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It never fails: summer plods, August drags, and September seems to linger for as long as it likes. And then autumn rolls in, and September picks up its pace, and the next thing you know, it’s the middle of October.
It’s the middle of October.
October is usually one of my favorite months, but this year, the first half of October was rough. The end of September brought the anniversary of Lauren’s sleeping birth – two years, my god, has it been two years since she left us? She still seems so close to us, so real. I can still see her in my mind’s eye: a tall, lanky two-year old with dark curly hair and bright blue-gray eyes. I realize this is just my fancy, but that is all I have of her, and so it is what I believe in. She is still real to me, as real as her sister who – thankfully – is still bopping about in my growing belly.
Thirty-two weeks. Only eight weeks to go.
Less than that, really. As of today, only 52 days to go.
I hope it is only that long. I wouldn’t mind her coming a week early. Not much earlier than that, no, but I’d rather her be a week early than a week late, if not for my sanity then because I am so anxious to have her here with us.
She is so strong and so vibrant, our nameless little Niko. I place my hands on this great belly and feel her roll and twist and kick, and I pray that she doesn’t stop. She can cause me all the discomfort she needs to, just keep moving.
Keep moving, Niko. Keep that heart beating so strongly. Keep living. We’re waiting to meet you, waiting to hold you, waiting to shower love upon you. Stay strong, and live.
One year ago was Lauren’s due date.
Last year, October 10th was both a terrible and wonderful day. Terrible because Lauren was not with us – would never physically be with us again. Wonderful because we were able to get a little peace and closure by visiting the Jizou-do at the Hase Temple in Kamakura. I wrote about that trip on this very blog.
I loved the idea of Lauren being born in the autumn. In October, especially, as it’s probably my favorite month. Autumn is far and away my favorite season, and I loved the idea of being able to plan autumn birthday parties for her. Autumn in Japan is particularly beautiful. The cherry blossoms get a lot of lip service, but for me, nothing really beats the sea of warm oranges, yellows, and reds that wash over Japan’s mountains in the autumn. There’s something poetic about this last burst of color before the grayness of winter sets in, this last hurrah of the flora before settling into cold-weather slumber. It’s like a promise: yes, the dark days of winter are coming, but life wins out in the end. The colors fade, only to come back stronger and greener with the spring.
Everything about Lauren’s due date was fortuitous. My favorite month, my favorite season. A birth year ending in a 1, like mine and like Geordie’s. The year of the Rabbit. (Have you met Rabbit-sensei?) Everything fit so perfectly. We couldn’t have planned it better. She may have been a surprise, but she was such a perfectly timed surprise.
I look back on those days last year and wonder how we got through them. They seem a blur, a smeary stretch of days spent preparing for our return to the States and trying to understand what had happened to us. It seemed that autumn settled in almost as soon as I got home from the hospital. Autumn was new when Lauren was born, taking is first tentative steps and gently elbowing summer out of the way. By October 10th, it had made itself comfortable.
But there was no Lauren to enjoy it with.
I love autumn still, but it means so much more now than just the waning of the year. It has always been, to me, a celebration of life, even as we mourn the passing of the summer and prepare for the coming darkness. In the cold crisp air and the falling leaves, I’ve always sensed a measure of hope. The old life must fall away to make way for the new.
Now, going into this second year without Lauren, I see how autumn brings her back to me. That’s part of the magic of autumn, I think, to bring us remembrances of times past – not just the last year but previous years. All of these memories that we keep deep inside ourselves, mementos of what has gone but have left profound impressions upon us. Spring and summer are for living, autumn and winter are for reflection. It’s a time for gathering energy, for preparing for the year ahead. Life doesn’t end with winter; it merely pauses for a bit to gather its strength and begin again with spring.
One of the lessons Lauren has taught me is to look for hope in all things. Despair is a trap we set for ourselves, one that’s all too easy to fall into. It’s hard for me to put into words how my dead daughter brings hope into my life, but I can try to explain it with one word: motherhood. She gave that to me. It can never be taken away. And that gives me hope for a new year, a new spring. Perhaps, in time, a new and young life to cherish along with hers. Even on these bleak, dark days of grief, there’s still that to hold on to.
A year ago, at 3:44 in the afternoon, Lauren Joy came into the world. She entered it silently and without breath, with her eyes closed. The only life she had had was the one she had inside me.
I don’t know what to do with myself today. I feel like I’ve grieved myself out. I just feel this overwhelming sense of weariness. Not unlike how I felt after Lauren was born, really.
I’ve tried to avoid using the word “celebrate” when talking about Lauren’s birthday. The more I think about it, though, the more I feel how wrong that might be. “Celebrate” doesn’t necessarily have only a joyful connotation. It simply means to commemorate an event with ceremonies and traditions. After all, it developed from a Latin noun which simply meant “assemble to honor.” That’s what I want to do. I want to honor Lauren’s memory, to celebrate the brief life she did have and the meaningful impact she left upon us.
Today, I want to share that which Lauren did give us, the happiness she brought when she was alive. I’m glad she got to experience some of life through me.
Until she was born, we called her Lucky. We didn’t learn she was a girl until late in the pregnancy, and after that, we were so used to calling her that, we just continued. We thought of a girl’s name quickly – we named her after our mothers – but we never could agree on a boy’s name. Lucky was just the best way to talk about her – and to her. We talked to her a lot.
I’m glad we found out about her in Moriya, because I loved living in Moriya so much, and I got to share her with some of the people I knew there. She went to work with me a couple times, and my students were all pleasantly surprised. Some of them commented on the fact that Geordie and I weren’t married, but they did this teasingly and always followed it with congratulations. They wished us all the best.
I never got to say a proper goodbye to my students because of the Tohoku Earthquake. Lauren went through that experience with me. I’m still trying to write about that day and the harrowing days that followed: the night spent worrying about Geordie and then worrying about Japan. Lauren behaved so beautifully through it all; I don’t remember feeling sick or terribly uncomfortable during that time. There were worries about her health, about the threat of radiation, but she came through it just fine. She was wonderfully active during her next ultrasound.
She got to go to a few beautiful places in Japan; Nara was her first trip, our first trip together as a trio. We went to take a break from the all the heaviness after the earthquake. Very old Japan, and very beautiful. It was so nice to be a family.
We took her to see the sakura in Ueno in April. It was a tiring trip (going to Tokyo always could be, even when I wasn’t pregnant), but well worth it. Everyone should be able to see cherry blossoms blooming at some point in their lives – I imagined bringing baby Lucky to see them when she was older. I wanted to dress him in spring kimono and enjoy the Japanese springtime with her. Japan is so beautiful in the springtime.
She went to the movies with us, to see the remake of “True Grit.” (I liked the original better – but the book trumps both movies). I thought about the movies I would enjoy with her when she was older, and I hoped she would like Westerns the way I do. I wanted to share stories with her; I wondered if she would be a storyteller like Geordie and I are.
I became noticeably pregnant by early May, when we went to Shinjuku National Park for Greenery Day. My mother sent me maternity clothes, because it was impossible for me to find anything that would fit me in Japan. I only gained 15 pounds during the pregnancy, but I completely lost my previous shape. I won’t say I always enjoyed being pregnant (I rarely enjoyed it), but the expectancy made it worthwhile. I knew it would all be worth it once Lauren was there with us.
Lauren was with us when we got married. I love that. She brought us together, made us a family. She went on the honeymoon to Kasumigaura Lake with us. Those were good days.
I first felt her move when I was about 19 weeks pregnant. That was the first time I felt her and knew it was her. I was sitting in a cafe called Tully’s, under the Moriya TX train station, waiting for Geordie to come home from work. And I felt a little squiggle. I thought it was the weirdest feeling in the world.
I had such ambitions for being a mother. I wanted to teach Lucky baby sign language, I wanted to make my own baby food. When we moved to Susono, the first thing I wanted to do was get the kitchen settled so I could start making proper dinners. It was, I realize, the first sign of nesting. I daydreamed about baking with Lucky, just as I had with my mother. I knew she would be wonderful as a baby, but I couldn’t wait for her to grow up so that we could talk together and do things together.
In Susono, Geordie began to sing to Lucky regularly. I loved that half hour or so that I would lie on the bed, and he would sing to her. He sang her Beatles’ songs and folk songs and Jimmy Buffett. He sang “What a Wonderful World,” and I cried because I was so happy.
She celebrated my 30th birthday with us by finally letting us know her gender. The look on Geordie’s face when the doctor told us was priceless: ecstatic. He gave two thumbs up. I was a little disappointed; I’d been hoping for a boy. I quickly got over that.
Everyone in Susono was so kind and nice to us. I was looking forward to bringing Lucky home to such a quiet, friendly town.
The baby’s room had a view of Mt. Fuji on clear days. It was hard to miss; even on cloudy days, you could still feel its presence, so close to us. I never stopped being surprised at seeing it, at how big it is. I thought that Fuji would watch over Lucky and keep her safe. I could see the mountain from the window as Geordie put the nursery furniture together. By the beginning of September, we were starting to think we were actually ready for her.
And then we never got to bring her home.
My darling Lauren, from the moment I knew of you, I loved you. The thought of you terrified me at times, because I had never given much thought to becoming a mother, but that’s what you made me. I’m a better person for having had you in my life. I wouldn’t give you – or your memory – up for anything.
I love you. Daddy loves you. We miss you. It’s hard sometimes, being here without you. But we’re going to be okay. We’re taking care of each other.
Happy birthday, Lauren. Thank you for being our daughter.