At the top of our stairs is a digital frame that we got just a few days after Donna died. We wanted something for the memorial service to show our favorite photos of Donna. Her little four year old life, from birth to death, captured on an electronic screen.
The photos have never changed. Several times a week I find myself getting caught up looking at them. A rest after climbing 14 stairs, a pause before I get on with my day, a memory captured that confirms once upon a time I mothered a daughter.
One of my favorite things when people visit our home is seeing them stealing glances at the photos, or outright just looking at them, unselfconsciously. Our girl is missed by many. That is a gift.
Donna had one brother when she died. Now six years old, he was a wee little 10 month old baby at the time. Each night before we tucked him in, part of our nightly ritual was to stop at this little corner of our home and say, “Night night, Donna!” At some point that stopped, I don’t know when.
Now she has another brother. There was no overlap of their lives and they share no biology, as he came to us through adoption, but still, he is Donna’s brother. The truth is that he looks more like Donna than her brother that shares genes with her ever did. Our youngest son has the exact same shade of golden hair. He has the pink pillow lips and almond shaped blue eyes, too. His smile calls Donna to mind more every day. People who knew Donna will whisper to us, “He looks like Donna,” as if saying that is a breach of adoption etiquette.
He does look like Donna. That both fills me with joy and makes me ache in equal measure. When he sits in my lap and eats his morning breakfast of oats with grape jelly, just as Donna did, I am transported back in time when my little girl with her chicklet teeth did just the same. It is a thin thread that connects my oldest and my youngest. I am grateful for that thread.
A few months ago, while doing dishes — where so many of my most profound thoughts seem to occur — the baby was sitting in his height chair close by nibbling on something or other. I noticed in that moment that his eyes were on Donna. His eyes stayed on Donna. I finished the dishes, I swept, I wiped down the counters. His eyes never once stopped looking at Donna.
Since then, I often pop the baby in his height chair with a few nibbles and roll the chair in front of that screen where digital Donna ages right before his eyes. His sister’s lifetime passes by while he eats a fistful of Cheerios, transfixed. It is as close to babysitting as Donna will ever get. I am grateful to see my children together, even virtually.