There is a feeling that arises sometimes now without Bethie here, and the only accurate way to describe it is to say I feel as if I have an invisible child. It is as painful as it sounds. It is more painful than just missing her; it is more painful than loving her, knowing I cannot hold her in my arms; it is more painful that watching videos recalling the actual feel of her cheeks and lips, knowing that I cannot kiss them and say I love you while looking into her eyes. Other mothers surround me when it arises, usually with children Bethie’s age. I don’t know these mothers, and as I listen to them talk easily, care for their children, I feel more and more empty. I can feel the weight of her missing in my arms. My invisible child. I want to scream out, “She is here! Look at my beautiful baby girl! I have a daughter, and her name is Bethie, and she is perfect and full of love! She is every single good thing in the world, all wrapped up together! Look at how her eyes shine with love and life; look at how soft her brown hair is; yes, she always wears a bow; look at her chubby cheeks and dimples; just look at her perfect face!”
This is not how life feels all the time. This is not my every day without her, but this happens. Some days, this is life for me. And I know I am not the only mother with an invisible child.
I held my invisible child in my arms this past Mother’s Day week. It was Freddie’s first show at school – a special program for moms and their preschool students. I was so excited for him, so full of joy thinking about him performing (or not), being brave and sweet for me. I walked in early and sat close to the front of the room. Slowly, the room starting filling up with moms and grandmothers, all waiting for their students to line up in front. Many of these moms had younger children with them, and many of the children looked about Bethie’s age, either when we lost her or how old she would be now (she lives in our minds as both 14 months and her current age – one of the mysteries of losing a child). Slowly, as I listened to wordless chatter, young toddler noises, mothers’ responses, and the general joyful sounds, I welled up with emotion. “I have a daughter! Can’t you see her? I have a daugher!” kept running through my head over and over. I knew it would continue consuming me, and I also knew that this morning was about Freddie, loving him and being present to support him. I wanted him to see joy on my face, and I wanted to feel joy watching him. I didn’t want to lose myself; I didn’t want to allow myself to be lost to grief, not right then.
So I made my invisible child known. I can never make her visible in the literal sense, not any more. But I can bring her joy and light to life through my words. I can tell her story; I can share her; I can make her spirit known. I turned to the stranger sitting next to me and told her, “I’m starting to cry and it’s only going to get worse. I don’t know you, but can I tell you about my daughter?” This stranger had a particularly loving heart and not only listened, but also shared with me. And then Bethie was there. And someone knew I had a daughter, and she wasn’t invisible any longer.
I am proud to carry this invisible daughter in my arms, and I will work every day to make Bethie known.