This is the month of her 25th birthday — a would-be milestone for the child who in my mind will forever be 5.
Danielle's grand entrance into our world was the icing on the cake, a complement to our firstborn son who arrived 17 months earlier.
What luck, we thought: a boy and now a girl. Our family was complete. And so we made plans and delighted in our visions for the future.
They fought at times, like siblings often do, over things like one or the other crossing the imaginary line they drew in the backseat of the car and whose turn it was to hold the hose while filling their back yard kiddie pool.
Given time, we figured their closeness in age would seal a budding friendship. They would attend the same schools — maybe the same college. Dance at each other's weddings, perhaps even stand up for each another. Later on they would be godparents for each other's children. He would watch out for her, and she for him. They would always have each other, we imagined, even after we were gone.
But life has a tendency to throw curves that sometimes shatter dreams. No one escapes this world, it seems, without experiencing some kind of tragedy.
Ours was cancer: a diagnosis of childhood leukemia that came one month after Danielle's second birthday. That was followed by 3 1/2 years of medical treatment, often harsh, that couldn't save her. A healthy diet, visualization techniques, the power of positive thinking and fervent prayer didn't work, either.
She was tired of it all, she told me one August afternoon. She didn't want to go to the hospital any more. A few weeks later my husband and I cradled her in our arms as she slipped away just as the sun was setting over the Boston skyline. On Sept. 13 it will be 20 years, another milestone to be met for those she left behind.
The years in between have often been tough, but not all bad.
It isn't easy figuring out how to handle things like holidays and family celebrations. Do you hang her stocking or not come Christmas? What do you say when someone asks how many children you have? Do you celebrate what would be her 25th birthday? If so, how?
There's no right answer, I've learned. You do what's best for you and your family. Maybe honor her brief life by amending your values. Make it a point to count your blessings and revel in the happiness life offers even after the worst of the worst has happened to you.
One year and one week after Danielle's death, we were blessed with the birth of another child, a daughter we named for an angel. We hadn't planned that child, nor the one who came five years later. The youngest, in fact, should not be here at all. She is, we often joke, our "vasectomy baby."
Suffice it to say, the procedure didn't work.
Her dad and I were joyful about that and so we named her Miranda, which means "miraculous."
She is indeed that, we've found, so full of life as she carves out her own big plans for the future.
And so for her sister's 25th birthday, I think we'll celebrate the miracles along with the knowledge that life has a tendency to throw curves that sometimes foster dreams.
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 869-6251.