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.