Last week as I was cleaning out our catch-all corner, pieces of dried salt dough with Alida’s preserved baby handprint came across my path. Luckily the part with her hand was still in one piece, but her name and the date had been broken off. I strained to read the date, suddenly wanting desperately to know how old she had been when I pressed her tiny hand into the soft, salty dough.
I rushed to get the superglue, hoping I could manage to salvage most of it. One of the other kids had broken it some time back, and in that moment I had been so upset, I just pushed the broken memento aside, not wanting to allow the deep gushes of disappointment to rush over me. By now those waves had settled, but as I stood there, hovering over this pile of dried dough like a child doggedly trying piece after piece to fit the puzzle, a different emotion surged within me. My face scrunched up and the tears welled in my eyes, already spilling over before I could even ask myself what this was all about. This time I would be not allowed to push emotion aside.
Thoughts elsewhere I glued two pieces and forcefully held them together, asking myself why exactly I’m upset. “My baby Alida” blinked across my inner eye and the tears streamed harder. Absently I checked the pieces to see if they held and ouch!, my fingers were glued along with it. I grinned despite myself, shook my head and briefly wondered if I should leave the superglue to Patrick.
“This is silly,” I scolded myself. “What on Earth is so upsetting about this little handprint?”
Yes, little. Tiny, in fact. Despite my continued gluing, the date had not yet become completely visible. My first intuition told me it just took place. With a closer look I deciphered October – Alida had just turned two!
The logical part of my brain finally turned on, so that I could slowly respond to the terror that began creeping up my throat. That motherly instinct of “something has happened to my baby!” became replaced with a “calm down, she is safe in kindergarten (pre-school) and they would call if there was an emergency.” I breathed a quiet prayer of protection and blessing anyway.
The tears continued to roll down my cheeks, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of mourning. A deep, soulful awareness overtook me as I admitted that my little Alida is no longer a baby as she becomes more independent each day; that maybe I need to let go and see her with different eyes.
With her birth it was clear to Patrick and me that our family was complete. And I enjoyed every minute of her tinyness, her beauty as an infant. I have tried to be mindful in relishing each phase with her because I knew it would be the last with my own children. But I have also given away each box with too-small clothes with great satisfaction. I cheered when we finally said good-bye to the last diaper and buggy.
This rudimentary piece of art now glued together in imperfection symbolized my need to let my little baby go and allow her to become the person she is. But it was more than that: it is learning to let go of past moments – not forgetting or refusing to accept them – but allowing this moment to become my reality.
Early the next morning we received news that a grandmother to our friends and woman I greatly admire for many reasons underwent a surprise surgery in the night, during which the doctors discovered metastases of the cancer she had claimed victory over the last two years. Immediately I thought back to my experience the day before and could not help but wonder if the two experiences were related. Had I been mourning unaware for our friend? Not mourning her death, but the tragedy of her now having to let go of one reality to face a much more difficult one?
Does letting go always need to be accompanied by grief? I am confident it does not. In fact by letting go I believe we are able to make room for more – in my life this means allowing for more of God’s grace and love to move in and through me.
And apparently letting go of what binds can inspire others. On that same afternoon as I was mulling over all these thoughts and feelings, Alida asked me to help her practice riding bike. Her enthusiasm was new, as practicing before was more difficult than fun. As the times before, I lightly held her back, giving her support as she wobbled up the street. We turned around to ride back down the hill towards our house and I couldn’t help but let go. I ran alongside, trying to keep up, but she sailed away, laughing as she went.