While others weep, a mother sits quietly in the clean, sterile hallway as others rush past her, and she remembers with specific detail the outfit she chose for her daughter that very morning. Pinks and purples, of course.
She recalls with slow-motion precision every moment of that morning.
The knot in her hair. The fruity smell of detangling spray, which she used to brush it all straight and smooth and then high atop her head into a ponytail, secured with an elastic band and a fancy ribbon.
The high-pitched squeaks and sounds of Disney cartoons in the background as she wiped the counters of their breakfast crumbs.
The minty smell of toothpaste as she stood over her, watching her brush her tiny little teeth, carefully up front. Not so good toward the back.
She remembers hastily emptying the pastel-colored backpack ~ discovering a sea of half-colored papers, one permission slip, and a Scholastic book order form ~ before filling the pack with today’s healthy snack and lunch (and one cookie).
She remembers her sweet ‘fresh from the bath’ smell, which she inhaled while wrapping her in her coat, hat, and mittens to prepare for the cold, winter morning. She kissed her tiny lips and stroked her cheek gently, remarking on how soft and still ‘baby-like’ her three-year old is. She held her tightly – breathing in that little-girl sweetness all the way through her nose and deep into her chest and lungs, so it can occupy a permanent spot in her memory. And in her heart. Holding, holding, holding.
And now, she replays it all in her mind. Wondering if she had just lingered a bit longer … just held her for a few more minutes, perhaps …
If she had let her watch another episode of her favorite TV show, maybe …
How strange it will be to see her smiling face in her phone. On her computer. In a scrapbook. On a holiday card. In a frame on her walls and refrigerator. And on other people’s walls and refrigerators, too.
How strange it will be when the room has cleared and life has gone on for everyone else, to return home and see her new favorite doll from Santa sitting ready for a tea party, her still-damp toothbrush at the sink, her unmade bed with the pillow that cradled her dreams.
While others weep and offer heartfelt expressions, all she can do is remember what she once held. What she now will carry. The grief. The guilt. The memories. Waking up every morning from here on out feeling gut-punched as the reality seeps in that your baby girl is gone. The ache of knowing that this cruel turn of fate is also part of motherhood.
And her heart breaks.