September 19th is one of those modern silly calendar days known as “Talk Like A Pirate Day.” A flyer was sent home the day before encouraging kids to dress like a pirate. Bandana, eye patch, hat…whatever you have laying around. Costumes are never a problem for our family. My husband used to dress up for a living as a kid’s entertainer. We’ve got everything in the attic closet. Pirates, Mad Scientists, Wizards, Safari Guys, Clown, Magician, and Fez Guy (not really a thing, Hal just really likes wearing his Fez)
Miriam wore an authentic leather pirate hat to school with a blue bandana and a small stuffed monkey in a pirate costume on her shoulder. She saw her friend, Jackson, on the way to school wearing a yellow sash and pirate tunic. “Mommy, I’m kind of excited for this!”
September 19th is also Noahs’s birthday. He would’ve turned eleven this year. For my new readers, Noah died a few weeks shy of his 2nd birthday in a swimming pool accident. It’s so odd, to celebrate a birthday of someone who is no longer here. It’s almost like his death day is easier to get through. The finality of it. His birthday magnifies the loss. That “what could’ve been.”
I don’t spend much time thinking about what he would’ve been like at this age. Maybe it’s just too painful. Maybe it’s too abstract and confusing. I think I’m still working on understanding that he isn’t here anymore. And besides, there’s this six year old little girl name Miriam Phoenix staring me in the face 24/7. She is the shiniest thing I have ever laid eyes upon.
Her smile is nearly constant. Her curiosity, her willingness, her odd accurate statements about obscure sea creatures that I secretly fact check on my phone. She is 99% accurate 99% of the time. Bias aside, she is the most interesting person I know.
On September 19th, Hal got a giant cookie cake and wrote Happy Birthday Noah on it. I scrambled for a candle when I got home from work and we told Miriam to close her eyes. She had wanted a cake for her brother’s birthday. She actually asked if she cold give out goodie bags to her class. I told her that was a very nice thought but we didn’t have the supplies for that. Besides, (Warning: Ahoy Matey, Dark Humor Ahead!) I don’t think goody bags from her dead brother would be a good idea.
We cried and sang Happy Birthday and ate the cookie cake with cold milk. We told her how happy we were that she was our daughter and that Noah picked her out especially for us. This is daily unchartered territory. There is no treasure map guiding our pirate ship. Besides, what would the treasure be? Maybe peace of mind? Impossible. The only treasure we have is Miriam.
I don’t often watch videos of Noah. Video is too hard. Too confusing to process still, too everything… But that night, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” ended with me watching a video of Hal tickling Noah on our bed. Noah was laying on the same blue comforter that I was now under. It was all so disorienting. All of it. The comforter. Noah’s laugh. Noah’s eyes when he looked directly into the camera as I filmed them playing. But I couldn’t look away.
September 20th, went along as any other day. But it’s like I was hungover. Not from cookie cake. Not from alcohol. But from trying to pretend. Trying to be as shiny as Miriam is every day. I was exhausted. Bordering on numb.
I’m so aware of this sadness that permeates our lives. I want it to be as normalized and positive as possible for Miriam. For bereaved parents, with children still to raise joyfully, it’s unchartered territory. Like that pirate ship sailing around looking to interfere in some unsuspecting sailor’s life. Those pirates will take their valuables, shake them up, and scare the hell out of them. I guess we got pirated of our life back in 2010.
So we are sailing again with Miriam. The irony of all these water analogies does not go unnoticed. We don’t know what the best way to keep Noah alive in our family. We are figuring that out every single day. We do know that making sure Miriam knows how loved and wanted and treasured she is the TOP PRIORITY.
Miriam will sometimes see us cry. Or be sad or overwhelmed with emotions. It is impossible and unhealthy for us to hide that fact. But she will see our smiles wider than ever thought. Those crazy-making juxtapositions of emotions. Maybe it’s good she learns early on that emotions don’t always make sense. And we can’t always control them either.
Like that snarled smiling mouth silently saying “Arghhhh” on her construction paper pirate hanging in our kitchen art gallery, we can smile through almost anything now. Whether we should or not…it’s all unchartered territory and always will be.