My middle child, Eleanora, is 7. The same age Gwendolyn was when she died.

Over the last few months since her 7th birthday, I have chosen not to think about it, not to hold the weight.

But when the occasion arises and I say the words, “She’s 7 now!”, in my heart it all hits me. She’s 7, and (with all hope beyond hope) she will get to be 8. Older than her sister.

My mind cannot absorb this fact. That’s how grief in losing my child has worked for me. It plays with truth. Creates alternate realities. When all expectation of a natural course of life is ripped to shreds, reality itself is sometimes difficult to fully comprehend. What is and what should be muddle somewhere in the ether.

My heart tells me I have two 7-year-olds. My mind corrects this to the more literal facts: I have a 7yo and a 13yo… except I don’t. I never have. I don’t know what it is to parent a 13 yo, or 12, 11, 10, 9, or 8. I never got the chance. She never got the chance.

And so here we are on the arch of the new. A new experience for us all. One that I relish. And one that hits me in the core.

Eleanora is her very own person. And she is also so much like her sister: bold in her daily living, confident in who she is, and so incredibly brave.

Our seven years together somehow feel much shorter than my life with Gwendolyn. It feels like she was just born, a scrappy 5-pound infant who has been all joy and big sunshine energy since.

I work hard to not live in the past. But we never forget our children and some milestones feel like a grenade. Nothing can remain pushed down too long or it will detonate… so, ever so slowly, I release my grip allowing the processing to bubble up.

Seven was a beautiful year in so many ways. And 7 was the most heartbreaking year of my life. Now 7 is non-stop talking and missing teeth and excitement about skateparks and American Girl dolls and learning to read.

I hold the abundance of 7 with fierce gratitude… and renewed mourning of yet another part of loss.