Its not so much that I grieve (her) anymore but that I am shocked at how much it still hurts at random.
This February 18 will be the 9th anniversary of her death.
I am not consumed by grief but still get overwhelmed at times at the feelings and hurts that pop up.
The way they call mom because something fell, the way they look at me as I see her photo frame smashed, the way they say sorry as I quietly carry the remnants upstairs.. again, the rage mixed with pain, I hide as I struggle to control and deal with something I don’t know how to.I had this photo blown up Feb.25.2012 Steve thought it was too big and couldn’t look at it, so I had to put it in a room he didn’t go in a lot… its where the kids play.
The frame has been broken from it being knocked off the wall 3x in the last year during this pandemic. Why this year, I don’t know. Fine and untouched since made almost 9 years ago.I got the photo this big because I wanted her to be lifesize, I wanted to remember every inch and sometimes I wish I didn’t.
But not in the way it sounds but in that I wish it never happened. That had she lived these moments of pain and reflection wouldn’t happen.
It is her ninth birthday today, I woke up at 2am, the same time I got up nine years ago having contractions and headed to the hospital. Except that today is very different, no hope or anticipation just anguish and darkness, a wish for the day to be done if I can be honest.
This will be the first year I am working on this day. I can hear the rain pound the cement as I lay in bed, the clock slowly ticking, 2:36….3:08…..3:55…4:27….I finally get up at 5 knowing it is hopeless to fall back asleep before my alarm goes off at 5:20.
Its raining, each year on this day we, as a family missing a child and a sibling have gone to White Rock, the place she was born to throw flowers in the ocean and remember her on her birthday, each year it has been sunny. Each year until now, until today, it is raining, and not just a light misty rain, a heavy soaking your feet if you go outside rain. And I am off to work not the beach. Her dad and I fought last night, also a first, usually very quiet and somber in the days that lead up to her birthday. But this year has been different, unequivocally for all and we are no exception.
I am going to be tired today, I am already thinking of going to bed when I get home from work, except that I have three other kids who will need things of me. At some point like all years past I will break but for now, I will be still. Quiet.
My body shakes when I allow it to remember, I hold back the images that haunt me so I don’t fall, not yet. I have to get through the day first. I bought a cake yesterday my daughter Hope was so happy to see it, I asked if she knew why, she is still too young to understand calendars and dates fully, I tell her its Lilys birthday, she nods. Then proceeds to tell me of her new friend named Lily at school who she loves playing with. I know the girl she is talking about, I know of each girl named Lily at their school, many times have I stood frozen as their mothers called them as they unknowingly stood near or behind me. It’s a sweet innocence in that I think she is telling me this as a comfort and it is, but it is because knowing she is happy is what is comforting. So I will go to work, hopefully need to interact very little, do my job and come home.
I will find a moment to reflect and honor in my own space. But as I have learned in the last nine years, time keeps going, nothing stops, not even for grief. But the body remembers…
The thoughts that find the way into our psyche are not always pleasant, I suppose that is what happens when we are triggered by a repressed memory or a traumatic event. We have dark feelings, uncomfortable truths run their scenarios into our heads. My whole body feels tense in December, like clockwork as her birthday approaches, as my body remembers the trauma it experienced on that cold early morning of December the thirtieth.
The anticipation that comes after November, the fear that reared mid december, the stillness and silence that fell into January until the near end on February eighteenth. The warning signals that were ignored because of the preparation of Christmas for the siblings who were so anxiously awaiting their baby sisters arrival. ‘The best Christmas present ever’ was once spoken…now its the haunting that remains for Christmas, the white elephant that sits atop the mantel staring at us all, daring for us to mention the hurt that we all pretend doesn’t hover over every December, every Christmas since…
The reminders are everywhere, as the house is decorated, the things bought before and the ornaments gifted to us after. The memory never to be hidden but also rarely spoken as it stares us all in the face.
My body remembers, I often awake in the night in December in a sweat of confusion, where am I , what is happening, a tense feeling consumes my insides, as I slowly wake and remember, I attempt to self soothe that I am alright, I am not in a living nightmare, though my body feels differently to that when it remembers. The hands with tools scraping out my broken placenta, shredded to pieces inside my uterus, the placenta that failed to nourish my baby girl adequately in the last week before her birth, the piece of flesh inside my body that failed to do its job. They scraped every last bit of me dry as I silently cried, knowing my fears were coming true. The commotion to my right, where she lay, I could not make myself turn my head to look, I don’t think I wanted to see, I could not bear the images as well as the physical pain I was already living in at that moment, I don’t think I was able to handle it, my body or I suppose my brain would not let me look. Those are the memories that haunt me every December as her Birthday approaches, as we attempt a ‘happy’ Christmas time..
It is an average of ten degrees celcius this December, quite warm, temped, but I still get chills everyday, my hands are frozen, as is my heart at times when I feel too much. It is a constant mix of allowing the hurt and ignoring the pain. If it creeps in too much, I worry I cannot hide my tears, my face will reveal my sadness. And though my heart is in a constant state of shivering, it is like my bones are always cold, I am shaking inside and tense outside, it is the moment when you know you can cry if you let yourself.
The urge to light her candle that sits by her picture that remains in the corner year round outside what was her room. The guilt if I have forgotten to or have not lit it in a while. The absurd but consoling thought that she knows if I am remembering. Her eyes follow me around the hall, stare down at me as I sit on the floor folding laundry. I glance up at her photo and as I do, I find myself lighting her candle, touching her face in the frame, and continuing my motherly duties for my living children.
She would be turning nine this December thirtieth. I can’t help but wonder if her little sister, who is seven would be here if she lived. It is a dark thought, a morbid path I go down but rarely allow myself to. But it is always there, I want to think that of course she would be here, I would of had my dream, two little boys and two little girls. But the reality is that Lily’s asphyxia at birth gave her brain damage that would have mobilised her to a wheelchair and a feeding tube her whole life and I cannot say for certain that caring for a disabled child would we have found the time or love for each other to consumate and create our precious fourth child. Who by all accounts and confirmed by many grief books happened in and because our grief. Yes, sex, as well as, over eating, undereating, over sleeping, staying up all night, over drinking, or other forms of self medicating are all coping mechanism in grief.
Ours produced a blessing. That I chose to believe would have been born regardless the outcome. She is our miracle.
Out of that pain came Hope and a gratefulness for what Lily taught us in her short life.
As I was well into my 4th -9 hour shift of the week, why does this matter? Because I am tired, and I have learned I tend to feel things more when I am more run down.
A supervisor, whome I don’t usually work with, randomly tells me of how he, his wife and son raised and donated over 8000$ dollars to the local childrens hospital. They do it every year.
Wow! Thats awesome and… So amazing! I say. Shortly after and wanting to be a friendly co worker, I say, how old is your son? 17, he said.
Still a kid, I say, because to me, as a mother of 4 whose lived 40 years, with a son only 3 years younger than 17, it is still a kid. Olive branch…? He seemed pleased by my response, said something to which was muffled by his mask.
He continues, he was born with congenital heart disease, I freeze, not obviously, but inside. He says, as we do to most who dont know, its holes on your heart, he (his son) had 4. My Lily had 4.
He continues, he had 3 heart surgeries before he was 3.
I re-live the prayer of begging the universe to let Lily survive to have those surgeries.
I have said nothing I realize, so I say what an amazing kid, what a trouper. He says its just who he is. I get that. Its all he’s known, I say.
The chaos of the truth inside me, the reality that crams itself into my head space.
Do I say, I understand what he went through, having a child born with congenital heart disease, the fear he must have felt every time he was stuck at the hospital waiting for tests and eventually surgery. But then I have to explain why and or how or just that mine died.
I felt triggered. But not in an angry way, in a sad way, in a confused and unexpected way. I once vowed to always speak of her because I thought it was in her honor, and as time has passed, I don’t know anymore. Sometimes her memory and life is something I want to keep to myself tucked away in the pocket of my heart that is hers. Sometimes I bring her up for no reason other than a moment triggers a thought of her.
I am not as comfortable making people uncomfortable I guess…
I always wonder how these stories find me, now in the after but rarely or never in the before…
In the end I am happy to have had that painful triggered memory, because sometimes its ok to re-live that moment unexpectedly.
I once hated hearing these ‘success’ stories, because hers was taken, but now, I honestly am happy to hear them. I am happy they did not suffer the same fate. Where before I said why me, why Lily, why not them? I can say when I hear of these similar starts with different endings, I dont feel angry. I have heart for these parents who know what that potential loss anxiety felt like, I have honest joy in my heart for them and that their child lived. Not something I ever thought I’d feel ever again. But I do.
I am grateful for that.
Last weekend, speaking with a small group of friends, we are talking about our kids, as mom’s boringly do. And one is confused because of other scenarios where I have often brought my daughter Hope with her bff or female cousin out together. This friend who I have only known for a couple years, says wait do you have 2 girls or 2 boys? I am not sure how to answer. All the other friends know, she must too. I say reluctantly, 2 boys and a girl. My daughter Hope says mommy does have 2 girls. A beautiful soul understanding my dilemma in the conversation chimes in, what was her name again? Lily I say, and look at the friend who originally questioned, and quietly say she’s gone. She sort of shakes her head and says, oh I know. Another amazing woman there, who has also lost an infant, speaks up and confirms to Hope, yes she does. Your right. We share a common glance of understanding. She breaks the sudden awkwardness by continuing the conversation. I never know what to do when that happens she says, and recounts a recent time it happened with her and the mention of her son who died to a teacher by the younger sibling. It was so nice to have that open conversation and not have it quickly changed as it often is and though I could still feel some uncomfortableness surrounding it. It was welcomed.
September is the end of summer the beginning of Fall, the beginning of a new school year, my kids are a year, a grade older, time does not stop, things keep changing. Leaves fall and plants die. The ‘season’ is starting but for me its my season of grief and remembrance. The lead up to what should be my 3rd child’s birthday on December 30th and not what it is which is the lead up to my third child’s death day, February 18th. Christmas was my favorite, now its something to get through. The years gone have made the pain lessen but the reminders and memories are and will always be there no doubt….
Sept 2011– My nightmare begins. I was 6.5months pregnant with my 3rd child. I started having terrible thoughts, feelings of anxiety and despair I didn’t know what was…
Every day since I have lived with guilt and regret. Regret for not advocating that I knew something wasn’t right. I feel guilt over not holding you enough. Guilt that maybe it was something I did or didn’t do to make you so incomplete.
Had we done the surgeries would you have survived?
I was so scared to have a severely handicapped child but I knew I was strong enough to do it and I was willing to learn, but I was also sad knowing none of our lives would ever be the same. After the seizures started and more tests were done we learned that there was so much more wrong with your tiny perfectly imperfect body. That you would never breathe on your own, taste food, drink through your mouth. I didn’t know what to do. On one hand there was the doctor saying you won’t survive the multiple surgeries you needed but on the other hand saying he’ll do them if we ask. I held you, I cried. What I hated the most was the feeling of just wanting it to end.
Your brothers so little didn’t understand why mom and dad were always gone, why you couldn’t come home, why you were born with so many broken pieces. I go back to that day in my mind and it tears my heart out over and over. I remember praying for you to breathe, I remember begging god to let you live, that I would deal with whatever came next that you needed. But you didn’t and I was too afraid of seeing your face after you stopped breathing, I was scared of having nightmares if I looked so I didn’t, I gave you to the nurse and ran out of the hospital. And that is my biggest regret. I should have stayed and I am so sorry. I love you and you will always be my first daughter, my third child.
I honor you as much as I possibly can.
We hang your stocking at Christmas we have balloons on your birthday and plant flowers at the cemetery every February 18. I light candles by your picture whenever I feel you, I stare at the maple tree in the front yard that I planted when I was pregnant with you, knowing it is the age you should be. I will always wonder who you’d be today. I can’t wait to see you again, somewhere over the rainbow.
*** My daughter was born frank breach at 41 weeks and lived for 52 days. She had congenital heart disease, a damaged brain stem from birth and needed a tracheotomy to breathe as well as a tube in her stomach to eat. She needed multiple surgeries but also needed to be healthy to survive them. We took her off life support hoping she would breathe on her own but didn’t.
I look around and your all I see
Your face in the clouds
Your fingers and hands
Like branches,leaves in the trees
The sunset, so beautiful reminds me of you
The pink of a sunrise
Your lovely soft cheeks
Waves crash to shore
As a smiles alights your face
My thoughts of you surround me
The beauty of nature belongs to you my sweet lily flower.
Written May 22 2012
By Sheri Hall, for her daughter Lilly Hall who died 2.5 months earlier.
**I wrote this 8 years ago (2012) 2 months after losing my 2 month old daughter.
2 months later I was at my Nonna’s funeral, the same funeral officiant was there, my uncle was ” impressed” by our service and asked for her name. I was not pleased with how she missed things we wanted included and focused on things we didn’t but regardless of that, what still bothers me today is that when she saw me at my Grandma’s funeral just 2 months after my daughters she gave no condolences but simply asked how long has it been since Lily died? I replied 4 months, her response, to which she was clearly proud of or thought revealing to me? Was solemnly, ‘ahh (nodding her head) double as long as she lived’…I just stared blankly and she excused herself.
I knew even though I didn’t want to, what she meant, and I found it immediately after a quick google search upon getting home that day. Many say grief lasts as long as a relationship… However it more references broken relationships not death. And in that, I don’t think I will or can possibly grieve some as long as I have known them. Thats absurd and in that moment, I realized she was a fraud. Who learned to comfort with words but ultimately was paid to speak.
You look up, you see a small circle of light and know that it is the way out.
It is closer than you think. But it is very small; its hard to tilt your head, you don’t want to look up.
You look around at the stone walls that surround you, the cold comfort of a solid unbreakable wall. Some would feel claustrophobic but not you. Here is where you can be you. Here is where you feel sad, look sad, be sad without those around you being uncomfortable. Without worry of hiding.
The ones that see you down there might stop and yell. Are you ok?Or how are you? But they dont want to hear the answer- so you tell them what they want to hear- I’m ok or I’m fine and they go on their way. Some may bring you flowers and place them nicely in a circle around your well, this cheers them up, this makes them feel like they are being sympathetic. Why flowers? Is it my birthday? Are we celebrating something? They look nice so now when you walk by my well, with me hiding in the bottom curled in a ball, not daring to look up. You do not feel so sad because you see all the beautiful flowers and think -wow look how many people care! That makes them feel better- those flowers do not cheer me up, I am not celebrating my childs death, when the flowers die I must throw them away, it is a task I cannot do nor want to do. I look around at my hole I have been thrown down, I dont want to climb out.
Here I am comforted by my pain. Here I am not pretending. Here I am me. No one wants to go down a well; you may not be able to get out! But when you lose a child, when you hold them in your arms as they die, you fall down that well, at some point you wake up. You realize what has happened, it may be weeks, months or days, but it hits you like a brick, you are stuck at the bottom of this deep dark well. It echoes your cries, as well as your tears that fall to the cement floor like bombs. You re-live the most painful of memories down there. You want every one to stay out! This is not a problem since no one wants to join you down there; no one wants to see that pain. People tend to look at grief and tragedy as though-What if that happened to me? They are not thinking of your pain. They want to cheer you up- they want to cook for you- which is very nice, but hard when you do not taste anything let alone want to eat. You shove the food in your freezer, you say thank you, they feel better and go on their way. People say things like -I didnt want to upset you, as though not mentioning it means you are not thinking about it. I have come to realize this society doesnt cope well with death, everyone wants to acknowledge it once then for it to go away, some do not say anything at all to pretend like nothing happened, those are the selfish people. I have seen how I have become invisible to some or perhaps they dont want to see me? Because they do not want to think about what happened to me. Some people think negativity breeds negativity- that could not be farther from the truth. Yes negative people are not fun to be around, but negative or more accurately -a tragedy is not caused by anything.
It is life. Life is full of suffering, we all suffer at different times in life and how we deal with other people suffering really shows our true character. They want you not to feel uncomfortable when they are being sad- because it is ok to be sad. Unfortunately we live in a world that prefers fake realities and big smiles over having to deal with or accept our feelings & hurts. So we simply do not talk about it. We cheer you up and bring you flowers. If we were able to grieve without being concerned of making others uncomfortable with our sadness then maybe we would not feel like we were stuck in the bottom of a well, one day I will climb out and face the world. Maybe one day when I walk past someone else stuck in a well I will join them, help them, listen and cry because it is ok to be sad.