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Friday, March 08, 2024

Grief and the slow erasing

Just like I’d done dozens of times, I’d clicked “Add to cart.” No big deal. Only this time it felt profound. And after fretting about it for ages and wondering what slippery slope I was stepping onto, I clicked the button. What purchase could cause such internal turmoil? A twin-sized duvet cover patterned with whimsical pink and blue and gray unicorns with rainbow-colored manes. It’s for the little one’s fifth birthday.

Delighted in the downpour
She will love it. She loves unicorns and rainbows and flowers and fairies and mermaids and princesses and dresses and tiaras and beaded necklaces and pretty much anything that is pink or red or purple or sparkly or glittery, even though I’ve provided her with trains and Matchbox cars and trucks and shovels and so many things that are green.

Green was Riley’s favorite color. And I have lots of green things. I was even given green blankets when she was born because she was born in grief’s wake for my boy who loved the rain and green and Matchbox cars and trains and Tabasco and garlic and olives. And, although she loves olives and garlic, and garlic-stuffed olives, and she liked Matchbox cars and trains for a while, she’s her own person with her own interests. That, and through preschool and transitional kindergarten, she’s been exposed to kids with Frozen backpacks and twirly dresses and sparkly blankets that look like mermaid tails. And so when she’s in the bath, she asks me to comb her mermaid hair and she pretends that the washcloth is her tail.

The hard part isn’t that she likes different things from Riley, although I really, really did enjoy putting elaborate train tracks together for the months that she was into that. We’d roll our wooden trains over the bridges and through the tunnels just like I did when Riley was small. The hard part is that I wanted to breathe life into Riley’s things for longer. I wanted her to pick up where he’d left off and in using his idle things, give me another chance to be with Riley in my thoughts as I remember the hours we did those things together when he was alive. In fairness, at 11, there weren’t many train tracks or cities drawn on cardboard for Matchbox cars to roll along.

For the 18 months he lived in this house, he had a green duvet with different colored green dots all over it. He picked it out at IKEA when he got his very own bed. For a long time, my boys shared a queen bed and a single queen blanket. But when we moved into this house, I took them to the store and that’s what he chose. His brother chose something gray with bright orange and red swirls. And Riley’s green duvet has been on his bed in his room since he died. It’s been mostly idle.

Before the youngest came along, I would lie on his bed and smooth my face into his green pillowcase and hug his Freddies. And after she was born when she was nursing several times a night, I would sometimes sleep near her in his bed with the green sheets. It’s been her bedroom her entire life, more than three times longer than it was Riley’s room, even though I still call it Riley’s room. And once she switched to a big bed, it was Riley’s bed she began sleeping in and Riley’s duvet she’s been sleeping under.

It's her room; it’s Riley’s room. Riley’s treasures and belongings are still there, but there are so many other things there too. Sometimes it’s hard to remember which is which and what belongs to whom. And, of course, she says things like, “Mom, Riley says I can play with his marbles” which makes his things her things too.

She didn’t ask for a different duvet. She never said she didn’t like the green one. I just want her to be seen as a separate person and to acknowledge her preferences. So, because her fifth birthday is today and she loves all those pink things, I decided to get her that new duvet cover – the one that matches her interests. I suppose I’ll fold up the green duvet and the green pillow case and the green sheet and put them in the closet near Riley’s medicine that is in a ziplock bag, with Riley’s clothes that are still hung, and next to his socks and pajamas – things I’d hoped she’d wear when she was big enough. Though she probably won’t. She’ll have shirts and pajamas covered in rainbows and fairies and mermaids. 

This shrinking or contraction after someone dies happens all the time. Out with the old, in with the new. Making space for whatever is next. She didn’t ask to fill Riley’s shoes, not that she could. You cannot replace a person with a different person. It’s just another shift, another goodbye. Another folding of time.

Riley's green things will be mine to visit when I need to time travel and be with my boy and his beloved things. I cannot help but wonder what will be put away next and what shift will happen that will make his life less visible. It all feels like a slow erasing. 

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