“Stories like ours come with a trigger warning.
It is a story of profound love and devastating heartbreak. It is a story of gut-wrenching pain and ardent courage. It is the story of losing our way completely, and then fighting like hell to come back.
Our family of four was complete the day Scarlett came into the world. This healthy, baby girl was destined to change the world. We beamed with pride as we poured over every inch of her. She was perfect.
Our bouncing, baby girl died of SIDS at daycare just 2 weeks after I went back to work.
I would tell you to imagine the worst, but that wouldn’t even dent the surface. Scarlett was non-responsive when I picked her up. CPR was started immediately as we waited for the first responders to arrive. Time disappeared while confusion and fear consumed me. I remember the police arriving first and me begging the officer to run as he came up the sidewalk. I watched as paramedics took over CPR and loaded us into the ambulance. They kept calling me mom. ‘Mom, how much does she weigh?’ ‘Mom, what was her birthday?’ ‘Mom, we are trying our hardest.’
Sirens were blaring as I sat in the passenger seat and called my husband.
The emergency room was waiting for us.
So many of them. So many doctors. So many nurses.
They all tried so hard and for so long to bring her back. Everything was a blur as they asked me more questions. The hospital staff literally held me up as I watched them work on her tiny lifeless body.
Then, shortly after 5 p.m. on December 18, 2012, the doctor pronounced her, my perfect daughter, dead.
When your child dies in the hospital, they bring you a rocking chair. There I sat, rocking my daughter as my husband came running around the corner to find us.
What is that quote? You know, the one that so accurately describes the depth of which you love your child. ‘The decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’
The day she died, my heart didn’t break – it disintegrated.
Shock is Nature’s gift to those who’ve witnessed trauma. The days, weeks and months to follow were like an unfocused picture. I can vaguely recall parts of my life but not in great detail. The pain was unbearable.
It hurt to be awake. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to be alive when she wasn’t.
There were many moments along the way that I didn’t know if I would survive. And if I am being honest, I don’t know if I wanted to.
When we lost her, we lost our way completely. Our lives and our family were changed forever against our will and without our permission. On our worst days we wanted to walk away; from jobs, from marriage, from anything that took the energy we no longer had.
Deep into my grief and heavy into therapy I had a realization; Scarlett would never want this for me. She was love and joy personified. I had every right in the world to fall apart and to stay apart. No one would blame me if I never recovered and let the pain consume me. I lost my child and life as I knew it would never be the same.
Days after Scarlett died, a dear friend sent us an adaptation from one of Anne Lamott’s books that we used in her eulogy.
It reads, ‘If you keep your heart open, those traumas beat you down. But against all odds, something emerges from the wreckage in our hearts. Nothing can possibly make things ok again. And then, people and grace surround the bereft family. Time passes. It’s beyond bad. But people don’t bolt. Love falls to the Earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from the charred soil. The sun rises. Wow.’
We had a choice to make.
And so, we decided to heal ourselves by making the world a kinder and more loving place in her name. We chose to be those new blades of grass growing from charred soil.
Scarlett’s Day of Kindness falls on the anniversary of her death each year. It was created with the hope that we could lighten the heaviness of the day with good deeds. Each year we ask our friends and family from coast to coast to perform an act of kindness in Scarlett’s name and shout it from the roof tops. We believe that kindness is contagious, and each act inspires another creating a ripple effect of good things.
Over and over we are brought to tears by our generous and devoted circle of loved ones. They are the most creative, caring and magnanimous humans on the planet. Along the way we’ve received messages from friends of friends and even complete strangers who were compelled to spread goodwill in Scarlett’s honor.
The list of kind acts is vast and the impact immeasurable. Everything from handing out new socks to the homeless to large donations to a nonprofit supporting foster children. Some write powerful words of affirmation on post-its and stick them all over downtown and others adopt a family in need for the holidays. They have signed up to work food banks, paid school lunch tabs and offered compassion to complete strangers.
Shortly after Scarlett’s Day of Kindness this year I received a direct message via social media that stopped me in my tracks and lead me to tears. Not just any tears either. It was those big waterfall sobbing tears that come from joy.
Here is the message with some redacting for privacy:
Hello, my name is X my family and I were shopping at X last night in X, Virginia. We were gifted a gift card in memory of Scarlett. I’ve been researching and came across your family’s story. The name and date matches to what the man mentioned … he said he was doing it for a friend. I want to say thank you and wherever your sweet Angel is, that she is resting and enjoying eternity. I will have your family in my prayers and will forever be grateful … last night I was very stressed and just adding numbers in my head trying to get my daughter what she needed for school when this happened. I sat in my car afterwards and cried.
Being a loss mom is a title no one wants and one I never expected to carry. In moments like this and many others like it, I am overwhelmed with pride and gratitude. How lucky am I that Scarlett chose me off all people to be her mother? She picked me to carry her and give her life. She decided I was the one strong enough to bear the magnitude of grief and turn it into something more meaningful. I am her mother always and forever. Scarlett’s time on Earth was short but her impact is undeniable. She is very much alive in our beautiful family of five.
Yes, a family of five. As with all stories, there are many complicated layers. While I was pregnant with Scarlett, we made the decision to have a vasectomy. We had always planned on having two children and to be honest, it never crossed our minds that we might lose one. Those things happen to other people, right?
Death and life hit us all at once. In the wake of those very first days and weeks the devastation just kept coming. We love each other to the marrow of our bones and realizing we could no longer create children together only added to our sorrow.
As the months went by and we slowly, and I mean slowly, started to function again, we opened the door to the possibility of a vasectomy reversal. Conversations were had and appointments made. The long invasive surgery had no guarantee. Once complete, the doctors gave us all the statistics and outlined clearly that if it worked, it might be 12-18 months before we were able to conceive.
We were pregnant in two.
The term rainbow baby is commonly used in the world of pregnancy and infant loss. There is not a doubt in my mind that Scarlett gave us her little sister. She hand-picked a child that would help us heal and reminded us that as parents, we had so much love to give. In a time where we thought our story had ended, we were granted another chance. There is no replacing a child you so desperately wanted and adored, but life doesn’t always work the way you planned.
They say time heals all wounds, but I think that’s only part of it. I fought to survive, I dove into therapy and our support group, I asked for help and eventually when I was able, found hope by creating kindness and focusing on all the love that surrounded us. While the years have passed the empty arms and relentless grief never waiver. Against all odds, we put one foot in front of the other and carry on because we know that’s what Scarlett would want for us. A happy life well lived.
Today, as I watched my rainbow baby, Scarlett’s little sister, graduate preschool, I was reminded once again that love always wins.”
Author’s Note: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS is a thief. It stole our child during a nap. Please make sure safe sleep and crib safety is a priority in your home and anyone caring for your child closely follows the guidelines. You can’t turn back time and you don’t get a second chance.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emilee Frisbie. You can follow her journey on Instagram and using the hashtag #scarlettsdayofkindness. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more powerful stories of parents working through child loss:
Do you know someone who could benefit from this story? Please SHARE on Facebook to let them know a community of support is available.