A few days ago, while playing with my son at a local playground, a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes looked up at me and requested that I push her on the swing. I obliged and she squealed, as she flew up close to the trees. I asked her name and she told me, spelling-bee style “A-V-A, Ava”.
Without thinking, I told her that’s my little girl’s name too. She glanced around us, noting only my 10 month old boy, and asked me “Where is your little girl?”
I felt woozy, but quickly smiled and told her that Ava was sleeping.
This satisfied a five year old and she returned to playing. And I technically did not lie.
My daughter was born on a damp, chilly November morning, three months before her due date. She fought hard, but her tiny lungs were too weak to sustain her in this world, and Ava was whisked back to Heaven before I ever got to learn the color of her eyes or feel the warmth of her breath.
I held her like any new mother would. I memorized her face, with my nose and her father’s ears. Her little crib stayed stationed beside my bed that night, but I never had to get up to nurse my baby or soothe her cries. And the next morning, there were no flowers or well wishes. There was no car seat to install. Instead, I told my child goodbye. I held her for what I knew would be the last time. Though every fiber of my being screamed, I tucked her into a blanket and watched a kind nurse take her away.
Ava’s dad and I left the hospital with a few mementos and medications, and a whole new reality to step into.
Not only that, but a new identity. The above photo was the last one taken before I gave birth to our girl. It was a beautiful Fall day, spent exploring museums and trails. We’d had lunch at The Sation Café; Ava somersaulted and hiccuped in my belly, while her dad and I held hands and laughed. I was full of hope and love. I had no clue the devastation and darkness that lay in wait for me later that week. In that picture is a happy, expectant new mom. Days later, there was no trace of that woman. She was now a “loss mom”, a “grieving mom”.
My son Silas was born 14 months after his sister. He is my rainbow in every way. He brought joy and peace back to my weary heart. But, now, I am “loss mom” AND “new mom”. These dual identities cause a great deal of anxiety for me. I am constantly worriedthat my daughter will be forgotten. And also trying to live in the present with my son, so as to not miss any of his precious life. I feel guilty for being happy, because I feel I am betraying my little girl. I feel guilty when I am tired or frustrated with my active little guy. I worry that he will see me crying and not understand.
In a couple of days, we will go visit Ava’s grave. That’s the first public place his dad and I ever took him. It will always be a sacred, important place for our family. Silas is 10 months old, and not a day has passed since his birth when I don’t talk to him about his sister. And I always will.
Its so very sad. And confusing. But Ava’s life is beautiful, her memory is important, and her impact is profound. I would not have my Silas if not for my Ava.
People tend to feel uncomfortable talking about death. Death is scary and ugly and heartbreaking. But it is a very real part of each of our lives. We all have a day that we dread, a face that comes to us in our dreams, an empty seat at the dinner table, a name that can bring us to our knees. We do not ‘get over’ or ‘move on’ from a deep loss. We move forward, but we hold tight to that precious life, however short, that has changed our own.
We don’t do anything elaborate on Ava’s birthday. Mostly, we talk about her, we visit her final resting place, and we go for a burger at The Station Café. Maybe as Silas gets older, we will add more traditions. Maybe we will bake a cake, light candles, release balloons, or plant a tree.
I will most likely always dread the approach of this time of year. The hurt will take on different forms, but it will never go away. And so it is with the joy, too. What a powerful lesson my son will have the chance to learn firsthand. We may experience the most horrific things imaginable in this life. And we may be blessed enough to know the most wondrous things. One does not negate the other, and often, the horror and the wonder live hand in hand. We don’t get over it. We just keep on moving.