“Why did he have to go away?”

Her little arms are wrapped around me, wet checks against my neck, and after a year of watching her race forward she suddenly feels small again. Walking silently beside us, I feel his little hand touch her back, a gesture both comforting and jarring to us all.

We have been here many times before. And we will be here again. But tonight it is a collision of senses, memories and milestones.

For weeks, our house has been a maelstrom of order and disorder. New classrooms and teachers and frantic schedules barely managed. Surgical procedures minor in scope yet emotionally draining for the memories resurfaced. Painful inquisitions about the moments that changed everything and tensions long simmering and expected bearing rotten fruit. Birthdays of note and notes of importance.

“He was so nice, and they loved him so much. Why did he have to go away?”

She is on the cusp of her seventh year, a celebration that will arrive in five days. For days excitement has mingled with reflection, wishes for presents combined with wishes for presence. She does not remember a birthday without a void, and each year her excitement mingles with frustration and sorrow.

But the past year has seen change for us all, and the sensitive girl in my arms has shown me strength and a capacity for love beyond imagination and understanding. She has struggled to understand and deflect the stinging barbs that children hurl with unerring accuracy. She has led us toward a future filled with new love and happiness, while the past is remembered in equal measure. She dances with abandon in ways I dream I could. She sheds her tears openly and without rebuke, secure in the knowledge that we will shelter her in the way I wish I could be sheltered. Watching her gentle hands lift an insect to flight, I watch as she is transfixed by the beauty of the world around us. A world we are too eager to let pass us by.

“Timothy Green was such a nice boy. Was the movie real?”

Was it real? It was real for the lessons that we learn about life, love, loss and longing and a family broken. It was real for the pettiness of others who do not understand, who are scared and who are envious of others. It was real for understanding that life comes with loss, and with loss comes renewal. And with renewal comes new life, love and laughter.

“Sweetheart, even if Timothy Green wasn’t a real person, he’s the kind of person we all should have in our lives and the kind of person we should all try be.”

“But his Mom and Dad were so sad when he went away. And his friend was sad. And I’m sad.”

“It’s okay to be sad. The more you love someone, the sadder you are when they have to go.”

“Can we go to New York?”

“Why?”

“I think that is where Timothy Green went.”