Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I love the clear crisp air, warm seasonal flavors, spooky houses, hayrides and pumpkin patches. Even as a kid I appreciated that first smell of fall in the air from the back-to-school recess playground. When my first daughter was stillborn just days before Halloween, I thought that my love for fall would disappear with her. I remember the nurses walking into the room wearing little costumes or black-cat ears meant to put smiles on the faces of the newborns’ young siblings in the happy rooms around me. I knew life was going on for everyone but me. When I went into the hospital it was unseasonably warm; almost 80 degrees. I had a long delivery and all told I was admitted in the hospital for four days, during which I never left my room. As I waited in the lobby for discharge I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was afraid to go home, to see the empty nursery, to face life. The hospital doors opened and there it was. The perfect fall day, 60 degrees, bright, beautiful. That’s when the autumn smell hit me and I was experiencing my favorite feeling at the worst time of my life.
My daughter would be four years old this October. I am familiar with this phenomenon of shadow grief. I know that during significant times of the year the loss feels as fresh as when it was new, where the feeling is so strong you have no choice but to stop what you are doing and focus on it. September is always the hardest for me as I anticipate the anniversary. I know the feeling is coming but it hits me just the same. However, by the time October finally rolls around, I am always back to myself. It turns out I still love fall; our house is decorated, costumes for my living children are in the closet, we are ready to go. These first perfect days when that smell of autumn finally comes around I now can almost feel my oldest daughter in my arms. It is a special gift where I get to be as close to her as possible until we meet again. Bittersweet certainly, but so worth it.