I have the first outfit I ever dressed you in two days after you were born — gray sweatpants and red shirt (back then I was unfamiliar with infant girl clothing customs). I have your favorite baby and toddler outfits — a cheetah coat, a halter neck dress, a lilac frock with Peter Pan collar (actually they were probably my favorites).
I have a pacifier, a diaper bag, a bib with “I love my Daddy” on it and notes taken from an infant first aid and CPR class (the phrases “turning blue” and “three sharp slaps between the shoulder blades” are anxiously highlighted in shocking pink).
I have your vaccine records and your weight fastidiously updated in the first year of your life when you resisted baby food. And I have medical records of a very different nature: your diagnosis — a five-syllable disease that will never be part of almost anyone’s vocabulary — your treatment, your second opinion, your third opinion, and e-mails from experts from far afield who graciously responded to my questions. I have copies of letters sent to your third-grade teacher during your first stint of chemo: “Natasha gets tired very easily. Please let her know that she is allowed to sit down, even when the other children are standing.”
I have your first masterpiece from preschool framed on my dresser: a smorgasbord of straight and dizzying pen strokes; “I love my mommy” is written by a kind teacher. And I have the picture you did when your tumor recurred. It is in hues of blue. A bald naked figure sits alone on a bed gazing toward a window. It’s the saddest picture I’ve ever seen.
I have wisps of hair carefully collected from your first squirming screaming haircut — in which I had to remove you prematurely from the salon and finish the job at home — and your first lost tooth. I have your last tooth, lost just days before you passed away, and large thick envelopes filled with the full head of hair you shed after chemo and later craniospinal radiation.
I have your jewelry, the delicate pearl earring you wore every day, including the day you passed away, and the bold ornate necklaces and bracelets you made when life was good. I have the wristbands you had to wear for hospital admissions, proudly saved in the early days of diagnosis, hastily discarded as soon as your discharge papers were signed when your future started to look precarious.
I have your beloved books, your soft toys and dolls, your art supplies and the clothes you wore in the last two years of your life when you stopped growing due to treatment effects. I have your sneakers worn most days for those last two years. After your tumor recurrence, you no longer climbed trees, chased friends, sprinted by the beach or cartwheeled. Their condition reflects this; they are almost pristine.
I have 12 years and seven months of memories of you, Natasha. I worry that over time those memories will be clouded. These remnants of you — even those that point to dark times — are treasures to keep.
Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health reporter, a Huffington Post blogger and the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at: www.themourningafternatasha.wordpress.com