My daughter Sarah is not alive anymore, but sometimes she lives so vividly in my thoughts it’s as though she is alive. But she’s not. It isn’t sad, but it is.
When I’m driving in the car she sits in the back seat and kicks her legs and laughs at something silly I said. Walking down a long hallway, she may skip beside me, she may hold my hand. And sometimes, when I’m sitting in a chair, she gets up into my lap and lays her head on my shoulder for me to pet her hair like I loved to have my mother pet my hair when I was little…
However old she would be by now, that is how old she is when I imagine her. Sometimes she knows she is not real and she gives me a sad/happy smile because she doesn’t mind indulging my longing to see her. Mostly she doesn’t know, she is just a little girl because she still would be a little girl if she had lived. She would be six, nearly seven. Her legs would be getting longer, but her hair would still have its untamed cowlicks and her fingernails would still be dirty probably from picking her nose or digging in the garden. Of course I don’t have a garden, but I would love to have one and if I’m already imagining a dead daughter alive, I might as well imagine a little house that we live in, some scraggly pet and a garden. She might play in the dirt, and I would work in it while I shoveled out my feelings with the weeds.
I never imagine her for very long and so far we don’t do much talking. I usually find one short moment and let it loop for a while to make me happy and then sad and then happy again until I finally set it down to be present in the real moment. She often comes when something significant is happening. Today she came as I was driving my friends and their baby home from the hospital. Their baby had some problems breathing that turned out to be very manageable, but also a little scary. Both parents were exhausted on the drive and as the sky turned pink and dark and their heads lolled in half sleep, I saw Sarah in the rearview mirror just behind me. Her arm was draped over the side of the baby’s car seat and she kicked her legs and looked out the window while I thought of her and of how she didn’t come home after going to the hospital with breathing problems.
It sounds quite morbid and self-pitying, but it isn’t somehow. Somehow it is merely reflective and even more miraculously I just have gratitude. Not like some saint who is totally fine with the loss of a loved one. I’m not. I want her more than anything else, but I also see the greatness of taking my friend’s baby home. I see the beauty of struggling forward, for them as they learn infant CPR just-in-case and for me as I sleep over for one night to help out then go back to my solitary routines.
I know she isn’t really with me, but she also is. In the way that we are never fully aware of who others are outside of ourselves and we therefore hold an image of them even while they stand before us truly alive. Although I know that Sarah is not what I imagine and it is only me with the memory and the longing of her, it is not nothing. I’m haunted, but by my own ghost of her and while this could be the very definition of melancholy, it’s also part of my being alive and therefore part of my joy.