Fall brings beautiful leaves and crisp days that remind me that winter is drawing near. Apple turnovers slide out of the oven alongside my mother’s pumpkin bread recipe that we have made every autumn since I can remember. My senses are assaulted with cinnamon and crisp air on the skin and dark shadows. It is the dark shadows that continue to get me. They sucker punch me each October first just as I begin to realize the season is changing. I read a book recently with my nine year old son called Because of Winn Dixie. In the story, one of the characters gives India Opal a piece of candy called a litmus lozenge. The candy has a secret ingredient—sadness. India Opal comments that it tastes a little like root beer, a little like strawberry. My sadness tastes a little like cinnamon, a little like apple…a lot like fall…
In 2001, October 23 brought our family amazing happiness. Our second child, our daughter, made her appearance into the world four weeks early. She screamed into the world as fast as she could come, waylaying plans for c-sections and medical interventions as April, the nurse on duty, almost delivered her before the doctor arrived. Perhaps she already knew that just as her entrance was early and hurried so should be her exit.
When she died almost six weeks later, my arms ached for months, even years. My heart broke into millions of pieces. I woke up on a cold December morning to find my daughter’s lifeless, still body. Her mottled skin told me all I needed to know as my husband tried to breathe life back into her. We raced down the country road after the ambulance only to hear the worst possible news. Our daughter did not make it.
Here we are—today she would be eleven. I woke early this morning and rested perfectly still in the darkness. I could hear the rhythmic sounds of my husband asleep next to me, a slight rustling from our other three children above me in their bedrooms. I felt it then…the hollow empty ache in my arms that was so physical that I felt the old familiar scream building in my throat as silent tears slipped out of my tightly closed eyes. I fell into a fitful sleep for the rest of the long night and morning. As I slipped in and out of sleep, I dreamed of her. Her golden curls splayed in the autumn sun as she twirled in and around her brothers and sister. Her legs were long and colt like just as the rest of our children, with a splash of light brown freckles across a short stubby pug nose. She is smiling and laughing and the light is golden, fading just over the orange and red of the trees. The light wind over the valley smells faintly of cinnamon and apples.