Years ago I stuck a photo to the side of our fridge of Mark and I at our wedding shower. I loved the reminder of our early days until I didn’t anymore. Hollowed out by grief I would stare at that photo and wonder who that girl was smiling effortlessly at the camera.
Eventually I took the photo down. It was too hard to reconcile how the sparkle of a future in front of us had changed to an impossible lifetime without one of our children. I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
I’ve made peace with the person I became after we lost our daughter and thought a lot about what I would tell her if I could go back in time.
To my newly grieving self,
At some point you will wake up and not be flattened back down by reality. The news that your daughter died will become pervasive. The label of loss mom a constant in life rather than something hitting you freshly in the heart each morning.
One day you will get out of bed without thinking. You won’t have to encourage your body to put one foot in front of the other or shower or smile. Somedays you will though, for the rest of your life you will have Somedays.
And about showers. They won’t always be the place you cry alone. You will shower because it’s the next step in your morning or to get ready for a day you’re looking forward to– looking forward to days will return as well.
People will move on long before you will. You will not be happy about this. There will be days when the ache in your chest feels like it’s carving you hollow and you’re walking around in see-through skin. But from the outside you look almost like you always have. People need you to be this way. Not because they want to pretend your grief away but because they love you and don’t want to imagine your hurt.
Nothing will ever be perfect again. This sounds dramatic but we remember us at 12 right? But truly, every perfect moment will hold a moment inside it where you remember your child died. You’ll almost exhale pure happiness then your breath will catch on her.
You will be infuriated some days, about the sun shining or someone telling you to “enjoy” the day. You enjoy what you can but you need to stomp around like a two year-old sometimes. Carrying low-rumbling grief under your skin is heavy but it’s also invisible. Foot stomps and door slams aren’t socially acceptable or expected.
Words will get easier to say. You can say “Hadley Jane” without your lip trembling. You answer the question of how many children you have without sounding like you forgot how to count. You’ll move on from “passed away” to “dead.” The word use to sound too harsh for your situation but your situation is harsh. You don’t owe it candy-coating.
The old you will be so far away that you won’t think about her anymore. You’ll recognize your grief in the face of other loss mommas and hurt for both of you. You’ll notice how fiercely they love their families and recognize that too. There’s no going back from where you’ve both been and neither one of you will take for granted what you can reach out and touch.
Tears will seap out at weird times. This might happen forever. You’ll pinch your finger or drop something on the floor and you’ll ask yourself why in the world you’re crying. Your finger barely hurts and you’ve been dropping stuff your whole life. You’ll get to know this new self and recognize those tears as grief working its way through when it can. You can’t give it the time it deserves.
Laughing will come natural again. Those first few times will be full of guilt but one day that feeling won’t come until the laughter is over and soon it won’t come at all. You’ll know your daughter would want her mom to be happy. You’ll decide to live your best moments in her honor rather than miss them because she’s gone.
Your house will be loud. So, so loud. Because you and your husband decided to enjoy your kids to pieces and those pieces turned into the brightest, noisiest colors. There are messes you won’t care about and big-ish things that won’t bother you because you’ve learned all you never wanted to know about perspective. If your house is almost full then life is fine.
You’ll do things like encourage a momma to take photos with her baby after he dies and sit right next to searing pain without turning away. Then you will feel it for days. Their pain is tangible. You know what comes next and it settles into your bones in a way you’re used to now.
Keeping your child’s memory alive won’t be a constant worry anymore. Those who matter most will remember with you and those who never knew her but wish they did will ask. This way of showing up for you, of recognizing all your children, will become your barometer of who to hold close. You won’t waste time trying to make memories matter to people who don’t need them.
And about that part you are worried about most. You won’t forget her but you will. That thing other loss moms have told you is true. The further you get from her in time the fuzzier your memories will become. It sucks but it’s necessary. You can’t walk in fresh pain forever.
But some days that ache is your chest is so sharp you just have to let it take you under. You know this because you stopped making excuses and saw that really good therapist when you needed her. Also because you’ve been doing this for a while now. Oddly you welcome the grief cycle at times, it’s the only reminder you have left of the child who once was.
You’re going to be okay. I can’t give you a day or time because I have no idea how or when it happened. I promise you have beautiful days ahead. Your daughter, she was pretty amazing. She placed life-changing perspective into your empty arms.
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