Trigger warning: child loss
I donated my dead daughter’s clothes yesterday.
It is a blunt statement, I know. It’s one that I tried to sand down so the edges aren’t so jagged, so splinters don’t stick into the flesh of anyone who tries to read it, but there isn’t a way to do that. There isn’t any way to soften something like that, to make it easily swallowed. It’s been almost seven years since Wylie died and still, I say the words “my dead child” and eyes grow large and dart away, the air becomes thick and tense and awkward. I’ve lost friendships over this, over all of it, over my unwillingness to hide these shards of truth for the sake of the comfort of others.
It’s an uncomfortable thing, the thought that children can die. The fact that boxes and urns exist at all to house the remains of babies. That death certificates can exist for such tiny bodies goes against anything we instinctively know to be true. That times of birth and death can be entwined as one solitary time, in Wylie’s case, is unnervingly tragic. It’s nonsensical, really, if you think about it.
And I do.
When I came home but Wylie didn’t, I could not bear to part with her things. The rational part of my brain knew, of course, that these things were never hers: she never wore them, played with them. But I remembered picking them out, my hugely pregnant belly satisfied by a food court cinnamon roll, the way I “aww” and “oh my goodness”-ed each article of clothing as I imagined my daughter in them. I was an intentional shopper, certainly, as a woman who is a lot more Hot Topic than Princess Pink, and I was so very anxious about raising a girl for this reason. I bought a lot of blues. I bought a lot of Roxy to tie into her surfer girl nursery theme, imagining the sun-kissed Florida girl beach waves that I figured she might have, because her big brother did. (She would in fact be born with these curls, but the sun would never shine upon them. It’s one of those grim realizations that makes people squirm when I comprehend it out loud, the irony and cruelty of the situation.) These items have sat inside bins in my closet for almost seven years now and I refer to them still as Wylie’s things, as if we are merely waiting for her to come home and claim them. As if she will come home from college letting me know she would like them for her own children one day.
As if they were ever really hers at all.
Yesterday, I was rummaging through the closet organizing things that make sense: school photographs of my other children over the years, artwork that evolved from stick figures to intricate pastel sketches of landscapes. Portfolios of saved schoolwork that continued on as my children grew: Pre-K. Kindergarten. First grade. Second grade. Third grade. A process – growing, aging – that makes sense. It’s what we think about when we think about babies being born. A constantly moving timeline.
Wylie’s Things, as the bins have remained labeled, were just there. Sitting idly with dusted lids. A bleak reminder of the child who I said hello and goodbye to on the same day nearly seven years ago. For the first time, I felt that maybe these were clothes chosen with love, with care, and that maybe another mother could use them. Maybe another mother could place her daughter into them and marvel as she outgrew each size, marvel at the wonder that is a baby doing what it is a baby is supposed to do – grow up – as the sun shone down on the child who played in them.
I felt what I thought might be peace, readiness.
I consulted a friend who advised me to hold each item individually and react to how it felt in my hands and then I would know if I was truly ready. This is what I did, saying farewell to each item of never-worn clothing as I moved it from a bin into a box. I spent an hour unfolding and refolding, kissing goodbye to little baby jeggings and glittery tops. I turned over each item in my hands with a peace that I have been waiting to feel. There was a definitive healing in that sadness.
I kept one onesie. It was blue and pink and green and embroidered with the words Little Sister. My hands refused to let it go into the donation box, instead gripping it tightly, remembering the way my son had selected it with glee, alerting everyone in Target that he was going to be a big brother soon. I can still see his smile, the button-up brown Hawaiian shirt he was wearing that day, a Pizza Hut breadstick in his chubby little hand. “My baby sister!” he had squealed as we placed it into the shopping cart, smiles so big on both of our faces. I clutched it and sobbed for a few moments, laying it instead next to the only photographs of Wylie that I have, and continued on.
My journey into motherhood was not an easy one but instead a meandering, lengthy trip on a back-alley road filled with potholes and jagged glass. It was one of starts and stops and stalls that felt endless, popped tires and torn maps and roadways that felt impossible to navigate. It is a truth I have owned, accepted and have come to appreciate for the perspective it gives me. That perspective remains a helpful tool against the self-doubt that tends to come with motherhood.
Yesterday afternoon, a woman was introduced to me. Her own journey to motherhood is not mine to tell, but I vaguely recognized the route she took. I knew too well the pain of the news she received — news no mother wants to hear — and how that moment of finding out is more painful than anything that will follow and how little most people seem to understand that. I asked her if she would want these things, and she did, promising to love them with the intentionality that I had selected them with. They would go on to belong to a little girl who would symbolize hope and life and love and sunshine at the end of a darkness that had only just begun to brighten.
I donated my dead daughter’s clothing yesterday and turned another corner in a grief journey that I know will be mine the entirety of my life. I thought to those early days in my pain when well-intentioned friends and family members urged me to give it all away, as if I could possibly forget each tiny onesie, each little pair of socks if they’d left my home with urgency. One day, I told everyone, I would feel ready. I knew the timing would feel right, that I would find the right mother to give them to, that I would be able to close the box and walk away from what never was. These pieces would fit, I was sure of it, and I would be able to soak in the peace of knowing that from the destruction and pain would be a blossom of hope.
And she’d be dressed in the clothing that, seven years ago now, was chosen by a mother with love in her heart who would go on to need that hope just as much.