My parents have 7 living grandchildren. I was so excited for Lincoln to be number 8. The cousins have a strong bond. The family gets together and they are drawn to each other like magnets. They take care of each other and play together for hours. I couldn’t wait to add my gingery, freckly little boy into that mix.
Lincoln didn’t get to meet his cousins. He doesn’t get to run and play with them. He doesn’t get to be smothered in their kisses. But he is still #8. He is still part of the family. Last week, my youngest niece was visiting for the first time since my first trimester. She didn’t watch my belly grow or attend the baby shower. She didn’t know to expect him. I sat down with her and shared Lincoln with her. I shared photos and told her how much I love him. She asked question after question. Why did he die? Why do bad things happen? Why couldn’t he stay? Why? I couldn’t answer all of the Whys. I can’t even answer those for myself. So I told her, “Sometimes things happen that we just can’t explain.” She was confused. It doesn’t make sense. Maybe it never will but, even though she didn’t understand what all of this meant, she did understand my heart. She understood my pain. She understood my love.
Later that morning, my niece and I sat at the kitchen table and painted pictures. She asked me some more questions. So, did you bury him in your back yard? I explained urns and cremation, a difficult concept for a child to grasp. She told me, “I think burying is better, so you don’t have to just throw them in fire.” I was surprised by how closely I related to this innocent statement. I recalled the shock and pain when someone first recommended cremation to me. As I answered sadly, she left the table to get the framed photo of Lincoln that I had given her. She gently placed it on the table, facing my husband and I. She picked up her paintbrush, painted a big backwards L, and asked me, “How do you spell Lincoln?” I spelled and she painted. Then, with concern in her eyes, she handed me the painting and said, “It must be such hard work to have him on one day and not have him.” Yes, sweet girl. It is hard work.
She painted me a second picture, using brown and orange, the colors of Lincoln’s outfit; and she sang, “Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln.” Sweet music to my ears. So rarely do I hear his name from his extended family. Even though Lincoln is a nephew and a cousin, no one can include him quite like my husband and I do. No one can understand what it feels like to go on without him. But this little girl just got it somehow. She connected with Lincoln in the same way she connects to the rest of her cousins. She spent the rest of our time together stuck to my side. She held my hand, and snuggled with me, maybe knowing that I am now lacking that in my life. While my niece was here, for just a little while, I got to feel like Lincoln was part of the family. And that was the greatest gift a family member could give me.