Anniversary of child’s death is a haunting thing to mark

by | Apr 9, 2018 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 1 comment

It was exactly five years ago that I lost my job…

Today marks three years since we got divorced…

On this date, 30 years earlier, the stock market collapsed…

One year ago, our little girl died.

April 7th. That date has sat on our calendar like a grim reaper lurking outside the window. It was coming. Always coming. To haunt us. To make us cry. We tried to ignore it in pursuit of daily routines, but like a child running from a dream-induced monster, we could feel it gaining on us.

The date of her death is, technically, an anniversary, but I’ve been thinking we ought to have another word, one reserved for the demarcation of tragedies. Let the joyous events — weddings, holidays, baby births — use the “anniversary” tag. Give the heartbreak reminders a word of their own, something dark and pitiful and befitting of the sadness they drag in.

But no. We have only “anniversary.” The anniversary of a 7-year-old dying. A lively 7-year-old named Chika who filled the unforgiving minute with joy, curiosity, laughter, a butchered English language, and the creation of countless Magic Marker messages on construction paper, messages like “ChiKa LovEs Mr. MiTch and mISS Janine,” that we display around the house like precious art.

She left this world one year ago Saturday, quietly, at our home, in her bed, draped by my wife on one side and me on the other, hearing her tiny breaths expire, her little ticker winding down. I can tell you the very minute of her final heartbeat.

Would that be an anniversary, too?

Dateless moments we remember most

Three years ago since they said it was cancer…Six years ago he went to prison…Nine years today since we lost Dad…

Chika was born in Haiti, three days before the horrendous earthquake of 2010. We know that date. We brought her to America in 2015, under our guardianship, as we searched the world for a cure to her brain tumor, a rare and fatal diagnosis of DIPG, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. We know that date as well.

We can tell you the anniversary of her first surgery, the anniversary of her experimental operations in New York, the anniversary of our three separate trips to Germany, where immunology treatments were administered.

But the dateless moments are the things we miss the most. The unmarked time she sat on the deck mispronouncing “babaganoush” and cracking everyone up. The time she walked me hand-in-hand to the bedroom, insisting, “You need to go to sleep!” The times she swam across a pool, pretending one side was America and one was a kitchen in Haiti. Her telling us, “I want to fall in love because YOU got to fall in love!”

The first time she fell asleep against my shoulder. The first pile of leaves she jumped into. The moment she discovered a doll called “Cupcake Surprise” and began asking 1,000 times if she might have one.

Her pulling a blanket over her head and yelling, “Where’s Chika?” Her squealing when the cartoon princess kissed the cartoon prince. Her jumping from her lower bed into ours. Then, a year later, struggling to pull herself up. Then, months later, losing the ability to get there at all, needing me to carry her.

We have no date to stamp on these moments. But they are embellished memories, returning as regularly as any anniversary could. How do we mark the absence of such a precious life but not the presence of all that it was?

We marked the day with tears

Five years since we buried Mom…Three years since the house burned down…Eight years since they closed the plant…

Last week was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. This November will be the 55th anniversary of JFK’s murder. Some of you are, no doubt, as you read this, marking the passing of a loved one, or the date of a devastating diagnosis.

“The anniversary of.” As I sit here looking at a doll Chika played with, at a coffee mug with a photo of us laminated on it, at a kite-shape drawing that Chika cut with tiny scissors, I wonder why we use “anniversary” for both the happiest things in our lives and the saddest? Maybe so we won’t forget?

Or maybe to prove to ourselves that we can go on from the pain. Sometimes we don’t want to. I know my wife and I felt that way. But perhaps the fact that we have, for one year, and hopefully a year more, and a year after that, reinforces our human resilience.

One year ago, our little girl died. We marked the day with crying. For some anniversaries, tears are as appropriate as candles.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

1 Comment

  1. Jean

    Love Chika forever and a day.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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