It was a standard Friday night. I had just left my youngest daughter’s room and secured a comfy spot on my son’s bed (more accurately, a sleepover fort for him and his sister, my oldest). I was two pages into Chapter 18 of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. We had just gotten to a heavy moment of dialogue between Harry and Hermione. My kids were rapt, as usual. In walks my husband. He was rushing, and yet there was a slowness about him.
He kneeled beside my oldest and let the words fall, “I just found out some sad news and I wanted to tell you right away.”
My body jerked up, “What? That can’t be.” My daughter’s body, however, folded into itself, and the sobs erupted. Sounds of struggle bubbled out of her mouth.
My son looked over at me, and I was done. The tears had already started falling down my cheeks. My husband, the only one who could speak, maintained his loving gaze at our daughter and said, “I know. I’m so sorry. She lived a long, amazing life. And she inspired so many people like you.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was my daughter’s first hero.
The thing about heroes is that we think they’re invincible, immortal even.
Even though my daughter sent her a get well card during one of her hospitalizations, she had faith this fierce fighter wouldn’t die. Even though my daughter knew her namesake, my father, had died from cancer before reaching age 70, her idol dying before reaching 90 was an impossibility.
Nothing prepares a parent for having to share the death of their child’s hero, which is probably why my husband followed his gut and ran to her as soon as he saw the headline.
Waiting to tell me first and come up with a script together would not have made the delivery of whatever words were uttered any less upsetting. Waiting until the morning after we had some time to steel our own mourning faces would not have eased any of her sorrow.
I cried and held my daughter as she cried for 45 minutes. I left her room when she was calm enough to pull down her eye mask and kiss me goodnight.
I came downstairs and found a stream of texts from my friends, relatives, and even one of my daughter’s teachers. These people knew RBG was such an essential piece of my daughter’s identity; they knew how heart-broken she would be, so they sent their love.
I looked over at three pictures she had drawn of RBG that week, two at school that were now hanging on the bulletin board. One for a pen pal in Oregon, waiting to be sent. I went to sleep that night, full of trepidation for that next morning. I still felt unprepared for helping her navigate her sadness.
The funny thing? We’re right in thinking that heroes are invincible, immortal even. We continue to keep them alive as we embody their strength.
The next morning, my daughter came into our room already dressed in her “Believe in RBG” shirt and a black tutu. Her brother announced we needed to find out RBG’s favorite breakfast so that we could eat it.
Hours later, a notification popped up on Facebook: a candlelight vigil would be held outside my town’s courthouse that night. My daughter and I went, she wore her robe and collar from the previous Halloween. She clutched her gavel, decorated with brand new drawings, perfectly measured to fit the circles on both sides. Strangers complimented her costume and shared their faith in her to pursue her Supreme Court dreams.
Our eyes smiled, instead of cried, as we stood and listened to the uplifting remarks voiced in the speeches. As we drove home, my daughter said, “They were wrong about something. She’s not really gone. She’s still in us.”