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After seven years, July still surprises me, how much it still hurts.

After seven years, we still miss you ever more.

Every July, I awaken with hopeful alertness in the middle of the night. Before I open my eyes to the dark, I will tell myself I need to look sharp, in case I see you, for I am sure you will disappear in a blink and I must imprint that image of you deeply in my heart.

But you never visited, even though I felt so intently that you are close by.

You are so far, and yet so near.

You are our star voyager. Far, far away, we cannot reach. We cannot touch. We cannot hold. We cannot kiss our little boy, and pinch his cheeks,. Yet between us we silently toss you within our hearts, cradling you ever so fiercely yet gently. When we sing, we hope the echoes of our voices reach you wherever you are. When we read, we imagine you must hear the stories too, and marvel with us.

You would have been seven. A child probably all excited about his birthday celebration, thinking balloons, cake and presents. Maybe trucks, maybe fireworks. Perhaps dinosaurs, or spiders, or a treehouse. Mud, ice cream and tadpoles. I do not know, I only imagine.

But I never really try to imagine you as how old you ought to be. You are either the baby whom I held, and did not want to give up to the unknown; or you are the grown-up boy who comes a-knocking on the door, always a dream and forever a fantasy of mine. I think, trying to imagine every year how you ought to be, is just too much for me. I just want to have you tiny to hold, or big to really bear-hug.

July is a month on the calendar, always coming after June, never out of line. Yet it always arrives with a long, hard stab. And then it never fails to be a long month, hot and slow. It is a month of memories. I treasure the time to re-visit all those lovely moments, when we anticipated you. And it is good to have the time and space to sit down and let the tears flow, because the truth is, I do not always allow myself the time or space for tears during other times of the year.

Your sisters, they miss you too. Often wondering how it would have been like to have a brother in their mix. Your littlest sister, she is unaware of you yet. Or is she? I cannot be totally certain. But I have not introduced you to her yet. I wanted to make sure she is old enough that she will not just feel sad and scared, but instead will have a sense of amazement and admiration for the brother whom she never met. Maybe next year. Sometimes I think she will just tell me, “I knew him all along. Ferdinand. Star voyager.”

I have nothing more to say. Still the same things, Ferdinand. We miss you, and we love you, forever more.

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Dear Ferdinand,

guess what I pulled out from under the bed just now?

A box. Filled with lovely, cute, and handsome clothes you never got to wear.

I have never forgotten about the box, every night aware of its weight sitting on the carpet under the bed when I crawl into bed to snuggle with Lyra. I have never forgotten how I made my way through the stores, looking at boy’s clothes (a new territory to me) and smiled and imagined you wearing the clothes, running, shouting, waving your arm, slinging mud.

Seeing these clothes again filled me with a sore longing for you, my boy. And I had a much-needed cry.

How I miss you.

Your father and I decided we will hang on to the box. Maybe some day one of your sisters will use them on their children, if they have a son. With this world, with life, you just never know.

I still hold hope we meet again.

Till then, know that I love you, and miss you.

Love,

mama

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Dear Ferdinand,

a few days ago your sister asked, “Do you think that Ferdinand knows that we love him?”

Of course, I told her, of course you do. You are fiercely, and gently loved. We never stopped, we never forgot. We still ache for you, and every moment we wish you were physically here with us.

Long ago I wrote that I did not think time was linear. And so one day I will meet someone and look into his eyes and know that he is you. And you will nod, to let me know that he is you. And often when I cannot fall to sleep at night, I lay in bed and think of you, and how that meeting will look like.

The last one was like this:

You knocked on the door. I opened it, and there you stood, a dashing young man with shoulder-length hair. You threw down your backpack onto the living room floor and sat down to remove your winged boots, knowing of course that we do not wear shoes at home. You shrugged off your jacket and told me, “Do not wash on warm, else the stardust and moonbeams will come off. I wanna keep them. Smell, you can smell them.” And I took your jacket in my hands and bent my head over to smell. Stardust and moonbeams. And the jacket still warm from your body heat.

And you walked in and behaved like you lived with us all along, you knew where everything was. You told me you think you’ve had enough of star-traveling. You were hungry, yes, and would love a hot bowl of miso soup. And you said you hoped I would soon bake you the best chocolate cake I ever can. You chattered along, telling of impossible stories and humming a tune occasionally. You grinned, you smiled, you laughed. Then you stood still, looked at me deeply, your eyes twinkling and you gave me a big, big hug and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. You came home, like you never left.

You never left. Ever in our hearts. We love you.

XOXO,

mama

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My dear son Ferdinand,

it is autumn, though where we are that is not easily discernible as the weather seems fickle. The long sleeve’s and sweaters await their turn in boxes, some still with tags attached. As I pulled out some boxes from under our bed to search for clothing I saw a box that belongs to you. Clothing I cannot bear to give away. Tags still attached. Bought for you when I was bearing you within, pondering the size and secretly smiling at the cute pictures I will take of you in overalls and smart sweaters. Tags still attached. Some you would have outgrown by now.

Your little sister Lyra she is growing well and fast. Her second tooth is breaking out and she has taken to yelling back at your older sisters should they chide her (out of exasperation) for emptying out their drawers for the umpteenth time in the same day. She has no interest in her age-appropriate toys, expressing curiosity instead in markers and glue-sticks and stickers. That was a scenario I had imagined many times when you were squirming around in me; now I see a flitting shadow of you when I see Lyra acting out my fantasy of long ago. I miss you, terribly much.

Babies have such soft, smooth skin. Val says the best part is the back of the neck, oh-so-soft, while Sophia thinks baby’s toes are the best place to nuzzle one’s nose in. I remember running my fingers over your smooth cheeks. The skin on your fingers were so wrinkled, as they had not a chance to be fattened up by breast-milk and lengthy periods of deep slumber. I still recall, touching your soft cheeks and telling your father, “He is so perfect!” and asking, how could you have died? Sometimes I think, your lifetime with us was but a flash, everything condensed and intense. We watched you change, fast. Before your father left the hospital to fetch your sisters to come see you, he requested for the nurses to bring a supply of saline solution and cotton pads, and asked that I keep dabbing your skin with them, to keep your skin hydrated, so your sisters will see you in the best shape possible.

There was not much I could do for you, our time with you so short. So periodically, I dabbed your skin all over. It was a see-saw battle with time, with the powerful and brutal force of life and nature. They take, as they are entitled, and I replenish, dabbing gently and with diligence. But I knew, I could not win. I had to give over to the greater forces, let you go.

You allowed me to witness, in sped-up time lapse, how one ages, how life drains away, how a body dries up. No, it was not a pretty sight, but there is a bizarre beauty in it all, to understand it all by seeing it so clearly, nothing embellished. Texture altered, color changed. No illusions as to what I faced and what I faced ahead. That was a big lesson and I am still trying to make sense of it all.

She is a fast crawler now, and is on the brink of cruising. Still, she comes to me often, to cuddle and be carried, and for snuggles. Can I tell you how I lust for those moments of skin-to-skin contact? For the luxurious sensation of the weight of her body against my bosom? Can I tell you how it makes me tear up to feel her body mold into mine with total abandon and trust? I wish I had those unique moments with you. I will never forget that choke in my throat as I sat in the rocking chair, you bundled up against my chest, as I sang you songs that I sing to all my children. I sang them all, the baby favorites, the few tunes I remember by heart. I stole those moments of peace, shared them with you, before I gave you up to the journey you had chosen to take. Every time I have her skin-to-skin, I remember how your small body felt against mine, that slightly coarse blanket rubbing against me, your little face peering out from beneath all that cloth. I never forget that face.

Lyra she babbles, her voice floating inundulating through the house. In protest she yelps back at her sisters for trying to remove her from the things she finds truly fun. Every time she opens her mouth, I prick my ears up to listen closely, trying to find an echo of you. Trying to figure out the shape your voice would have made in the air, bursts of vocal fireworks that quickly fades. Sometimes I listen, with intent and curiosity, as other little boys talk, and I guess, will Ferdinand sound like that? Wouldyou have said “ma-ma” or “da-da” in a drawl, in a voice thick with honey-sweetness? I wonder, my child, I wonder so… …

Sometimes, as she peers out from behind a door and grins widely, I cannot help but think, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” I cannot believe she was once that fuzzy image I saw on the ultra-sound machine, so many times. Was that really her? I cannot connect, to be honest. They seem like two very different things. And I also wonder, that fuzzy image we saw of you, stored on a CD, in the depths of your father’s haphazard folders, where is it now? Where are you? Everywhere, and nowhere. Here, yet not here; sometimes, it seems, never here.

Last Saturday your sister Sophia had an art workshop at a gallery and I accompanied her since your father had to go with Val elsewhere. The gallery had an exhibition on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It was a very poignant exhibition. I contemplated for a few minutes, to buy that sugar-skull kit and to work on that with your sisters. But I did not, I just could not see myself doing that. I love the idea behind the festival, celebrating the beloved departed, remembering them with joy. But what stories do I have to tell your sisters? One of the exhibits was made “in honor of children who passed before their time” and I stood for a long time looking over that exhibit, allowing the waves of sadness to wash over me, again and again, listening and giving in to the tides of grief. Sheets of cloth with words printed on them were folded up, to signify a story that could no longer be read, because the book was closed. It was impossible to make out the words and that made me cry, because sometimes I feel the barrier between you and me is not merely that of a veil, cloth-thin, even if sometimes you are so close in my heart. There were little baby figures, little shoes, little sweaters. There was a box with the words “papa said it was not the right time” printed on it. And it made me wonder if you thought it was not the right time for you. Maybe. Perhaps. I guess I will never know, and I think it has to be that. Or perhaps, Earth is not where you want to be. I can understand, it’s quite a mess here.

I am rambling now, and I ought to sleep. But of late, perhaps due to the turning season, my heart has felt heavy and I think of you more than usual, and I want you to know that. I want you to also know that we love you much and miss you. I wish you could come jump on fallen leaves with your sisters.

Love always,

mama

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Ferdinand, my dear sweet child,

last week I ordered some clothing for your little sister, from a website that sells really cute, organic clothing for children. It’s not fancy stuff, but oh, so adorable. And the colors, I like their color choices because girls are not limited to pink and yellow and red. I looked at their color chart, enjoying reading the names of the colors (marine, port, midnight, dragonfly, basil, storm, bubble…) and wondered, idly even, what would look becoming on you. You, whose eye color we will never know. And we are still waiting to find out about your sister’s eye color. I think they are greenish-brown, or perhaps grayish-blue.

This week I received the clothing, and because last week was Earth Day, they also sent me a small treeling to plant. Somehow I felt it was like a consolation prize for me– can’t watch your baby grow? Plant this and watch a tree grow! Nah… of course, they do not know about you, but I felt it that way. I guess I just miss you terribly much and got a bit bitter. I have not planted that treeling yet. It’s a Colorado Spruce, and I don’t think it’s going to do well here, but maybe up at the cabin it will be nice. That is, if it does not die whilst in my care, me with my through-and-through black thumb.

You were there when Lyra was born, I believe you escorted her, I feel it, I do. But you seemed to have also just dropped her off and left. Like you’re in a hurry. You did not stay, did not linger to chat, to let me feel your breath on my face. You dropped Lyra off, bid a swift and easy fare-thee-well, and off you went again.Yes, I am upset with you about that.

And, I can only find peace by telling myself it is because you are free. Your choice. I find peace by telling myself I know too little. I cannot find the edge of the Universe, and even if I do, then that means beyond that edge is yonder blue, more mysteries than I will ever know, so how can I say it is sad that you are dead? Until I die, I won’t know what it is like. Perhaps it will be nice; fun, even. But this is too hard for me to do, son. Freaking hard and it makes me want to spit fire. In this society, here, down in this realm, we think death is a bad thing- sad, morbid, terrible. But you know what I’ve been thinking of late? — the worst thing is not having your child die. The worst thing is being alive after your child has died. That’s why the other night I laid and look at your father and silently told him, I wish to live one day less than you do, so I won’t have to suffer the pain of watching you die. Selfish, I know.

I often imagine how it is for you, where you are… what is that space out there like, how you travel, how you communicate, how you laugh. And often, I wish, fists clenched, that I will be able to join you in that space one day. No more parallel universes.

Some days, I am at peace. Not too many of them, but some. And some other days, well, I just want to throw things at people, because it hurts crazy on the inside. Those are the days when I think I will never see you, and when I put a limit on you. That you can only be dead, done, and no more. I have to then remind myself who knows what happens beyond the last heartbeat, the last breath? Won’t you come and tell me about it all, so I don’t have to wait so long to find out?

I miss you so ever terribly.

Much love,

mama

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Dear Ferdinand,

I have not written you a letter in a while. But talking in my head a lot. You know that- mama is so not a good listener!

I wanted to let you know that you are dearly missed and remembered by your two sisters. I never talk about you deliberately; I never have to doubt or fear that they will forget that they had a little baby brother. They think of you, and talk about you all the time. If Sophia draws a picture of anyone in our family, it will come to include you, our dear little one in this family. If we go out and look at the stars, they will ask which star are you tonight? If they spot the moon while we are driving, then they will say, “Ferdinand is right there!” and if it happens to be the dark moon, then they will say, “So then tonight Ferdinand is a star.” I love that. I love that they remember you like they spent a lifetime getting to know you.

And I bemoan not having a lifetime to get to know you.

Today I learned that my womb is empty.

Devastated, to say the very least.

So I try to remember about conditions and manifestations… … Can you send me a list of conditions, please? You said your light wishes to return, and so I await.

And try to be patient.

Missing you,

mama

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Dear Ferdinand,

tomorrow evening we fly. All four of us, packed into the cattle class, half-insane with excitement, bubbling over with glee of seeing family again, twiddling our thumbs as we cross over time zones and oceans. We fly halfway around the world, back to Asia. Back to where mama comes from. Back to where mama and papa met. Back to where your ashes are. Back. But not really. Where is the beginning and where is the end? You did not originate there, or did you? And you do not end there either. I thought of seeing you “again”. But it is not “again” because everyday you are with me. In my head, in my heart, in my breath.

So it is hard for me to frame this journey and make sense of it. You are already here with me. But I want to see your ashes, where they are kept. We’re never apart yet always apart. This kills me totally.

I hope I find some time and space and quiet. Somehow. In between the crazy errands and packing and staying alive and keeping afloat; amidst the queues and taking off shoes and jackets and putting them on again and endless trips to the toilet and telling the flight attendant multiple times, “please, can I have a glass of water? again? Please?”; amidst seeing family again and getting the girls used to a space and culture where they will be in for the next three weeks; amidst new year prayers and ceremony and visits; amidst meeting friends and buying books and eating food. I hope I find time and space and sanity. I need to talk to you. I have been on crazy go-go-go the past weeks, trying to get the visa figured out, trying to hang on to hope, interviewing doctors… I find I had no time and space for myself. I told S yesterday i had a vision of myself finally settling into the seat of the airplane and then breaking down big-time because finally I am still and I have nothing to do but to sit, and all the emotions will finally surge and well up and flood over and drown me all over.

Then maybe finally I get to figure things out a little bit.

It is hard to predict how I will feel, amongst family, when you are absent. No, again, I say, you are with me. But you are still absent. Thousands and millions of time I tell myself you are with me, always have been and always will be, but my stupid head just cannot get that fact in alright. It is still registering a loss, an absence, a “gone”, a “no longer here”, a death that is final. So everyday I stitch together the holes and then I rip it apart all over again. I still have no wisdom to get over this, get through this. Is the timing not right yet?

This is a journey, in so many sense and so many levels, you know what I mean? Such a crazy journey, this life. Hard without a map, itinerary and options to bail. But I will be trying my best. You bet, son. I just gotta, with you next to me, in my heart. I just wish we could hold hands and skip puddles while doing this. I wish.

My heart is always with you, and open for you. No matter where my journey takes me.

Love you tons,

mama

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