What can be said of a day like today? Our perfect girl has been gone from this life for a year now. One. Whole. Year. Four complete seasons, 365 entire days. Try as we’d like to stop it, the sun kept right on rising and setting, the planet kept turning.
It still feels as impossible as it did that day. I can remember where I stood in the hallway on Oct. 5, when Piper’s hospice nurse called us aside to say she was getting close, it would be just a matter of time. She spoke slowly and carefully. She knew emphasis was needed because every parent’s instinct is to stop listening at that point, to believe they are wrong. It was the second time we were given a timetable for Piper’s death, and if it’s possible, it hurt even more. She guessed two weeks, and she was right. On Oct. 19 at 7:49 p.m. Piper moved with indescribable grace from this life to her next. Soon after, I stood in the exact same spot in my hallway, and cried from a place I never knew existed, while her body was gently taken from our home forever.
The immediacy of grief can be like standing too close to a building. You are only taking in a few bricks among the millions that make up the structure. Each day of this last year we stepped farther back and began to see more of the whole. Every step brings new revelations and emotions. In some ways it has taken me this long to understand that she really died. Someone said to me recently, “I love Harlow stories.” I laughed, then immediately held back tears, because that sentence made me realize there will be no new Piper stories, or photos, or silly videos. It’s part of the impossibility of death.
I’ve given hours of thought to the mutable context of time. We lament times past, and we worry over times to come. Time can be your friend, it can be your enemy, but really time is arbitrary. What matters, and what distinguishes our response, is togetherness. When we are with those we love, we can never have enough time. When we are apart and longing for those we love, time suddenly becomes endless. On rare occasions we don’t notice time at all because we have everything we need in that moment.
The day before Piper died gave us one such moment. Her Grandma was visiting that morning, and we all sat on the floor listening to Fiona Apple sing Across The Universe. We were working on a craft (of course) and this particular project called for a song to match our work. I remember moving Piper’s hand up and down, helping her glue glow-in-the-dark stars and planets against a poster board of space. I still recall how dreamy and peaceful it felt to sit there with her. I’m sure the whole project took all of 20 minutes, but I remember it in slow motion. As a finishing touch, Neddy wrote Piper’s name in glue at the top, then covered it in her signature rainbow glitter mix, like she was a necessary part of the universe itself. A perfect moment in both time and space. It was so fitting, and it would prove to be her very last creation.
We have persevered this past year for her, because of her. While I’m proud to say we found the strength to survive this first year, it is also true that we still have a lifetime to go. A lifetime of steps to take, and an ever-changing picture to make sense of. Time – both too much and too little of it.
My friend Joy sent me this poem last fall, not long before Piper passed away. I remember reading it and feeling its truth even before I felt the reality of her loss. I came across it again recently among the stacks of condolence cards, and it struck me again. I can think of no better words to share today, no better words to accompany these images.
’Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
’Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.
— Judah Halevi