This time of year always makes me nostalgic for my mother. Don’t get me wrong, I think of her every single day even nearly eight years after her death. There are so many little aspects of parenting — parenting girls (I am one of two girls, too.) — that I’d love to chat with her about. Insights and knowledge and understanding that I have now. So many, oooooh-NOW-I-get-it moments.

But around Thanksgiving, her absence is especially obvious to me. It was her favorite holiday. And girlfriend made a mean stuffing. One I make every year now. It’s my little tribute to her. So this week she’s in my head and my heart constantly… filling my air and space and I really love it.

Olivia is learning about family at preschool. Every night she blurts out some little tidbit of information to us. “Auntie Mel is your sister, Mommy! And Auntie Heather is Daddy’s sister! And Audrey is MY SISTER!!!!!!” So proud of herself that she’s pieceing our little puzzle together.

I have a Polaroid photo on my fridge of my grandmother, my mother and me when I was just a little older than Olivia is now. She often giggles when I tell her that little girl is me. Until very recently she was convinced it was her and there was no arguing the point.

But now she is interested. Interested in me as a little girl. Interested in these two other women that are part of her family, but a part she doesn’t know. And she wants answers.

“Mommy, that is your Mommy, right?” she says, pointing to my young, smiling mother. “Yes, honey. That’s my Mommy.”

She thinks for a moment. Continues. “Just like Grandma is Daddy’s Mommy. She’s pretty. Just like you.” “And just like you, love.”

Then she points to my grandmother, my Memere. “And that’s your Mommy’s mommy. She is Marie, just like your Mommy and you and me! Stephanie Marie and Olivia Marie! That’s so funny!” The giggling starts. I’m grateful for it because my heart is heavy. This conversation feels like tearing a wound open and healing it all at the same time.

Then her little face scrunches up. “But, Mommy… where are they?”

Oh, love. I think the same thing so often.

I should have the answer ready, shouldn’t I? I had to have known the questions would come. I keep pictures out of my family — my parents and grandparents — and we speak of them often. I try to keep them alive through recounting of memories, so my children can feel their love even if they can’t feel their hugs.

But, I’m stumped. Because I’ve long said that I am okay with lying to them about death while they’re young. You are free to disagree with me; I know most people will. However, I know they have plenty of time to know about death. To know that pain and what the finality of it really means. And I’m absolutely fine with holding it off as long as I can.

I start carefully. “They are always here in your heart, Olivia. They love you and Audrey and Daddy and me…” She interrupts. “And Auntie Mel and Hunter and Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Heather and Uncle Kyle, too?”

“Yes, all of us. But, instead of seeing them with our eyes, we feel them in our hearts.”

She seemed to accept this. Satisfied. I consider it a win when my inquisitive three-year-old seems satisfied on anything, let alone a topic as sensitive as this.

Just yesterday she was helping me with my shopping list for Thanksgiving and repeating after me all the ingredients we’d need for cooking our feast.

Breadcrumbs, chicken stock, celery, bacon, onion, sausage (I told you this stuffing is legit!)… for “my mommy’s mommy’s stuffing.”

Then she said, happily, “And when we eat it, I’ll feel her in my heart and my tummy!”

Oh, Livie.

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