My long time nanny, Josephina (dubbed Nina by Cecelia) has a granddaughter that was born within five days of my daughter. Her oldest child had two boys preceding Natalie and her birth was very celebrated. So were the birthdays. I remember attending her birthday when Nina first started working for us - I think it was her third. I brought the kids to their home and it was a feast. There was a large cake that resembled a multi-tiered wedding cake, a pig that had been roasting in the ground all day, many different tamales including the cactus that would become my favorite over the years Nina worked for us as a nanny. Natalie was dressed to the nines and looked like a Madame Alexander doll. Nina still helps out around the house once a week with the laundry, and is ever available for babysitting and emergency snow days, of which we had many this year.
Natalie and Cecelia played together a lot while they were growing up - Nina would bring her to the house while I was at work some days. When they went out people would mistake them for twins - my daughter has very dark skin and gorgeous brunette hair from her father's side so she looked like a carbon copy of her Hispanic friend. Natalie was full of life - the apple of her mother's and grandmother's eye. I encouraged the friendships among my kids and my nanny's grandkids - I enjoyed the closeness and supportiveness of the children, older and younger, that her culture taught. I watched the behavior of the children at birthday parties and found responsibility and protection manifest at a much younger age - something I saw lacking in my own social circles.
About three years ago Natalie suffered from an acute illness that progressed rapidly from fever and stomach problems to seizures. The seizures, unprecedented, rocked her body and required hospital admission. I was lucky enough to be off and in town when it happened, and spent a lot of time at the hospital trying to facilitate communication between the doctors and my nanny's family - many of whom did not speak English. Unfortunately it did not help Natalie's health. The uncontrollable seizures continued for hours, days, and caused severe brain damage. They never figured out the precise etiology, but suspected something viral. She has lived at home for three years, but requiring constant attention, wheelchair-bound, and regular visits from home health. As my children have required less attention from a nanny in recent years, they see her family less. But they have attended their Catholic church with them some and we bump into them occasionally.
Sunday Natalie died. I have lots going on this week, busy work and family visiting in the evenings, but I just picked out an outfit to wear to the funeral tomorrow - one of my partners is covering my service. I found time to tell the children tonight. I grappled with hard questions. I wasn't always able to give firm answers. "Has Natalie been in her body while she was in the wheelchair? Did she hurt? Was her spirit there? Was she aware? Where is she now? Does she have her old body back?" My son was in tears, my daughter reminisced about playing with Natalie in the old days.
"Wherever she is, she certainly has her old body and her spirit and she is free and happy. And that is a good thing. She knows we are thinking about her, that we love her and miss her." I am feeling the loss of Cecelia's pseudo-twin deeply. I cannot imagine what her parents are going through, have been going through for the last three years. I know this loss of a child is impacting my children. I am much less certain in my own mind than the words I deliver to attempt to calm my children. I am also experiencing that when a child dies, words come slow and thick. There are no words that can comfort or explain. In a parent's eyes, the loss of potential future must be staggering. In a child's eyes, hopefully the short life lived in the present moment was enough.