Maddie and Riley were only nine months old when their dad died.
Up until two days before his death, John was actively involved in caring for the twins. He conserved every ounce of the waning energy he had to spend with them. He’d sleep all day so that he could change Madeleine into her pajamas, give her a bottle, and read both kiddos a story. He’d rouse himself in the morning to sit in the kitchen while Maddie and Riley ate breakfast, and he’d kiss them as we headed out the door to daycare. Being a dad was something that John always wanted, and I don’t think anything about dying so young was harder for him than knowing he would not be around to see the twins grow up.
We have pictures of John up all around the house. There are wedding pictures, photos of John and me together, photos of all four of us, photos of John with the babies, snapshots of John with his parents and siblings. Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about Daddy. I’ll mention that I’m wearing his favorite color, or that we’re eating one of his favorite foods, or that he loved to read stories. I often tell the kids that I miss John, that I wish he were around, and that there are certain things about parenting that he would have done much better than I do. Every night before Maddie and Riley go to bed, I remind them that no one loves them more than Mama and Daddy.
In the weeks after John died, Riley had frequent nightmares, and his sleep has frankly never been great since John’s death. While he can point Daddy out in pictures, he rarely spontaneously brings up John, as opposed to Maddie, who will speak about him completely out of the blue. She’s been known to say, “Maddie miss Daddy,” and “Maddie love Daddy.” Sometimes when I yell at them or am cross or impatient, the kids will say, “Mama miss Daddy. Mama sad.” Yes, it’s true.
I don’t know how much of what they say is coached and learned from me, and I don’t know how much they understand when they say, “I miss Daddy.” They understand that a daddy is a parent, but they have yet to understand that some kids have two parents, some two mamas, some two daddies, some one of each. They certainly haven’t asked where John is, or why he’s not at home.
For now, I choose to believe that they harbor active memories of John, that they can recall spending time with him as babies, that they can still feel him holding them and have a physical sensation of his love. I know that I can still recall what it felt like to hug him and to hold his hand. I want to believe that they can still remember that, too. In fact, I want so much to believe it that I have hesitated to do any research into infant memory less some scientific study prove my romantic belief wrong.
I know that Maddie and Riley won’t have the real memories forever. I can already feel my real memories slipping away. It gets harder and harder to reacall the sound of John’s voice, the feel of his hand. The line is getting blurry between what I actually remember and what I only think I remember as I look at a photograph. And I don’t know anyone who holds real memories from when they were four months, six months, nine months old. So all I can do is keep making memories for the twins. Better created memories than none at all, or so I hope.