My oldest daughter is dead. She died 14 years ago today. She was 18.
I've written about her before, and I've tied our loss to the sufferings of others, I've tried to imagine her world view, what she would have cared about, what would have been meaningful to her. But I've left out something very important -- a major event in her life, in our lives, that shaped her personality, her talents and her perspective.
In the fall of 1986 we were a classic, somewhat traditional family. We had a six-year-old daughter and an almost 3-year-old son. I was a grad student and research assistant, my husband was a community psychiatrist.
Our daughter had been a highly social creature. If there was an afternoon without a friend over, that was an afternoon wasted in her opinion. Our house, with our wonderful babysitter who comes from a huge family and loves kids, was routinely full of children -- our own two, the other little boy who was also cared for by our babysitter, and various neighborhood kids who came to enjoy the fun and welcoming atmosphere in our home.
We went from that to silence, to mourning, to exhaustion and depression.
For a while she tried to have friends over, but the presence of her shell of a brother made her friends and her uncomfortable. She retreated into the isolation of her room.
She became a writer. Writing was her companion, her outlet, her method of survival.
Thankfully, we had another child, a wonderful little noisy funny girl and her presence in the family brought back laughter and joy. Our oldest daughter welcomed her little sister into the household with both love and relief.
This diary is dedicated to both of them. Their deaths, though 8 years apart, have anniversaries within a week of each other. This week.
Our little boy who loved anything mechanical, anything with buttons to push -- his brief life changed our perspective on life, changed my career and changed our priorities. Our oldest daughter with her longer life and amazing talent affected not only us but myriad friends and relatives. Her life and death carved a frieze of pain and appreciation into all of us.
This diary is also dedicated to the two wonderful daughters we have now -- both of them entering our lives because of what we lost, both shaped by tragedy (although different tragedies), and both of them amazing in completely different ways. We are incredibly lucky to have them, to love them and to be with them. And because of what we lost, we are constantly aware of how we should value our time with them and appreciate their many strengths and talents, their lively personalities and their boundless charm.