In November 2009, five-year-old Madeline lost her lovey. Cow had been a baby gift, a small blanket with a cow head, it was made by a Belgian company and sold for a limited time by Hanna Anderson in the States. Over the years Cow had almost been lost. He had been rescued from garbage cans in parking lots and synagogues, from the fence of a random front yard, and once from the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco. We went once to get a replacement Cow from Hanna Anderson, but by then they no longer sold them. For some reason, ordering a new Cow from Belgium never seemed worth it.
Then, in early November, we lost Cow (by we, I of course mean, my husband, Danny). It came at what we thought was the tail end of a difficult period. The previous summer, while in Columbus, Ohio to attend the memorial service of my husband’s cousin, we got news that his grandmother on the other side had died. Madeline knew both relatives well. My father had his hip replaced. Madeline started kindergarten and then the entire family came down with the H1N1 virus. It was at the end of the virus, when I was still recovering that Danny took both kids out to a drum class and Cow was lost.
It was understandable. At the age of 5, Madeline rarely took Cow out of the house, so Danny was not on the constant alert for Cow that we had been when she was younger. Plus, he’d just spent a week inside with three puking people. Frankly, I was impressed that he’d come home with both kids.
We all cried, we all had trouble sleeping. I found a replacement cow on Ebay, and dealt with the seller from hell to get a new cow here in two days. I washed the new cow several times, I rubbed it on Madeline and on me, and she accepted it.
Then, we discovered that this had not been the end of a mildly difficult time, but the beginning of a horrible time.
Eric, Danny’s oldest friend, killed himself shortly before Thanksgiving 2009. We went into shock. I am not exactly sure what happened over the next few months, except to say that the hell culminated three months later on Valentine’s Day weekend when Danny went to the Urgent Care clinic with an asthma attack so severe he was almost hospitalized. Then, we slowly began to recover, to climb back to normal.
We have now survived over a year without Eric, the first year in either Danny or the kid’s memories without him. We have also gone over a year without his wife, who remains unable or unwilling to talk to us, and whose loss we feel almost as deeply. We have gone over a year without a trip to the E.R.. My father had a pacemaker inserted. We have lost other family members, and a job and we have been sad, but we have been o.k., too. Sometimes, we have been incredibly happy.
For over a year now, none of us mentioned Cow, or the replacement cow. I was not completely sure that Madeline remembered that her current cow isn’t Cow.
It’s now February 2011 and lately, out of nowhere, Madeline has been having trouble sleeping. She says she’s afraid, she says she needs more snuggling, she says she’s hungry or upset. A few nights ago, after an uneventful day and a warm bath she began to cry.
“Mommy, I really loved my old Cow,” she said. “I know, “ I answered. “I really loved him, too. It’s sad when we lose things and people we love.” “Mommy, I miss him, and I think he misses me. He must want to know why I never came to get him.” We both began to cry, and I began to lie.
“Well, honey, I think the reason we couldn’t find Cow when we went back to look for him was that another little girl who needed a Cow found him. So, I think it’s sort of like us. We miss Cow, but we have a new cow, so we’re O.K. most of the time. Cow misses you, but he has a new little girl, too, so he’s ok, and he knows you’re ok, too.”
Madeline seemed to accept this, we cried a little more, and talked a little bit about the minor ways the two cows were different. Then, she went to sleep, and slept better than she has in a few weeks, She hasn’t mentioned it again. I, too, cried myself to sleep that night. I cried about all the people I have lost. I cried for Madeline ever having to learn about loss, even in such a minor way. And silly as it sounds, I cried for Cow, too. Because I miss him and I know he probably isn’t with another little girl and her mom.
There is a part of me that wants to find ANOTHER cow. That wants to sleep with it for weeks, rub it in the dirt and wash it when Madeline isn’t home. That wants to take scissors and put a small hole in the left had corner, where a two-year-old Madeline experimented with scissors on Cow. Then, I want to put it in an envelope and mail it to us with a note from the Old Town School of Folk Music saying it finally turned up in the Lost and Found.
But, I won’t.
Because sometimes, we lose things that we love. Sometimes we lose people we love.
There are so many things that Mommy can fix, but that is not one of them.
It would be easier to order a new Cow from Belgium, to spend weeks perfecting that Cow. It would be easier to do all of that and let her learn about loss and broken hearts when she’s older, when it does not keep me up at night. But I won’t. The things we lose when we’re older hurt so much more, even more than losing Cow. Holding Madeline’s hand, holding her tight and helping her to learn that love and loss go hand in hand, that it’s horrible, but you survive, that’s my gift to her. My job as her mom is to not try and fix this, but to let it happen, even to let it hurt.