The cookies and cupcakes in the store all boast of red, white and blue.  The sprinkles draw the attention of all the little ones, shopping with their moms or dads.  Flags are flying and people are rushing to buy their food, drinks, watermelon and sparklers. The afternoon and evening celebration is about to begin.

Years ago, that was me.  Shopping with 4 kids in tow, hurrying to get everything packed for the Fourth of July weekend at my parent’s house. “Mommy, hurry, we are going to miss the fair and the fireworks if we don’t leave soon.” The tradition was to always drive the hour to Brecksville at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, ride some rides at the fair, laugh at Grandpa as he tried to win a prize for everyone, and get all situated on a blanket, sitting on the hill by McDonald’s, waiting for the magic show in the sky begin. Dusk could not come quickly enough.

Dani always LOVED the Fourth of July celebration. It never changed for her.  Her final celebration was at my house with her sister, playing with sparklers as they did when they were 10, waiting for the sky to explode with color. All those happy moments are stored in the childhood corner of my mind, allowing me to retreat to that corner and smile and laugh at the traditions that were created for my kids.  Now, this corner of my mind is filled with every single memory I can recall. I have been stuffing the good, bad, happy and sad in a space so small that I fear I will not be able to fit them all in. Trying to trap every moment in my mind and embed it so deeply, I will never ever forget it. That is my new reality with each and every holiday.

Losing a child makes all the memories hazy and gray.  The memories become bittersweet knowing that child is frozen in time as the sun continues to rise and fall and no new memories can be made. How can this be? Reality is questioned over and over. Each time the special day arrives, I ask myself if I should go down memory lane and visit the holidays, birthdays, graduation days or vacations of the past.  Or do I block them all for now and tell myself, “I will go there tomorrow when I have more strength.”  Tomorrow comes and goes, as well as the strength inside me. The hazy memories swirl in my mind and, as the clouds lift, I smile or cry – no rhyme or reason.

This is the third year that I am doing my best to muddle through the Fourth of July celebration without my oldest daughter. I may post pictures of Dani with her sparklers, laughing and celebrating the holiday, reflecting the beauty of the past. I look forward to spending the day with her siblings and her nieces and nephews, creating new memories and traditions for them.  But with each and every magic show in the sky, I look up, often with tears in my eyes, and tell my grandchildren, “Look, Aunt Dani made that one look so beautiful!” She is enjoying her own magic show, this time, looking at all the colors from the other side.