Sometimes I can't tell if it's making me happy or sad to look at a picture. I just know that my chest aches and I have to close my eyes for a minute and it feels like something heavy has settled just below my lungs. It's a feeling that makes me want to stop, to look away. And yet there's a pull there, too; a tug like love, or loss.
I feel it when I see this picture of Goldie. There we were at Disneyland, riding that ridiculous caterpillar ride. The worker told Goldie to put her hands up so he could check her seatbelt, but somehow Goldie interpreted that as an order to keep her hands in the air for the entire ride. (Reinforcing this idea was the fact that she'd seen other people doing it, on roller coasters.) So she sat there as the caterpillar train made its slow, silly way around the track; all rosy and wondering, holding up those little hands faithfully, not really understanding anything that was going on, but full of hope and confusion and obedience. Ready for this—whatever it was—to begin. Ready to like it. But still unsure.
It makes tears come to my eyes as I write about it, for all the typical sentimental reasons—she's growing up too fast; she's got so many hard things ahead of her; how will I bear it? And I suppose I'm also crying for all my other two-year-olds, cruelly replaced—somehow—by bigger, smarter, later models of themselves. Clever, funny, delightful models, to be sure—upgrades, almost certainly—but…well, the people they were are gone, and I miss them.
Experiencing it constantly doesn't make it any easier. It's a daily, constant cycle of death and rebirth: THAT baby is gone. THIS one remains. I can't claim to know the way a child's true loss feels, though I can imagine the pain when that cycle is halted; when the rebirth never comes and the ache of loss can't give way to the wonder of renewal. But it's pain enough when you sense the cycle happening without you being aware of it at all. THAT child, gone before you even thought to learn who she was. THIS child, full of promise and mystery, but already changing; already, again, almost gone.
It's too pessimistic, of course, to see every change as something to mourn. In my own progression, I go through the same cycle of selves, and I can say honestly that there's hardly a one I'm sorry to have left behind. Teenage insecurities? New-parent uncertainty? First-toddler smugness? I'm thrilled to see those in the rear-view mirror. And I can't wait to shed all the parts of myself that so horrify me at present—hopefully in exchange for peace, wisdom, patience, humility. Spiritually, I feel like the cycle of self-death and self-rebirth is mostly an upward spiral. But it still doesn't stop me from feeling the loss when I see that same cycle spinning so fast, way too fast, in the lives of my children.
And looking at sweet, innocent, trusting little Goldie up there…well…maybe the comparison is too sappy, but in some ways I think I can see ME there as well, and maybe that's another small part of the ache I feel. I can imagine myself setting off on this mortal journey, feeling excited and apprehensive all at once, and probably mostly clueless about what was to come. And now here I still am, holding on dutifully to the tiny bits of knowledge I've gained, bracing myself for the unknowns ahead, hopeful and trusting, but yes, just the slightest bit terrified as well—not sure about what's coming next, or if I'll like it, or if IT will like ME.
I have to remind myself that it's RIGHT, this cycle. It's what our Heavenly Father wanted us to experience. To hope and fail and love and grieve and press on.
So we keep pressing on.