I only met their daughter once.
She was about three or four weeks old, out for a stroll with Mom and Dad, who lived just around the corner from us. It was a beautiful early fall day and I remember feeling so happy for them. The last time I'd seen them together she was still pregnant and feeling heavy and hot. Now she looked tired but still so much better. She had the weary glow of a new mom, proud to be pushing her beautiful baby around, but still not quite used to the fact that this little bundle had to be packaged up and taken everywhere with them now.
I was pregnant at the time and like every first time expectant mother I was dying to reach into their stroller and stroke the tiny face, or pick her up and cuddle her for a moment in my arms. But the baby was asleep and I was hesitant to wake her, so instead I just stood and stared for a few moments and whispered my gushing ooohs and ahhhs and quiet words of congratulations to the new parents. Now I wish I had reached in and touched the sleeping baby after all. Now I know that such a tiny newborn would probably not be woken by such a gentle gesture.
I remember the little girl's face to this day. She was lovely and although I'm prone to tears anyway my pregnancy hormones didn't help any and I got a little wet in the eyes at the thought that soon enough I'd be the proud mom pushing the carriage. I had a million questions for these brand-new parents who looked, to me, like they already had it all figured out. I remember remarking how good Mom looked.
"Are you actually sleeping?" I asked her, "You look great."
"Oh yeah, sure," she said with a laugh, "This parenting thing is a piece of cake. No trouble at all."
Of course, she was teasing me. Because, as I know now, this parenting thing is very, very far from a piece of cake.
I never ran into Mom and her baby again, despite the fact that they lived so near by, but I did see Dad many times. He always asked how I was feeling and commented on my growing belly and I always asked after his wife and daughter. I still remember the day that he told me they had bought a new house. He was at the corner putting up an open house sign and we chatted for a while. He told me that although they had loved living in the area while it was just the two of them, she had started feeling anxious and nervous about it now that the baby had arrived.
We live in a rather "urban" neighbourhood, filled with train tracks and half-way houses. There's a juvanile hall around the corner and sometimes rowdy and drugged up teens crowd the streets and act up. At the time I didn't understand her fears. This is just the price for living downtown. I had never felt scared by the "characters" in my 'hood. But I wasn't a mother yet and she was. And now I do understand. Now with a heavy heart and a knot in my stomach I understand all too well.
As parents, almost instantly, you develop a physiological need to protect your children. It is not something that can be taken lightly or pushed to the back of your mind. It is all encompassing. It is overwhelming beyond description. This couple, with their beautiful baby girl, were listening to their instincts and moving away from her perceived dangers. They had purchased a house in a "good" neighbourhood, on a tree-lined street, a larger, cleaner, "safer" place to raise their daughter. He told me they were a little saddened to leave their urban life behind, but also very excited to start their new life as parents in a new house with more space and a yard.
We've all heard the stories about the mother who lifts up a car to save her child pinned underneath. When you have a child of your own, you understand where this hidden strength comes from. But the horrible truth of it is? Sometimes, despite your every effort, despite the fact that you have now devoted every ounce of your entire being to keeping your babies safe and sound, sometimes even super-human strength is not enough to protect them. Moving to a better neighbourhood or lifting up the car simply won't be the answer all the time.
Last week this lovely couple's baby girl died quietly in her sleep. She was 13 months old. I didn't know her and I don't know her parents all that well. But I am shattered by this news. I am devastated by the knowledge that this can happen at any time to anyone's child. And by the haunting fact that there isn't a thing that we can do prevent it.
My greatest hope today for this family, who must be broken into so many pieces at this time, is that one day they will be able to pick the shards and put them back together again. Perhaps not in the exact same shape that they were in before, but at least in a shape that makes some kind of sense to them and allows them to stand up and move ahead.
To really appreciate the people we love is one thing we can do to honour the life of a tiny little girl who was certainly loved beyond her comprehension and who will now be missed beyond belief. I know I'll be hugging my loved ones tighter from today forward. I hope that you all will too.