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  • The Vail Project

Saturday grief lessons with a side of fries

After running a few errands this morning we decided to take Aspen to play at Chic-Fil-a to burn off some energy. Aspen loves Chic-Fil-a. So did Baby Vail. I mean, what's not to love? They have awesome milkshakes and yummy nuggets and the infamous Chic-Fil-a sauce. I mostly eat the grilled nuggets, but Aspen loves the waffle fries and sweet tea. Baby Vail would eat her sisters nuggets. She proudly held the little sauce container and dipped them on her own. It was adorable. We don't frequent the restaurant much and less so since we lost Vail. It's hard for me to watch Aspen play with the other children and not see Vail following her up the steps of the slide.

Today, Daddy had a vanilla milkshake and Aspen got a side of fries. My Celiac has been flared up due to the stress of the past many months, so Mommy just had an unsweet tea (despite really wanting a seasonal peppermint milkshake). Not that what we ate matters. I just list it here to make all of you who don't have access to the delights of Chic-fil-a jealous. I hope it's working!

Aspen made friends with two sisters: Jasmine age 7 and Stella age 5. Sisters that are 2.5 years apart, just like Aspen and Vail. Stella was a beautiful girl with brown hair and big brown eyes, just like our angel. Steve was worried that seeing them play would trigger me. After about 10 minutes of playing, Aspen's fries arrived and she came running fast. Snack time. She popped up into Daddy's lap and began to munch.

For those of you who don't know, Aspen is a Daddy's girl. She adores her Daddy. Most little girls do, I think. She is also Steve's little mini me. When they sit together like they did today, talking and snacking, they speak their own little language. It's always silly and sweet to watch them together. I'm so grateful that Aspen has a wonderful father, something I never had. She is blessed. While they were talking, Aspen was imagining that she and Daddy were both kids and that I was going to take care of them. It was cute. She began to talk about them growing up together, her and Daddy.

In the moment, I didn't know what it was about that interaction, but it triggered me. Hot tears welled up in my eyes, it got hard to swallow and there was that distinctive tightening in my chest. The tears flowed like a hot summer rain. I couldn't even begin to hold them back.

Steve looked at a me and said "do you want to go to the bathroom?" He said it out of love and wanting to protect Aspen from my breakdown. When I get so overwhelmed like that it really affects her. She hates to see me so sad. Instead of going to the bathroom, I snapped at Steve: "I don't want to go hide in the bathroom." Of course that wasn't his intention, he wasn't asking me to hide my pain. So I sat there and cried. Aspen looked up from her yummy waffle fries and saw my face. She quietly asked in her soft voice "Mommy, are you sad because you miss Baby Vail?" I simply responded "yes baby." Slipping out of Steve's lap and crawling into mine, she gave me a quick kiss. I tried to control my breathing and kissed her head, taking in a deep full breath of her smell. Nothing smells as good as your child. She sat with me a minute and then hopped down and ran back to her newly made friends in the play area. Only then did Steve ask me what had happened. In the moment, I wasn't sure. He thought it was the big brown eyes of the little sister Stella. It took me about 5 minutes to collect myself and then I was able to understand what triggered me. When I tried to explain it to Steve, the tears came flooding back.

Aspen must have seen me crying again through the glass. She came running out with her super speedy legs, dropped a sweet kiss on my leg, and returned to her playmates as if she had never made the diversion. It was a simple act. A pure expression of her understanding of my deep sorrow in the moment.

What I didn't tell Steve is that part of what triggered me is seeing them together. Him and Aspen that is. She is a miniature version of Steve is so many ways. It's not just the blue eyes and dirty blonde hair, it's the way they interact with the world. So much her fathers daughter. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Baby Vail was mine. Mini-me that is. She had my hair and eyes and she was my little momma's girl. Don't get me wrong, she loved her Daddy, at least as much as Aspen does. He really is the best. But unlike Aspen, who will chose Steve 95% of the time if there is a choice to be made...Vail would pick me.

So in that moment, I was a little jealous. And it made the hole in my heart throb even more.

We finished our snack and Aspen said goodbye to her friends. We had a good laugh when they both said "Goodbye Elsa." Apparently Aspen had told them her name was Elsa so convincingly they believed her. It was pretty cute.

It is impossible to know what might challenge my ability to cope in any given moment. I certainly didn't plan to cry into my iced-tea today. The lesson I found in what happened is that despite the unpredictable nature of grief, being honest with myself about how and why I feel in the moment is the key to pushing through it. That and leaning on my wonderful husband. He is my rock. He makes it safe for me to be honest about my feelings. And never makes me feel like a hot mess. Even when I am one. Finding comfort in the kisses of my blonde haired, blue eyed little beauty also helps. My special loves remind me that I am still a Mommy and very loved. And on that alone, I can survive another day.

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