The Great Duality
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
I promise to blog through the rough days as long as you promise to make the brave choice to get out of bed in the morning when it's hard to find a reason to. If you haven't lost a child, this probably sounds incredibly pessimistic - perhaps this will help you love your children more. But, if you've stumbled across this little blog after a loss, misery loves company. Maybe my sorrow will resonate with you and yet you'll be uplifted too... Because I know what it's like. When it feels like someone parked a semi right on your chest - and just when you think you'll surely die (because no one could possibly survive this pain), you somehow look around the room, hear the maddening sound of your shattered heart still beating, only to realize that you are, in fact, very alive. And dead at the same time.
While I was pregnant, I would hear about moms losing their babies and would tell my friends that I would "literally die" if something happened to Rylea. I was right. So very many parts of me and the Shelbey I was when Rylea passed died with her. But what no one told me is that when you lose a child, somehow, you still live. It's because the love for your child is greater than the sting of death and it's still strong enough to keep you going. It's only by allowing yourself to feel so much of one emotion that you can feel so much of the opposite. The cost of great love is sometimes great agony. It is life and it is death. Great love, and great pain. You always wish it was you instead.
I cry every night without her and wake up in tears every morning. I have nightmares. I cry so hard that sometimes it’s hard to even open my eyes. The first few weeks after she passed, I slept with my hand on Ryan's chest every night to make sure I could feel that he was still breathing. I wake up to the nightmare each day that this actually isn't a nightmare. I have countless panic attacks each and every day. My grief is as deep as an ocean. My entire being is crying out for and weeping for my daughter... Death and life, love and pain, trauma and beauty...
Few know the full story about Rylea's passing. Though I will someday recount the details of that first week, today is not that day. Most of what I will tell you now is that her birth and death were incredibly traumatic, but also beautiful. If you've stopped to go back and read that again, yes, I did just write beautiful. Because I have a daughter who was angelically beautiful in every way. She lived her entire earthly life - 8 months with her momma + not quite 30 hours - in the ardent care of her parents who truly poured out every bit of themselves into loving her for a lifetime. When I was pregnant with her and feeling her roll around in my belly, I would sing to her when it was just her and I. We celebrated her throughout her entire pregnancy. We got to hear her cry, hold her, hold her hand, kiss her feet, bathe her, clothe her, talk to her... Her father sacrificed his own heart to make sure she would never be alone. And when it was time for her to leave this cold world, instead of passing away alone, she closed her eyes in the warm, loving arms of her parents (the only earth side time our family will ever be complete) as she simultaneously opened her eyes to Jesus. So much beauty in the midst of so much trauma.
I told you guys that I would tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, please be patient with this grieving momma as I get real with you and tell you the ugly. This world is full of parents. Everyone had or has two biological parents. Some are great at it and some squander the opportunity. (Which will you be?) Regardless, each day I am surrounded by countless interactions between parents and their children and Rylea's absence is felt in each one of them. Most of the time, when I see this, I close my eyes and imagine that moment instead between Rylea and I. These are some of the most difficult reminders that she is gone. In a world full of living children, mine is not. Why me? Why my baby? You lose your baby at that age and every stage after it. Believe me when I say that I'd give my life to make sure this never happened to anyone else. Ever again. And obviously I wish Rylea was here, but I also deeply and genuinely wish that she was the last baby gone too soon. But right now it is so stinking hard to see pregnant people and other families with their babies. I hate admitting this and feel guilty for feeling this way because I know it's not right, but if you've lost a baby, you probably know that it stings a little. Most of the time it stings a lot. I can't tell you how many pregnancy or birth announcements, babies, and parental interactions that have given me such bad anxiety and panic attacks I've actually had to medicate myself through them. There are a lot of things I just can’t do yet. (*And if you're reading this and you aren't a loss parent, I do NOT want you to feel guilty. Quite the opposite, so please keep reading and forgive me if I'm not articulating my point correctly*)
If you haven’t lost a baby… What reminds you of them? What foods did you eat when you were pregnant with them? Did you have a favorite outfit you wore when you were pregnant? What did you take them home in? When you dream of your life ahead, do you dream of giving your daughter away on her wedding day? Do you think of all the things she will be? When did they take their first steps? What was it like when they said “mom” for the first time? How old were they? What was your favorite picture they drew you? Did you hang it on your fridge? How many nights did you go without sleep to feed them or to change their diaper? Were they ornery? Did they love you?
Imagine it all being viciously snatched away and instead replaced with… Can I handle being reminded of that memory today? How will we celebrate her birthday when we’re realms apart? Should we go to the grave site every year on her birthday? Did someone get a picture of her before we closed her casket? If someone asks me how many children I have, what do I say? Can I get through this pain? Was her life on earth painful? Why didn’t I change her diaper before she passed? Would we have bonded while I breastfed her? If I was able to continue to keep her alive? Would she have been nerdy like her mom? Funny like her dad? Does that mom yelling at her child in the grocery store know what she has? Does that uninvolved dad realize what he has? Do the parents shunning their child because of who they are know what they’re giving up? What career would Rylea have chosen? Would she have gotten married? Who would she have grown up to be? I’ll never get to braid her hair. I’ll never get to do her nails. I’ll never get to help her with her makeup. I’ll never, I’ll never, I’ll never. When you find out you are going to have a child, you feel entitled to these dreams. It should be that children bury their parents and not the reverse; but the reality is that you just don’t know how much time you’re going to have. Instead, if you’re blessed enough to change dirty diapers or to have so many sleepless nights, these dreams are actually gifts.
Back to the paradoxes. Joyful because I birthed a child, sad because she couldn’t stay. To be covetous and to be vicariously happy. As a loss parent, you immediately learn to simultaneously want what someone else has and to feel intense joy for that person. You're still SO happy for them. Because now I get to do my best to help families who have lost a baby. And I also get to try to help parents be more thankful, love their children more, and help to change the world for the better like my girl did in a single day. I understand something in a way that I hope you never do. Though my heart, soul, and body ache for Rylea when I see parents with their babies, some of the most healing moments have been to hear that Rylea has made a difference in their lives. That Rylea has helped them stop and smell the roses, and to make the most of their time with their living children. That Rylea has helped them to parent differently. That Rylea has helped them heal from the pain of their own losses. In the pain of Rylea being gone, each of you that have shared that she has changed you and each of you that are a different parent because of her have also helped me to heal as you help me keep her alive. The only way someone is really gone is if you forget about them.
Life, death. Love, grief. Trauma, beauty. Jealousy, happiness… We don’t always choose what options we are faced with in life. Often times, we are plucked from where we are at and placed at a fork in the road as we choose the path we will continue on. I can choose to be forever stuck in her death, the grief of her being gone, and the bitterness at others who have the things that I’ll never get with Rylea. It’s okay, normal, and very healthy to feel these things for a little while and I believe that as a loss parent you will feel these emotions to some extent forever. It is the cost of love. But I have to choose the latter.
I have to choose to focus on her life. On the love I have for her. On the beauty. On my ability to help loss families. On my platform to help parents of living children love their babies more. To be happy that the interactions of parents and their children that can be so painful for me mean that those parents never have to go through what I did. The cost of love. This decision was clear to me. On Friday, November 30, we knew Rylea would not make it to December. It was the darkest night of my life and never have I known such despair. As I was alone with my baby girl for the only time on earth outside of my pregnancy, I felt the most enormous rage-like love overtake me as I promised her that her life would mean something.
If you aren’t a parent to an angel, think of my Rylea when you get frustrated or upset or worn and tired. If she’s made a difference in your life, I’d be honored to hear about it. And to my angel parents out there – your child is still your why. Make them proud. So, even though her absence makes it hard to get up in the morning, she’s the reason I do. I have to choose the hardest path – the better one. Rylea is my reason. Her life forever means something.
Photo cred 📸: Victorian Photos