Once, I told a friend—a fellow grieving mom—that I would tear the universe apart searching for Evelyn.
"What would you do if you found her?" she asked. "In the keening, tearing, seam-ripping search for Evelyn?"
I would hold her, I said.
I would run my fingers over every piece of her.
I would trace her eyebrows first, and touch the pout of her bottom lip.
I would cradle my index finger in the dimple of her chin.
I would run them over the points of her ears and the scar in her left lobe where an earring ripped through when she was very young. I would place a hand over the scar on her forehead at her third eye, where she ran into a gate as a toddler.
I would run them through the thick curtain of hair she was growing on top of her head, and feel the soft baby fuzz along her scalp where she liked to shave it very, very, short.
I would roll them over the long, banana curve of her neck and the hard square of her beautiful shoulders.
I would place my hand over her heart and feel it beating beneath my fingers, and I would count every beat, and pray gratitude for each one.
And I would hold her slender body against mine, rocking it with so much tenderness. I would trace the length of her powerful legs and stare at her feet counting every toe because this is the one part of her I have the hardest time remembering.
I would sing a love song with her and savor every feathery pulse of her vibrato.
I would count her little teeth and smile at the pink of her gums and stare into those gray-blue eyes that never stopped grinning and rolling about and feel the fringe of her lashes against my skin and sigh with relief.
I would celebrate every atom of her and drink in her scent like water and lime.
And I would laugh until my ribs ached. I would never stop touching her.
Once, I watched a documentary about Abraham Lincoln. He suffered with depression. He lost two sons. He lost his mother and baby brother and eventually a sister. He knew grief like we knew grief—this friend and I. And when his second boy died in the White House, they said he would sneak out at night to his son’s coffin and slide the lid back and spend hours in the company of his body.
In the Before, I would have thought it macabre. But when I heard this, I felt envious. I wish I could sit with Ev’s bones and touch the framework that held her up and held her in. Her body is precious to me in all its stages. I would lay my bones next to hers and feel complete.
But I could not bear to leave her in the ground. I could not bear the thought that her bones would belong to someone else. Some man in a suit who did not know the dip of her navel or how she hated the sound of metal on metal. And so I gave her bones up. I brought her home in a beautiful raku urn with rainbow colors that iridesce in the finish, made by an artist in Canada, so new you can still smell the smoke on it.
When I look in there and see her ashes, I am grateful for the little fragments I find. I want to excavate them like an archeologist. Line them up like she once did her toys and give them each a fancy name like she once gave her fish. But it feels like a violation, and I don’t want to disturb her.
This is how love conquers death.
When it is your child, your fear is overcome, your need for them far greater. Even the shell of who they were is more precious to you than gold. They're bones become your jewels, your treasure of treasures.
I think we have gotten so many things wrong as a species. And more and more I think the worst of these errors is this: There is no greater love story than the love a mother has for her child.
When did we rewrite this in our mythic history? When did we put Romeo and Juliet before mother and baby? When did we decide to make Mary’s role a bit part? WE ARE TELLING THE WRONG STORY. I feel it singing through my bones.
My love for Evelyn is the reason I am enduring this unimaginable pain. My love for Zoey and Ben. There is nothing more pure in heaven or earth than this love. Nothing more radiant or velvet black. Nothing more real, more iron strong, more gently yielding. There isn’t an experience it does not contain. There isn’t an atom that cannot fit inside it.
If the universe began with a bang, maybe it was a mother’s heart breaking open that poured the stars into the sky. Maybe our hearts are pouring out stars now. Maybe our lost children are among them, bathed in light. Maybe I am the void. Maybe love started everything. My love. Your love. The love of mothers everywhere.
Maybe death is not the only truth.
My grieving friends, my fellow broken-hearted mothers, as Valentine's Day approaches, I will meet you in the trees to tell a new story—our story. The truest love story ever told. I will bring her rainbow urn for you to hold, and sit it in the soft moss at our feet. I will take your hand in mine and count the measure of your treasured son or daughter in your pulse.
Together, we will keep their time.
Together, we will howl what can’t be spoken.