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This year we continued a tradition we started last year: traveling around our city, visiting churches, and remembering our Malina, who we lost two years ago.

We’re not particularly religious people, and the faith of our families has not been much help in seeking solace after the death of our first daughter. Yet, like it or not, it’s embedded in our identities. Churches have become important places in our travels together, they’re the pins in our map. We visit them to understand where we’ve landed.

We were in the right place this year for public displays of grief, in a country that’s well practiced at grieving. Our private mourning coincided with a very public, large-scale mourning in the aftermath of a recent national tragedy. Churches were filled with flowers and preparing for funerals. Almost none of these churches offered votive candles, so we paid our respects, offered whatever light we could muster, and left some change.

1.  an unassuming church in our neighborhood

2. Only electric candles here. Lit at the altar to the patron saint of hopeless causes.

3. A baroque interior, a silent organ, and in a corner a flag-draped casket awaiting a funeral.

4. Patron saint of (take your pick) lost things, barrenness, pregnant women and travelers.

5. A quick prayer in front of the morning cleaning crew.

6. Gothic brick. Vaulted ceilings. Visiting scouts pay tribute outside in red socks.



7. Angel eyes, the kind you can’t meet. A second St. Anthony.

8. Height and light.

9. Soul, spirit, ghost.

10. Once used as a hospital, now white, bare and simple.

11. Final church, on my favorite square in the city.

12. A candle for Malina at the end of the day, in a quiet corner in the center.

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I’ve been away awhile.

We’re out of the lowlands. Now we’re much further east, in flatlands of a different sort. This is the fatherland, for my family anyway. And even though all close family I had here have since passed  – either from life or this particular land – I find their ghosts comforting. In fact, in my own twisted current way,  better company than my own living family members.

Appropriately, this is where I am in this whole life after. I’m now in an active struggle to find home, one that can house whatever I’ve become and whatever might be left from before.

It’s an uncomfortable mix, living with this before and after self. The daily aching awareness of what’s been lost, the blank slots beckoning to be refilled. For so long, it’s been like being forced to live in a language you only half speak so that all exchanges, important and mundane, take place as if behind thick, dusty glass; so that after awhile, even your native language starts to feel foreign. No words sound natural any more, nothing sounds right.

I’m aching to go home, finally. I’m ready. I just have no idea where home is. Here among the ghosts will have to do for now. At least they’re my ghosts.

****

Even adrift and accompanyied by the gentle, silent glide of those ghosts in the backdrop, there is life. This little being scrunching her face into practice smiles and presently smearing avocado across her face. She’s wonderful. I’m so very, very glad she’s here.

But it’s been so hard, the early days especially. I still can’t look at newborns without enormous pain, my own particularly. Somewhere after K’s 3rd week, she basically started screaming and didn’t stop, with a few memorable pauses, until a month or so later. I had breast infection after infection, experienced exquisite pain at every around the clock feeding, and was completely convinced I had brought this all on myself – what with letting my first child die, and all. My self-confidence as a mother was crushed, all over again.

It’s better now. Not so raw.

K’s grown out of that newborn chaos that made her body very uncomfortable to be in. I’ve figured out the feeding and it’s finally become a nice, intimate time for us. Of course, though, there’s that unrelenting tension between making sure our first daughter isn’t forgotten and celebrating and sharing the one we have with us.

We’re still figuring it out, me and D and K. And all those ghosts.

One of those gossamer beings, too small and dim, presides over all the others. This month particularly she makes her presence felt.

And my stomach lurches every time I look at the calendar and notice that date creeping closer.