When You Lose Your Child

Lessons In Parenthood: Week 7

This may seem like a dark topic for my normally positivity-centered writing. There’s a good reason behind it. Saturday, February 18th, would have been the 16th birthday of my little sister. Amelia (Amy Lou) passed away in 2003 and that became a piece of my life that will forever shape me.

I was 14 years old when she was born. I was 16 when she passed. Yesterday she would have been 16. It’s crazy for me to even think about. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago or someone else’s life entirely. Sometimes the memories and feelings are as crisp as yesterday. I remember exactly each and every detail of the day she was born, seeing her, and holding her for the first time. At 14 years apart, I really felt more like a second mother than a sister. Comparing it to how I feel now that I actually am a mother it’s even more true.

Grief has many faces and phases. It’s an unpredictable ocean of emotions. It’s been 13 years that she’s been gone. You would think after 13 years the pain of loss wouldn’t be so sharp. What amazes me is that it is. It’s just not as frequent. I truly still feel that heart-piercing jolt at times. The tears can come swift. It can catch me off guard. Maybe a memory sets off a crash of emotions. Once it was a very realistic dream, once it was a movie, once it was a show, that struck me and so profoundly reminded me of her that I was reduced to heaving, uncontrollable sobs.

Luka asked me, “Was it a hard day for you?” and I answered, “No, not this day.” It really wasn’t. Surprisingly. There was a time when her birthday and the anniversary of her passing were just terribly difficult days. Now it’s more like certain moments touch me and it’s hard, it’s sad, but I don’t feel or think of it as it was years ago. Years ago it was difficult the whole day or week, living with all the memories and having all those memories only amplify the awareness that I had lost someone I would never get back. Now when I feel the pain, I don’t think of it in a way that I am enduring the pain of loss. I rather allow myself to feel it, open to it, observe it, and when it feels right, I let it pass. Today I am aware that a perfect soul touched my life and for that I am a richer being. I am grateful for that. Any sadness is a reminder of how full my life is. Saturday was a day when I remembered some of her sweet moments and smiled. Being sad at every memory of a loved one gone, or concentrating on how much I miss them rather than allowing their memory to make me happy, feels like an injustice to all the good they brought to me.

My daughter is now the age that Amy Lou was when she passed away. That’s given me A LOT to think about. Olivia’s middle name is Amelia too. When Olivia was born and I said aloud that her name was Olivia Amelia, it was really emotional for me. I remember feeling as if Amy Lou’s beautiful spirit had touched my daughter.

Once you have experienced that kind of loss in life it’s easy for it to affect you. It’s not hard to imagine myself living in fear and paranoia that something terrible would happen to Olivia, or Luka, or anyone else I love. It’s been a real struggle to not let myself be overcome with the dread of losing Olivia. I remind myself that living in that kind of mindset is no kind of life for me or for her. It’s been something I’ve had to learn to cope with and change since she’s been born.

A few weeks ago, Luka and I had a long conversation about this. We talked about mourning after loss. We talked about miscarriage, a child dying, our child dying, even each other dying. It may seem like a terribly sullen conversation, but these are the things that we believe are absolutely important to talk about. These are the things you never plan for, you never expect, and it’s deepening to your relationship to understand how you both feel and think about them. It’s also healthy to think how you would want to react to them. It’s easy to talk about it, it’s a whole different world to live through it and actually deal with it. We agreed that this is part of life that we have no control over. We can try to control it. We can try to control our child’s safety. We can try to control her health in a way that she’ll never know disease. But in the end, death is something no one can control. You can try to manage it, postpone it, delay it, but there’s no control. We recognized this. We also said that since there’s really nothing we can do about that, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our family is to love fully, appreciate each day, and live in gratitude for the time we are given. If, God forbid, one of us were to not wake up in the morning, we would know that for the time we did have together, we were blessed and grateful. Even though we would mourn, we would also celebrate that and we would know the other felt the same.

It may sound cliché, but in recent weeks I’ve really concreted in my mind that there are no guarantees that I (or anyone I love) will wake up tomorrow morning. Today may be the last day we have together. Every night before I go to bed I reflect on the day and think, “This was the best day of my life,” and when I wake up in the morning the first thought in my mind is, “Today is already the best day of my life,” and it truly is. Simply because I am alive and that is reason enough.