You can't help but take note of the changing of the seasons when you're burying a baby in October. The sky may still be impossibly blue, but the brightly-colored autumn leaves tumbling to the ground serve as a reminder that the carefree days of summer are forever gone.
It's been 12 years since we buried our stillborn baby. On the first anniversary of her death, my husband and I visited her grave with a two-week-old baby, a six-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a nine-year-old in tow. For the next ten years after that, we headed to the cemetery as a family on the anniversary of her death, standing together as a family and silently recognizing how this tiny little person who never took a breath affected all of us in powerful and unexpected ways.
This year was the first year we weren't all in one place on the anniversary of Laura's death. Our oldest son was in another city, attending college. Our 20-year-old daughter's schedule was out of synch with the rest of the family's. So the remaining four of us – my husband and our two youngest sons – headed to the cemetery after dinner last night and spent a few minutes together reflecting and remembering. The brass on Laura's grave marker was sparkled brightly in the warmth of the autumn sun. It looked as if the plot had been freshly mowed.
* * *
Just before I was ready to head to bed, our 20-year-old arrived home. She was walking the walk of the righteously indignant.
"Aren't the cemetery people supposed to take care of Laura's stone? I had to pull out all kinds of grass with my hands."
Routines may shift and evolve as the years march along, but I am thankful that my kids' sense of family is still there. They may not be at the dinner table as often as they were when they were toddlers, but they understand who they are and where they fit into the life and history of our family: family members we see on a regular basis; family members we see occasionally; and family members who are no longer with us, but that we honor and remember in our hearts.
It's a connection that allows them to feel both rooted, powerful, and strong, like a giant maple tree reaching up toward the sun. They know that they are part of something bigger than themselves: a multi-generational work-in-progress.