The Family Member You Don’t See in Our Photos

Family pictures are always a little hard for me to get ready for. It isn’t about the coordinated outfits that I have to spend time putting together. It isn’t the worry that my girls might not cooperate, leaving us spending a ton of money on so-so pictures.

Family pictures are hard for me because it will never be our complete family, as one of our twin daughters lives only in our hearts. I can’t tickle her for a smile or bribe her with a lollipop. I have to stand there smiling, reminding myself that she may not appear in this picture, she may not have a spot in a shopping cart, she might not be visible in our day to day family life — but she is part of our family.

Taking It Year by Year

For the first year after she passed, I was so afraid that people would forget her. In addition to the trauma we went through during her (and our surviving twin’s) premature birth and the expected grief that comes with losing a child, there was the constant fear that she would fade from other people’s memory. I made a silent vow to her — and to myself — that I would not be silent when it came to remembering her life and saying her name.

It was in the second year living life without her that I realized that, even though the vow helped me feel in control, it wasn’t entirely necessary. Ilana might have had a short life, but she lived — and our close friends and family help us remember her openly. Two cousins born since Ilana’s passing have been named in her honor, which is a Jewish tradition that is very important to my husband and me. And a close friend recently shared that as he was welcoming his own new baby girl into the world, he thought of our sweet Ilana and us.

And what have I learned in the third year of living without her, you ask? I’ve learned that I will never really live without her, and it doesn’t matter so much anymore that the other shoppers at the grocery store know nothing of her life or that people will call us a family of four when we are really a family of five. We carry her with us always, and that’s what truly matters. —Julie

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