This past weekend, as we attended the celebration of life for another remarkable human taken too soon by cancer, Harlow quietly watched as family members shed tears while sharing memories and testaments of love. It’s a scene you expect to find at this sort of event, but what I didn’t expect was my not-yet-four-year-old’s deft understanding of the situation, or her response to it. Each time she saw someone wipe away a tear, she stood on her tippy toes, reached for the box of Kleenex on the table, and delivered the tissue to the person in need. It was the sweetest gesture of care. Without hesitation, she simply did what needed doing. I can almost hear her thought process… if you spill you clean it up, if you hurt someone you apologize, if someone is sad comfort them. And for each of us who received a tissue, it was an unexpected comfort. That someone so young understood enough to perceive our pain gave me much to think about.
In the midst of our heartbreak over Piper, I think we sometimes forget to acknowledge or fully celebrate Harlow’s magnificence. This is my love letter to our second-born daughter, filled with all the things I never want her to forget:
You saved us many times over. When you were born you evened the score. Before you arrived we joked that Piper was only daddy’s baby because no one could believe a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl could be mine. I remember when the nurse said she could see your full head of dark brown hair, I just laughed, thinking it was impossible. That was the first of many moments you would prove me wrong. You quickly became the chubbiest baby anyone could remember. You were also the happiest. You never gave us any trouble, at least not then. You were friendly to anyone who smiled at you, but your adoration for Piper was always supreme.
Three months after you learned to walk, Piper was given a death sentence, and normal life ended before it had really begun. At 16-months-old you suddenly needed to become independent. You were not yet steady on your feet and we were running ahead to catch Piper. You barely got to know the people we were before. In those hard days you always let Piper’s needs come first. You seldom got your way, or an equal share of our attention, but you also never complained. You gave her dependable reasons to giggle with your antics and budding dance moves. You were always a willing audience for her storytelling and teaching lessons, and a partner in crime for backseat scream-singing. We loved the sound of your laughter in unison. You continued to look at Piper as though she hung the Moon, even when she couldn’t walk, but you could. And that mattered. Your belief that she was a superhero reflected back at her like a magic mirror. It allowed her to see herself as you did: invincible.
I wish she could have been, because you lost a big sister like the world had never known. I’m so sorry for all that was stolen from you, then, now, and into your future. It wasn’t supposed to be like this for either of you. You had Piper beside you only 32 months, and exactly half of it was spent fighting DIPG.
The day Piper died you were quiet, not asking for or even wanting our clumsy explanations. The sadness over our house was understanding enough. Like so many troubling days before you gave us one less thing to worry about. You kept yourself busy and calm. Your hugs were extra-long, and you began to see the need for wiping away tears.
I wonder if we appreciate enough how resilient you are. Despite everything, you continue to thrive in preschool, make new friends, try new things. You tolerate us on the days our grief is overwhelming, and we are short-tempered or distracted. You forgive everything. I have to remember that your position in this is as reluctant as ours. None of us ever wanted to overcome the loss of Piper. None of us could have imagined burying a part of ourselves. None of us knew we’d have to remember Piper the way you remember an eclipse, or a rainbow, because they are ephemeral.
As we say, Piper sent you a little sister to love so her legacy could go on. Without prompting, you are already drawing the blueprints for your unique bond with Olive. You look at her like she’s the most precious thing you’ve ever seen. You tell her you love her morning to night. Like Piper, you praise her everyday accomplishments like a successful burp or a reciprocated smile. You insist on picking out her clothes, and you never hesitate to tell someone when they’ve been holding Olive too long and it’s your turn. You can’t hug her enough, but you have been accused of hugging her too tightly. You love her completely, the way you love Piper still. Olive’s arrival made Piper more present in our home than she had felt in nine months.
When we are weary and wondering what the point is, or ask what good the future could hold, thank you for being the answer. Thank you for reminding us to appreciate what we still have. Thank you for understanding more than you should and still finding so many reasons to be happy. Thank you for being our daughter. There is no question you hold our lives together. You are our bridge connecting the past and the future, and we love all that you are and all you will be.