The most difficult day of the year is the anniversary of my daughter's cardiac arrest
The anniversary is looming. In just over a week it will be the five years since Esmé’s cardiorespiratory arrest. Another year has gone by and still, still there is part of me that feels as if it was only yesterday.

I find it incredibly difficult to explain the extent to which I struggle in the days leading up to and following this anniversary. Always this anniversary carries with it a tremendous sense of gratitude and awe. I know how very close I came to losing my daughter that day…before I had the chance to know her. Every year since–every day since–has been a gift. I am a flawed and graceless human and so I do not breathe in and out constantly in a state of gratitude, but I like to think that in my way I understand this gift most days. I like to think that I have done my best to live my life in honor of the gift that is Esmé in all her glory–my best is not nearly sufficient, mind you, but it will have to do.

That gratitude and awe is real and true and honest, but there are other emotions tangled up in what I feel as we approach the anniversary. Sadness and grief, as you might expect, but also guilt and envy and anger. And exhaustion. The emotions come on before I even know what I am responding to. It is as if I have some kind of internal clock that grips me as I am watching the Earth come back to life in the new delicate greens and tentative purples and startling yellows…the anxiety that builds up in my chest constantly reorients me toward that date, reminding me of the fact that we have circled the sun another time since that day.

I felt the first of it last weekend when I noticed a tiny perfect tulip. Looking at it I found myself shuddering backwards in time to the PICU on my first Mother’s Day, a single tulip plucked from my garden, balanced in an old Dunkin Donuts cup. I had planted fistfuls of tulip bulbs the fall before–round and off-balance and swearing–in our postage stamp yard. I was insistent that my daughter and I would enjoy them in the spring, but my tulips had bloomed while I sat in the darkened hospital for days…and I do not remember if any remained when we returned home.

As I shook off the wave of nausea that washed over me, I remembered that day was coming around again.

Five years later, I cannot help but punish myself all over again for not knowing what I had no way of knowing then. Still, the guilt is completely encompassing. The fear has lessened, finally. The anger too. The confusion, however, remains–in some ways it is worse than ever. The questioning, the searching for answers. Why her? Why was she saved? How have we been so fortunate? Who would I be without her? Will I have to face this again? With her? With another child?

This time of year everywhere I look all I see is the astounding absurdity of life. How is it that tulips push up from the only just frozen ground? How do they bloom so perfectly again and again each year? How does a tiny bunch of cells growing inside a mother duplicate so often without error? How is it that most babies can nurse without their lungs filling up with food and slowly drowning while they rest in their mother’s arms? How do hearts stop and start again–and what does this mean for the heart…and my heart?

I had hoped that writing Whoosh–sitting over my laptop reliving every single moment of that day–would somehow lift the weight of it all off of me and set it on the page. I hoped that writing it all down would let me analyze the whole thing in a way that would release me…either by finding the answers or by allowing me to let go of the questions.

But as I wrote it, I knew I wouldn’t know until now–until the end of April when the tulips start to bloom.

I can say right now that day is still a gaping wound. It is an absence…a lonely place I touch and know that no one else in the world can ever fully understand–a place that I touch and cannot ever fully understand. It is an absence that it is inhabited by the unknowability of Esmé’s experience of that day. And it is something I will probably never stop trying to write, in some way. Even now…as I write these words I find myself turning over and over and over a moment–glancing down at Esmé’s tiny blue face as I walked through the doors to the Emergence Department–wanting to understand what it means, wanting to tell you what it means to me. Wanting to break apart that moment into the tiniest of details: The pointless search through my mind for what a person does in these situations, wondering is this when a person walks into a hospital screaming for help? The look on the receptionists face as she saw me coming through the door. The way Esmé’s skin shines angelically in my memory, as if she was already disappearing into another world.

The way in that moment I wished I did not love her, because of how badly it hurt.

In that moment I wished I did not love her, because of how badly it hurt...Click To Tweet

But, also, it is something else. As I look there I can feel that day is also something more now. It is a thing. Something I can hold, even as I recognize that incredible absence that may never go away. I imagine the story of my experience of that day as a small shining thing I can cradle in my hands–a thing that will change and grow and warm in my hands. It is a thing I will touch upon over and over again–a thing that will reflect back to me who I am, who I am becoming.

Writing it has not, will not, take away the weight of this anniversary. Time may.

But for now it is me and I am it: the absence, the shining thing, that day–and the days surrounding it. These things are all who I am. I carry them with me. They remind me to trust my instincts as a mother–and a person. They remind me that life is fragile and fleeting.

They remind me to let go, and they remind me to love with everything I have…and that these two things are not paradoxical.

They remind me everyday as I breathe in and out: Esmé…Esmé…Esmé…

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