“My daughter, my only child at the time, died in my and my husband’s arms. My grief was large, painful, and all-consuming when she died. One day, she was perfectly healthy and the next, she was admitted to our children’s hospital, then the PICU. Then in the span of 4 days, we had to make the life-altering decision to take her off her already failing life support.
In that span of time, I saw my daughter’s oxygen drop to 8 percent. I saw doctors intubate her and drill a hole in her leg to push fluids. I saw tubes coming out of her neck, then doctors opening her chest to move the tubes to her left ventricle because ECMO was failing. I saw my daughter’s open chest, bloody and desperate. Then I had to see it all removed. Scarlett was finally tube-free but her heart had stopped beating. I could finally hold her but she was heavy and cold.
I couldn’t see anything other than the Scarlett shaped hole in my life. I couldn’t see anything other than her dark navy-blue lips. I couldn’t feel anything other than the weight of her dead body. The black and blue spots mottling her hands and feet were tattooed on the insides of my eyes. The moment the doctors started working on her was replaying over and over in my mind, on a nauseating loop sleep couldn’t break. My breath constantly caught in my mouth.
My grief stayed by my side. It was all I could see, it was the only thing I could carry. It was an almost animalistic pain, a dark, ancient pain that sat deep in my bones. Right after she died, grief looked like running to the bathroom in any and every public place to hide my tears. It was missing my friends’ children’s birthday because I couldn’t look at happy little girls. I couldn’t look at alive little girls. Grief was not knowing if I wanted to be a nurse anymore when I felt healthcare failed her. Grief was sobbing on my living room floor, rocking back and forth, whispering, ‘daughter, daughter, daughter’ to remind myself she was real.
It’s been two years since Scarlett passed away and now my grief is older, smoother around the edges, and still just as heavy. It still demands to be carried sometimes, but I have grown used to holding it. Grief has been invited into my life instead of shunned. Instead of being mad at grief, I try my best to love it and be patient with it. Grief still follows me to work, sits at the dinner table, watches TV with us, and is tugging on me while I put my Rainbow Baby to sleep at night. Grief is, unfortunately, a part of our family and will be forever. Grief now looks like being able to talk about her without crying, but crying while I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas because she isn’t here.
Grief is seeing a rainbow over her gravesite and crying happy tears because I feel like she was saying, ‘Hi, Momma! I miss you!’ Grief is still crying into my pillow at night because every bone in my body aches with missing her. Grief is not crying about her death anniversary until I am driving to Hobby Lobby to buy new flowers for her grave. When I do start crying, I can’t stop, so grief also looks like walking around Hobby Lobby with a beautiful, happy baby boy and tears running down my cheeks. I was looking away from everyone so no one saw the anguish that colored my face. How do you even pick flowers for your daughter’s grave?
Grief is holding every single flower in the store, trying to judge if it is good enough for my daughter. I settled on two large bouquets of pink and white silk blooms. Can anything I buy show how much I love and miss her? They are beautiful, sure, but they pale in comparison with the pain I still feel. As I am buying them, Arlo, my rainbow baby, is making the cashier laugh. He is happy and warm and loving. The cashier hardly looks at me (Thank God) and I wonder what she thinks I’m buying the flowers for, and if she can feel the grief roll off of me. Would she cry with me if I told her our story?
Arlo waves goodbye to her and as we settle into the car before we drive off, I hug myself and sob hard. Guttural cries flood the car and I feel like screaming and punching my steering wheel but I just hug myself harder and hang my head. I feel completely alone. My beautiful boy is in the back, asleep already in his car seat, completely unknowing of the emotions January brings me. But I’m not alone–grief is sitting next to me, holding my hand, giving me permission to ache for her. Grief is then kneeling in the snow by her grave, my husband and baby in the warm car. I wait until my pants are soaked and my fingers are numb because I still can’t grasp the fact that she is dead, after all this time.
It’s been two years since my daughter, Scarlett Cecilia, died. My grief for her will never go away, nor do I want it to, but it will smooth out more overtime and I will get even more use to holding space for it. I feel closer to Scarlett when I let grief unfurl for a few moments. I find keeping her memory alive, keeping pictures up in the house, and talking about her helps ease the pain and brings her a little closer to me. I have learned that grief is love with nowhere to go, and love does not need to be fixed. It just needs to be felt. So I sit with my grief. I look it in the face, honor it with my time, and I try to give it my love.
Hug your little ones tight tonight–for Scarlett, for me, and for all the other parents who have lost children. Before I became a loss momma, I didn’t know how prevalent child death was. Bereaved parents are often overlooked, and our losses go similarly ignored. It’s hard to look at our pain? Well, it’s hard to live with this pain. I hear the sentence, ‘Well, I kept them alive, so I am doing something right,’ but having a child die doesn’t make you a bad parent (excluding child abuse of course). It took me a long time to forgive myself for Scarlett’s death, even though I couldn’t have saved her, as hard as I tried.
If you know of someone who has lost a child, get in touch with them today. Ask them about their child, ask them how you can help them keep their child’s memory alive, don’t stop saying their child’s name.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anna-Marie Elizabeth Jenks of Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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