The sky knew a tragedy was looming. Instead of the ethereal moonlight that usually streams in through our clean windows, it was dark and starless that night, the moon concealed in a cold shadow of storm clouds descending cruelly upon our house.
She was gone.
Like a single flake of snow, she’d come into this world and melted out of it in just two weeks, our daughter who we’d named after the Greek goddess Selene. Like her namesake, she had a connection to the moon – she was born on a new one, and gone by the time it became full.
Her grave is small, her headstone a future spectacle for tourists visiting this old Parisian church. Someday, hundreds of years from now, people will walk through this churchyard and solemnly marvel at how young some of the souls buried here were when they perished. Perhaps for a moment, they will even grieve. The small comfort of this notion is that Selene will never be forgotten. The dates on her grave, written in stone, serve as a reminder that life is a fragile thing.
I hadn’t comprehended this fragility before she was born, though I wish I had, for I’d planned out Selene’s whole life not knowing she’d never have one. I’d imagined that I would give her Kitty, the old stuffed cat I’d played with as a child, and that she’d love it as much as I did. We’d live in my husband’s native France, where Selene was born, but spend summers in Maine, where I grew up. Here, Selene would make friends, running on the cold beach with them, catching starfish in tide pools and collecting seashells off the clean white sand. She’d play tennis with her father. With me she’d paint. Perhaps she’d go to school in Paris, then move to the States for college. Maybe she’d elect to study abroad, in Japan or Australia or Spain. No matter what she would have wanted, we’d have let Selene fly and become who she was meant to be. We’d have raised her to be fair, kind and generous. But she would have been allowed to make mistakes and get frustrated. Because that’s what life is.
Selene, however, wasn’t destined for life. The doctor estimated Selene’s pediatric brain tumor would take her from us in ten days. She stayed for fourteen.
I was unprepared for her departure. For months I was plagued with dreams of Selene smiling down on me from above, her kind eyes telling me that she knew she was only a one-time visitor to our world. She was content with that. But I wasn’t! I’d wake up in tears, a million questions circling the corners of my mind. What was it like where she’d ended up? Who was taking care of her? Didn’t she cry for her mother? Why did she leave me?
Didn’t she know I needed her?
My husband comforted me, but it was a half comfort as his grief had swallowed the other half. We silently decided never to have another child, for the loss of one had consumed any desire to try again. But to my surprise, a year and three months after we’d lost Selene, there it was. Two unplanned pink lines on the pregnancy test. I was nauseated with uncertainty. But then suddenly, I felt Selene’s presence around me, as if she knew this was the right time for me to go through the journey of motherhood once again. Perhaps she’d even sent me this new child. Selene, I felt, knew all. That’s what made her so special.
Nine months later, we had Soleil. She isn’t Selene. Instead, she’s a different kind of magic. Soleil is the warmth in the cold, and the brightest of lights at the end of the darkness we’ve lived through. She will never replace Selene. But often, when she smiles, I am reminded of Selene’s friendly face. Soliel even smells like her sister. She is funny and clever and kind and sometimes when Soliel laughs, I feel as if Selene is visiting us, her spirit on vacation from that far away realm she’s in.
I am no longer worried for my first born. Because she is a part of our family and always will be. We will love her forever.
And I believe, wherever she is, Selene knows this too.