It has been just over a year since we lost our beautiful daughter. And, I would have thought the one year mark would bring a feeling of relief or success having survived so long without her. But, it has not.
In fact, the time has brought a fresh pain, a new and different type of ache in my heart, in my soul. It has brought the reality, of having to live the rest of my life without her, front and center. That pain is like a piercing stab that hits me frequently, often when least expected.
And, with this time that has passed, my mind wanders and dives deep into rabbit holes, summoning up horrible, ugly visions that burn into my mind. I need to make a continuous and conscious effort to keep my mind from going to these places. And, many days I am successful. Which, I am proud of. But, some days, when my strength is waning, the rabbit hole just sucks me in, refusing to let me go and I am here to tell you, it is no fairy tale.
During one of these moments, where I replay the final days of my daughter’s life, I had a thought, that started as the type of thought that takes me down the rabbit hole. But, this time, the rabbit hole didn’t fully suck me in.
As I was thinking of the night where she was last herself, where I watched her small body go through the most horrifying things, I thought, “what if she had died right there, in that moment”? And, quite honestly, I am floored that I had never truly played that scenario in my mind, until recently.
I said that events and decisions during the four months before her death, unknowingly, made things go the best way a tragic situation could go. I knew it could have been worse, I didn’t exactly know how, but I knew it could have been worse. Somehow, every word, every decision, every struggle, every roadblock and every break we got, during those four months, put us in the place where we were able to receive the gift of Time. Time to say goodbye, time to come to acceptance (for what that was worth in the midst of tragedy) with the fact that we were not leaving that hospital with her.
It was a gift.
But, what I never truly thought about, in harsh detail was, what if we had not received that gift. What if, I watched her die in front of my eyes, alone. What if that was it? What if, while I watched her body, that was violently out of her control, I saw death take every bit of her essence away? What if, while I watched the medical staff swarm around her beside, all working to save her, they failed? What if, the Pope hadn’t shut down the City of Philadelphia, keeping us hospitalized longer than necessary and we were home with her? We would have been ill-equipped, even though we were pretty fully equipped, to fight the horrifying attack on her body that night. We would have done everything, like so many times before, to keep her with us, but, despite our efforts, her body would have given out.
How would I have survived losing her in any of those ways? I know the only reason for my survival is due to the gift of time we received in those final days. But the truth is, the only reason I survived is because I chose to accept the gift I was given.
But, let us be honest, terribly tragedy, like our reality or those “what ifs” I mentioned, happens to people. Every day. And, if we are being honest, we all get different types of gifts in tragedy, no matter how the tragedy comes about or the results when it is over. Of course, not all of us recognize, through our grief and anger, the gifts we are given. My tragedy is not your tragedy, my gift is not your gift. But, we owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, to those we have lost in tragedy, to find our gift and embrace it tightly and survive.
I know, I see, I truly understand, now, one year later, the importance of the gift we were given, in having the opportunity to let her go. I understand how awful those words sound, believe me, “the opportunity to let her go”, but it was a gift. From the moment she was born, we were fearful that she would be taken from us. We believed in her will and her purpose on this earth and we fought for her life at every sharp turn, but we were scared. Every day, every moment we had life and death thoughts running through our minds and they were real. We understood that if we were not on our A game, if we were not ready to make life saving responses for her, we would lose her, in a literal heartbeat.
Every day, life won over death. Until October 1, 2015. And on that day, we didn’t lose life over death in the way we had always feared.
The day she died, our little family was in control, the gift of time gave us that control. We celebrated her life in the way we never had the chance to celebrate it on the day she was born. The day she was born, we controlled nothing; the celebration for a new life on earth was set aside in order to save that new life, the fear and uncertainty weighing heavy on our blindsided hearts. But, the day she died, well, we made up for the fear and uncertainty that kept us from celebrating on the day she was born. Perhaps that sounds inappropriate. But, for us, it was exactly right. On October 1, 2015, we wept (wailed), we laughed, we created beautiful moments together and we snuggled up to her, breathing in her spirit, her essence, her love, letting it give us strength. We gave her our blessing to continue her journey without us. We loved her every second of every minute of her life and then, we let her go.
And the fact of the matter is, she had already let go, well before we did. A few days before she died, she was not waking up from the tragic event, I laid on the bed with her, held her little hands, and I spoke to her in a way a mother should never have to speak to her child.
I said, “Delainie, Mommy and Daddy understand if you cannot stay here with us–if you need to go be with God, we understand. Well, we don’t exactly understand, but we know that might be the plan and we want you to know that we will be okay, we have each other and we will figure it out. We will be okay for you”. One tear, from each of her beautiful closed eyes, rolled down her cheeks, and at that moment, I knew. Her gift, God’s gift, was to let us catch up, as best we could, to the plan, this time around. And I will forever be grateful.
It is my hope that others can find the gifts that are within their own tragedies and that they hold on tight to those gifts; because, I truly believe, those gifts are our life lines.