Nearly a week ago now, Ethan asked me if we could see baby Wylie's room. It was the first time I heard him say her name in a while. I was never sure how to approach what we went through in the weeks before his third birthday, never sure what he remembered or understood. He said her name clearer now than he did when we were still waiting for her arrival. The "Wy-wee" had morphed more into a "Wy-lie." We sat in her room and looked up at the shades of turquoise that he so diligently helped me choose for her room. I remember our trips to Home Depot for swatches and sample buckets. I remember the mischievous smile on his face when I told him we could actually paint on the wall. Those were some of my favorite days, the ones I choose to remember when I think back on my pregnancy with Wylie. We sat in her room and he picked things out of boxes and asked what they were -- pacifiers, receiving blankets, swaddles, diapers. "Baby Wylie can't use these because she couldn't stay." I nodded. "That's right, buddy. These are still her things and she's still your sister even if we can't see her, even if she couldn't stay."
He sat down on my lap with a cat Wubbanub in his hands. "Maybe I can share these things with her. But what is it?" We talked about painting her room. We talked about the way she was very sick and the boo-boos inside her that made it so she couldn't stay with us. We talked about how that doesn't mean she's not his sister and even about what an incredible big brother he is. "But I didn't feed her milk in a bottle." We talked about how he gets to be a big brother in different ways. We talked about how Wylie is in his heart and as I spoke the words I resisted the urge to throw something at the wall because that isn't enough. It's never going to be enough. As a non-religious family, I tried to make it enough for Ethan's sake, at least at three. "We can miss her every day, buddy. We can love her every day, too." "Maybe we can sit in Baby Wylie's room and look at her things, mommy. Maybe we could do that."
Since Wylie's birth and death, I had kept her room off limits. I had kept the door locked up, the lights off, everything exactly where it was when we learned we were losing her. This was mostly for my healing -- and, of course, I use the word "healing" loosely. This was for my benefit to pretend that there wasn't a room down the hallway that never got to be slept in by the little girl it was reserved for. This was for my benefit so I didn't have to see the tiny clothes hanging in the closet, the newborn diapers sitting on the glider, the tiny box of decor that I didn't get to put up just yet. When I saw those things, my heart crumbled. What never occurred to me was how Ethan would need to heal and how, maybe, seeing those things could help him connect with the sister he would never get to physically see.
The door has opened several times since then. Sometimes we go in to look around and the baby items that were waiting for a little girl that never got to use them. We talk about the crib that belonged to him and would also belong to baby Wylie. We talk about the clothes and the "little sister" pajamas from Target that we couldn't resist buying on an impromptu trip for swim diapers. He doesn't remember that day, but I won't forget it. There is a massive weight lifted from my shoulders since Ethan opened that door the first time. There is no longer fear or the urge to vomit when I pass the closed door in the hallway. The other day, Ethan and I worked on Christmas crafts in the hallway and left her bedroom door open. It was freeing in a strange sense.
The more time that passes since we said goodbye to Wylie, the more confusing everything begins to seem. There is never a checklist for grief especially in those early days but the longer you go, the deeper into your grief journey you travel, there are more loose ends to tie up. There are more hurdles to hoist yourself over. There are more road maps to study to take you in the right direction even when you're not entirely sure where that is.
We call it baby Wylie's room now, all of us. "Go get your shoes, you left them in front of baby Wylie's room." Her name is more alive in our home than it has been in a while. The holiday season is the toughest when you've lost a child, but I am learning to find comfort in her memory. This is the stage of grief I have been trying to shut out as it looms closer. I am learning to let it in.