-old as a middle-aged woman, perhaps with daughters of her own, blows my mind. For those who loved her, Maya will always be as young, beautiful, and vivacious as the day she died. She will never age. But in real life, she would have.
Born on October 4, 1972, a beautiful fall day in Minneapolis, Maya grew into a chubby, often bubbly, sometimes moody little girl. People who remember her may recall different facets of Maya, but today, I’m remembering the little china doll I held in my arms as a newborn. Looking into her eyes, the future seemed limitless.
When she died I lost the future I had envisioned and hoped to be a part of and I’m left wondering, “Who would Maya be now?”
It’s easy to imagine a glowing life for Maya. But reality might have played out differently. Whatever I may fantasize about Maya’s life I must ultimately surrender to that very large basket of “things to let go of.”
But aren’t we always re-imagining the past? The poet Chana Bloch wrote a book called “The Past Keeps Changing.” In one of the poems, these lines appear:
Everything happens only once but I go on asking, and asking is the quickest way back.
So when I ask my daughter – or the spirit of her – who she would be now, I go back to a hospital bed in Minneapolis, to my 24-year-old self, holding a tiny mite of a girl in my arms. She weighs just over five pounds, but her grip is strong, and she looks up at my face and blinks as I mouth words at her. She seems to understand my cooing and little snatches of song.
As Stella’s grandmother mouths words at her, I watch and remember. This language we speak to babies is universal and eternal. I celebrate everything about Maya, even the unknown person she would be now and the untested future I’m living into. As long as it holds babies, I’m good with that.
“Life can be over in a moment. This is a truth we all try to defend against, but Maya’s sudden death at age 19 showed me that life could veer off in directions I had never imagined.”
Grief and Bereavement
- The Compassionate Friends, a peer support organization for bereaved parents and siblings
- We Need Not Walk Alone, National Compassionate Friends magazine
- Open to Hope
- Growth House
- Mentor Books
- The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Bereavement Magazine, Living with Loss at (888) 60-4HOPE (4673)
*An earlier version of this was published at THAT’S THE WAY LIFE LIVES. Reposted with permission of the author.
Eleanor, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing Maya with us and letting us know that there are resources available to help us through the process of grieving.
Linda, thank you. There are many resources for grief support – including many online. I encourage anyone who has a grieving friend or family member to make sure they get support in whatever way works best for them. No one has to carry the weight of grief alone.
So very sad but also inspiring that you find joy in the joy of others and can take us back to the wonderful memory of your daughter as a new born.
Thank you so much. As a grandmother, I am particularly happy about new babies! I realize how much hope and joy they bring to their families and to our world. I love remembering Maya at every stage of her life, but envisioning her as a newborn is particularly poignant.
I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the devastation of the loss of a child. She was beautiful.
Thank you for your kind words. Maya was beautiful inside and out, and also a challenging force, at times. For the fuller story, please read Swimming with Maya, available in e-book or paperback.
I read the description of your book over at Goodreads, Eleanor. I echo the comments above — about your tenacity and the devastation that comes with losing someone so young. What a beautiful young woman, and so full of spirit. I am just a handful of months older than Maya and take my 42 years as the gift that they are.
It’s nice to have you as a member of Linda’s team. Welcome!
Melissa, thanks so much for the welcome and your comments. You are very wise to see every precious moment as a gift. It is! Losing Maya was devastating and, over time, has provoked me to grow exponentially. But I’d hand back all my wisdom for a few more days with Maya on planet earth. Guess I’ll have to wait for the spirit realms. 😉
Thank you, Eleanor, for your courage to share your loss, grieving and healing process. I know the pain of losing beautiful Maya is beyond description, but I’m sure many others are grateful to know they are not alone.
Thanks, Ani. How very kind of you!
How unselfish of you to share about the loss of your beautiful daughter as you help others get past the pain of their own loss of a dearly loved child. It is another reminder to love with all of our hearts while the people we care most about are with us.
I read this as a prelude to welcoming you to BTSN and didn’t expect to be moved to such a great extent. I appreciate the poignant read and the resources.
Elaine, thank you for these very heartfelt comments. We do, indeed, need to love with all of our hearts and let those we love know how we feel. I think of the James Taylor song, “Shower the people you love with love.” Those we love are irreplaceable, and even when not in their physical form, always with us. Both are true. I hope that came through in the piece about Maya.