The four of us were laying in Lily Baker's bed tonight. We had just finished the devotional and bedtime story and LB was about to pray.
"Wait," said Ann Catherine. "Mommy, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," I answered.
She sat up and looked me straight in the eye. "When did Melissa die?"
I took a deep breath and answered, "Just a few hours after she was born."
"Did I know?" she asked. "No," Chris answered. "You were so sick, baby." "And tiny," I added. "You were too young to know what was going on."
We all sat in silence for a couple of seconds. Then she began to cry. And as it built up, those cries turned into sobs. Deep, heavy sobs. Tears rolled down her face as she cried out loud.
It was a first for us. We've talked about Melissa to Ann Catherine for the past two years. She has asked questions and listened to our answers.
But this was a first. It was the first time she had ever cried about her sister's death.
Chris reached out for her, but she wanted her mother. I crawled over and held her as she sobbed. It was as if all of the sadness and uncertainty finally began to spill from her little, 5-year-old body.
As I held her, I thought of all of the things we usually say to her about Melissa. Those phrases raced through my mind:
She's in Heaven.
She's with Jesus.
We'll see her again one day.
But nothing came out. I couldn't speak. Instead, I just held her and cried with her.
"Can she come back to Earth?" Ann Catherine asked between sobs. She's asked that question countless times. She knows the answer, but she asked it anyway.
"No, baby," Chris answered. "But we will see her again. And it will be the greatest reunion."
But that didn't satisfy her.
"I want her to come back," she cried. "I want to see my sister."
"So do I," I told her. "We all do."
All week Lily Baker has been a pill. She has an iron will and we've had more than one standoff. At times this week I've wished she could be more caring and sweeter.
When it counted, she was.
She came over to us, and put her arms around Ann Catherine. AC cried out, "I miss my sister!" and Lily Baker answered, "I'm right here, Sissy."
"And we're so grateful you are," I told her.
I've often wondered when it would hit Ann Catherine, really hit her. When would the enormity of losing her twin become real to her? When would she go from talking about her to grieving her?
It happened tonight. It was hard. And it was painful. As a mother, you never want your children to hurt. During those moments, I would have given anything to take that pain away from Ann Catherine.
But I can't erase what happened to Melissa. And I can't erase the enormous impact it will have on our family for the rest of our lives. I would love nothing more than to change those events and take that sadness and sorrow out of Ann Catherine's life.
But I can't.
I'm just glad we've handled Melissa's death in a way that Ann Catherine's feels comfortable asking about her. And crying about her. As I held her tonight as she cried, I thought back to all of those times that Chris has held me as I did the same.
And isn't that what family is about? I know we have a lot of tears in our future. Tonight was just the first of many cries AC is going to have over the loss of her sister. It's the first of many cries we'll have together.
And when that happens, we'll hold each other. It's all we can do.