“Now mom, don’t cry,” Annabelle says as she comes in my bedroom holding a bright yellow book to her chest. I save the story I’ve been writing and close my laptop, motioning for her to get up on the bed with me. I know she’s been up to something because she’s been silent downstairs for over hour and that never happens. She climbs up on the bed and holds out the book for me to take. The “About Me” book that she got for Christmas. A beginning journal for children filled with prompts that elicit funny, age-appropriate responses we will laugh about some day when she’s older. The one I did as a child still sits in the bookshelf at my parents’ house.


I am initially impressed that she even found the book in the mess of a closet downstairs. I remember burying it underneath a stack of games around Christmastime. But somehow she managed to dig it out.


“Oh,” I say excitedly, “The About Me Book! Now why would I cry? Go get a pencil, I’ll show you how to do this.”


“No mom, I already finished it!” she says victoriously.


And I wince; knowing that whatever she has done has surely ruined the book. I open up to the first page. It reads, “This Book Is About:” and then below that Annabelle has neatly printed her name in black pen. I’m impressed. “Good!” I say, sure that things are about to go downhill. I turn to the second page.  She has filled in each question about herself. The box in front of “girl” is checked, she’s drawn straight brown hair and brown eyes on the diagram of a face and circled “no glasses.” I mentally scold myself for doubting her abilities.


Over the next few minutes, we page through the book, which is completed nearly perfectly. Sure she tallied the number of windows in our house completely incorrectly and on the page where it asks if she hits when she gets mad she’s checked, NO. I smile and nod approvingly when I read that she wants to be a waitress when she grows up. She’s recorded her life as a seven year old as accurately as she could have.


“This is the part where I don’t want you to cry,” she says as I flip to the final page.


“I Like To Write Stories,” the page reads. “Here is one I wrote.”


That page and the next are completely full. She has actually written a story. I read it aloud (spelling has been corrected!):


“My Dad. My dad’s name is Chris. He is 37. He has straight hair. My Mom. My mom’s name is Prinna. She is 38. She has straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Eve. She is 4. She has curly hair. It is blond. My Brother. My brother’s name is Alec. He is cute.  He has straight hair and then curly at the bottom. Me. My name is Annabelle. I like gymnastics. I have straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Sophia. She is 6 and has curly hair I think but she died and she never had a birthday. I don’t know why.


She slams the book closed and looks to me for a reaction. My chest tightens. I hold my breath and close my eyes, as if that could somehow put the feelings I’m feeling on pause. After a few seconds, I exhale and open my eyes.


“I’m so glad you included Sophia in our family,” I say to her cheerfully. “And it’s ok that we don’t know why she died.” She smiles, takes the book from me and skips out of the room.


I sit motionless on the bed, wishing she were still there so I could talk to her more about her story. But her therapist told us that she’d come to us when she needs something. And when she’s gotten it, she’ll go off and be fine until she needs something more. Apparently, she got whatever she needed.


I’ve read about how children grief. Their grief is linear, circular, and developmental. They bounce around from disorganization to transition, reorganization and then back around. But I like to think about the process of grief less clinically. That it’s more like one of my favorite authors, Ann Hood, described it. “Grief is like the ocean; it engulfs you. And when you think the tide has finally gone out, it returns even stronger.”


For some reason, when I write about Sophia, the tide goes out, if only for an hour.


Maybe it does for Annabelle, too.