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February 10, 2022 / JustinKays Porter


My most recent memories of Millie are almost a year old. I can’t even begin to describe what that realization feels like, how much it hurts. Nate is about the same age now that Millie was during what I consider to be her “prime”. Another realization that is so bittersweet; so many parts of daily life are painfully familiar, yet heartbreakingly different. Nate is interested in all the toys and activities that Millie loved in Chicago. He stumbles over his words in his excitement to finally be able to express himself, just like she did. And he is so proud to be able to show me things, and talk about things, and negotiate everything (let’s be real… he is 2.5!); I can’t help but think Millie would love watching Nate come into this phase as much as I do. He also makes me want to pull out what remaining hair I have, but like I said: he’s a toddler. It was recently brought to my attention that he may be closer to 3 than 2.5… but I’m choosing to ignore that for the moment!

In rehashing these memories of Millie, in reliving them with Nate, I’m reminded that so many of you didn’t have the chance to really know Millie. The move to Chicago upended us in a huge way, and the pandemic cut us off in an even bigger way. Travel became difficult, and the few connections we had made in Chicago seemed a world away. We were isolated, but you were all isolated from us as well.

When memories of Millie get too overwhelming for me, I write them down. Probably not a surprise to anyone who is reading this, because you all know that this is some form of therapy for me. I write down every detail of those memories that I can recall, immortalized by pen and paper. And then I close the journal, thinking I may want to revisit these journals someday. But I’m starting to wonder if closing that journal is selfish of me. There are so many stories, so many quirky bits of personality that I want to live on forever. So maybe it’s time to revisit my memories and share them here, with anyone who wishes they could have known Millie a little better. I know I wish that for myself everyday; but my time to get to know her was cut short. As was yours, but maybe I can extend that just a little bit for you.

And this may be a strange memory to start with, but it’s one I’ve wanted to share for a long time. I wrote this just after what would have been Millie’s birthday last year. It’s pretty raw, but I haven’t edited it. More than anything, I want you all to know where you can go to visit Millie.

A Return to the Sea, June 2021

June 14 would have been Millie’s fourth birthday. It was one of the hardest days yet, for me.

When you think about a fourth birthday, you think of birthday cakes and bounce houses and smiles. When you think of a four-year-old, you may think of a mostly self-sufficient toddler: a kid who can communicate, has obvious likes and dislikes, is probably full of personality and hopefully coming out of the dreaded threenager phase. When I think about a fourth birthday, I’ll always remember the quiet, sunny day we went to one of Millie’s favorite places to scatter her ashes. When I think about a four-year-old, my heart breaks.

Midmorning on June 14, we parked along West Cliff in Santa Cruz and started walking. I have so many memories of Millie along this path, with the sun on her skin and the wind in her hair. Millie has always loved the water. Pools, hot tubs, lakes, the water table in the backyard, a garden hose: the water always made her happy and brought a smile to her face. But the coast seemed to do even more for her. She was always happy there, and in the end, even when we weren’t sure if she was happy, the coast made her calm. A place that did that for her, always, seemed like the perfect place to set her free.

So we walked. I cried, Justin was quiet, and Nate and Flo both just wanted to be with us. We had Millie’s ashes in a backpack with us, and I couldn’t help but think that this was truly our last walk together as a family. We found a quiet bench and sat together, watching the birds and listening to the waves, feeling the sun on our skin and the wind in our hair. In my mind, Millie was on the bench with us. Her fingers tightly wrapped around the thumb of my left hand while my right hand combed the blonde curls back off her sun-kissed forehead. I could hear her deep, contented sigh and see her close her eyes against the bright reflections off the water. She was peaceful in my mind, and seemed to be at home on that bench with us. I want so desperately to hold onto those images in my mind. But in reality, my hands were empty. Millie wasn’t on that bench with me, but knowing that her spirit was there gave me the strength I needed to make it through that tough day and onto the next.

After our rest on the bench, however long it may have been, we started back to the car. Instead of the car, we found ourselves out on an empty point, on a new bench, with undisturbed views of the Pacific. This felt right. It felt like a place Millie would have loved. Not knowing what we were doing or the logistics of how to do it, Justin and I scrambled for a few minutes trying to figure out the details. We came to an unspoken agreement that I would hold Nate on the bluff, while Justin walked down onto a shallow ledge just below us with Millie. At the perfect moment, a breeze lifted off the bluff and curled out to sea. I have a vivid image of Justin, arms outstretched, with Millie’s earthly remains caught airborne and swirling out to sea and sand and sky. Free at last.

Justin spent a few quiet moments on that ledge and then came up to take Nate. I went down to Millie’s place and left a perfect, purple dahlia there in her honor. After my quiet moments, we sat on the bench on the bluff and cried together. I tried to explain to Nate that we were saying goodbye to Millie, but we could come visit her often here. In his sweet way, Nate looked up at me with his bright blue eyes reflecting the sea and sky. After a beat, he looked down to where I’d left the single dahlia, a bright purple spot against the pale rocks and sand. He waved to that flower and, I’d like to think, said his own goodbyes to his big sister.


Leave a Comment
  1. Auntie EE / Feb 14 2022 8:47 am

    Love you all so much – I’m glad we can visit our tutts often in her favorite place. XOXO

  2. Molly Anderson / Feb 12 2022 3:22 pm

    Kaysea, you and Justin are such a strong couple. I love that you’ve documented this – it must be so difficult, yet at the same time therapeutic. I’m sure Nate will cherish his mother’s writings for years to come. Big hugs.

  3. Cindi Somers / Feb 12 2022 2:28 pm

    Beautifully written Kaysea! I will always cherish our walks and can picture Millie in the stroller
    to this day with those beautiful blonde curls! Sending big hugs to you all!

  4. Anne Williams / Feb 11 2022 9:32 am

    Kaysea, your ability to write with grace and poignancy is a magnificent gift. I could feel and see and hear everything you shared. Thank you for the courage and the love to bring Millie to us!
    With love, Anne and Jeff Williams

  5. nancywporter / Feb 11 2022 9:27 am

    Tears here, but also smiles from visions of Millie’s golden curls flowing in the ocean breeze and her gentle nature. Your words do help us to learn more and recall her sweetness. Thank you.

  6. Jane Webster Eyler / Feb 11 2022 5:54 am

    Oh, so very beautiful, Kaysea. Love to you, Justin, and Nate, along with Flo!

  7. Lauren Lee / Feb 11 2022 4:39 am


  8. Ann / SFCA / Feb 10 2022 8:24 pm

    I have no words. I grieve for you. I send love, support, prayers. And may you always have your memories. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 💌 💕💞

  9. michaelstpaulporter / Feb 10 2022 8:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing the sad parts, and the happy parts. Much love to you, Justin, and Nate, and to Millie in Heaven. ❤🦋

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