Henry: Souvenirs

DSC03978 Henry Anna Crib sq />Souvenir: [soo-vuh-neer, soo-vuh-neer]

–noun 1. a usually small and relatively inexpensive article given, kept, or purchased as a reminder of a place visited, an occasion, etc.; memento.

Henry will not remember Anna. He was two years, 11 months and ten days when she died. The best I can hope for is that there will be so many pictures of Anna and she will be so much a part of our family lexicon that he will feel like he remembers her.

I have some early childhood memories that I do not know if I really remember or if the “memory” is because of a photo. We have a picture of every day of Anna’s life. Dozens of Henry and Anna together. Perhaps the pictures will knit together memories for Henry.

My earliest memory is of trauma. I was at my babysitter’s house and my brother, Scott, and I were racing to the rec room. I distinctly remember running around the corner into the kitchen, then around the corner again to the basement stairs. I was laughing the unique shriek/chortle of a child being chased. Scary! Fun!_I have her mama sq

Then I remember sitting on the blue-green basement carpeting, wailing. I had fallen down the stairs and hit my forehead on the corner of a stone mantle.

Next I remember sitting in the babysitter’s kitchen. She offered me grape Kool-Aid. I remember thinking: This is way too serious for grape Kool-Aid.

I ended up with some seriously sloppy stitches on my right temple, and a lollipop that had a plastic owl in the middle.

Here’s the crazy part: I was two. But I still remember it so clearly.

Maybe this distinct trauma, this epic loss, will crystallize Henry’s memory of Anna. The little sister he liked to hold. Who he called “gorgi” and “little girl.” Maybe he will remember always tipping his head so it touched hers and closing his eyes. The way he kissed her feet. How he stood on the pink step stool to help change her diapers and get her dressed.

If anything, he will probably remember her funeral. The crying of those he loves and rarely sees in that state. Mommy. Daddy. Nora. (OK, he does see Nora cry quite a bit.) The strange places: funeral home, cemetery, crematory, columbarium … the strange activities: wake, funeral, interment.0520091020 Henry Anna Kiss sq

Maybe, he will remember family camp, just two-and-half weeks after we lost her. Maybe he will remember her interment and tree-planting, on October 10. Maybe he will remember hanging angels on her blue spruce on (what would have been) her six-month birthday. And we will keep remembering her – formally and informally – so that at the very least Henry will have remembrances of Anna. His whole life, he will remember remembering her.

In French, the word for “to remember” is “se souvenir.” That’s the origin of the English word souvenir – a reminder, a keepsake, a token. Throughout Henry’s life, we will give him souvenirs of Anna; tangible ones like his Anna Bear, who hold a heart with a picture of Anna, and intangible ones, like celebrating her birthday and reminding him that he is a big brother.

Henry will probably never know, until he is old enough to read this himself, how he saves me from the brink of grief every day. How his warm, open, loving nature – how he likes to cuddle and hold hands – fits perfectly inside my grief.0522091136 Henry Anna Point sq He truly knows when to crawl into my lap, when to climb into my bed. He innately understands that comfort is not just emotional, it’s physical.

One morning the week before last, it was rainy and dark. With the shades drawn and no sunshine, Henry must have thought it was very early or still night time. He sleepily walked out of his room with his nonnie (pacifier), bee (blankie), and Twilight Turtle. When he saw me getting ready for work he started crying.

Henry: But I wanted to get into family bed wif you!

Mommy: Go cuddle into my bed, you can watch a show.

Henry: Noo wif you!

So I put my pajamas back on, knowing I would be late to work, and cuddled with my boy in our cozy family bed. And it was good. And it helped … me.

Earlier that week, it was All Saints’ Day. I was not prepared. I went into church late because Henry did not want to leave me and it so it took some convincing to get him to stay in Sunday school. I slipped into the pew next to Steve and opened the bulletin. Right, All Saints’ Day. Right … they’re going to read Anna’s name. Right … the hymns are all sad.

Just as the grief was beginning to overflow, I felt a warm hand on my leg. I turned to see Henry’s sad little face. He did not make it through Sunday school. It was as if our little guardian angel hustled him out of there and into my arms, just at the moment I needed him. I sat down and held him, and he held me, for a long time. And it helped … me.

DSC02680 Henry Anna HeadsHenry still does not fully comprehend what happened to Anna. I still think that if we brought her in the door today (oh that we could!), it would take a day or two, and then for Henry it would be like she was never gone.

But though he does not fully understand her loss, Henry is critical to our family’s healing. We will help him remember … he will help us heal.

Nous nous souvenons.

One comment.

  1. Jenn, children are so good for the soul. During my toughest times, like when Tim was diagnosed with cancer, I would go to one of my kids houses, sit on the floor and just snuggle with my grandkids. It’s so therapeutic.

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