Many people have said to me, “I just can’t imagine” losing a child. I think as parents we all have imagined losing one of our children. But we as parents know that unless it happens to you, it’s impossible to know the depth of pain from such an unnatural loss. Fiona’s death was not simply an event that happened, but a life changing journey we didn’t get to choose. Over a year later, and I still feel a sense of disbelief this happened to Fiona, to me, to our family. I often feel as if I’m acting a part in a tragic movie, and not actually living it because my life is now so far from anything familiar to me. I wish it was all a bad dream and I could wake up and our lives would be back to normal. But each day that I wake up and realize again that she’s gone is another nail in the coffin of my old life. The normal life with three lovely daughters, normal worries about things like money, work, schedules, girl drama, and undone chores. The life without traumatic memories and images of my child dying.
Over a year later, and the shock and mental fog is slowly clearing to reveal the horrible pain and reality of my loss. My love for Fiona that was directed towards her for ten years now has nowhere to go. I cared for her, nurtured her, and protected her for so many hours, days and years. And now she is just gone. Here one day, gone the next, with no warning and not but a few minutes to say goodbye. It is so disorienting. My brain is constantly consumed with processing my loss, unless my brain is actively engaged in something else such as work or conversation. Even then, thoughts of Fiona are always hovering, humming in the background of my mind. Her sudden departure makes it more difficult to process and make sense of it all, and the exact cause of her death continues to elude me. Yes, she died from complications of the flu. But would she have died if she’d had antibiotics? The autopsy revealed that her body was filled with strep bacteria. Would she have survived if we’d taken her to the doctor sooner? What if she’d had Tamiflu the day before? Did her alopecia or eye surgery have anything to do with her death? What if they’d tried other treatments, and what are those treatments? Is there really nothing that can be done for someone who has the flu, and if so, what happens if another one of my children gets it again? Will we have to resign them to death? These questions I may never have answers for, but they continue to pick at me. It’s a loose end untied, an unfinished chapter, and the most important chapter at that, the ending of the tale of Fiona’s life on earth. Not that answers could bring her back, but perhaps somehow a sense of peace might be found.
I really have no choice but to continue living, although the grief often feels overwhelming. I have two daughters still here with me who need their mom. They’ve had a horrible loss, and realize now that they could die as their sister did, even as their kitten did. Death is a reality to them, not something they see in a movie or on the news. We have taught them that death is really a door into eternal life, and with that is nothing but paradise, love, peace, Jesus, and wonderful reunions. I hope that gives them comfort as it does me. But it is hard to know how they are doing in their grief journey. I can’t push them to be where I am. My goal is to be there for them and love them the best I am able to.
Each day has to be lived one day at a time, often one hour at a time. Sometimes I schedule things so I can know what will fill each hour to be able to just get through it. Unscheduled time is still scary; it means sitting with my pain and loss. I fear going down a rabbit hole of sadness from which I can never return. But I think I will have to mourn my Fiona much more this year if I want to heal. Sometimes I wonder if I avoid by keeping busy working, reading (although mostly still grief and loss books), or doing chores. It’s hard to know how to grieve right when you’ve never done it before.
Fiona’s room remains mostly unchanged. I wonder when we will have the strength to change anything. We don’t have a gravesite to visit because she was not buried; we aren’t sure we will live the rest of our lives in Billings, and we don’t want to leave her ashes behind here. Her ashes sit in my closet in the pretty-but-terrible urn with the painted pink roses. I couldn’t bear to keep them in her room. I’m still not sure why I put them in her closet. How horrible is that, for her to leave her room one day and come back in a small bag inside an urn. It is so hard to accept her death; I don’t want it. I hate even putting the word death anywhere near the word Fiona. She was my precious child and I will always love her. Beside the urn sits the mold cast of her hand the nurses gave us, and a small box with some of her hair they cut off and braided for me. Also in the box is her final handprint, done after death and so it is smudgy looking. It’s not like the other ones she made while she was alive. These items crush the soul and are horrible things to have to have, the few remains of my daughter, and her body which I carried, held and loved. I wish I didn’t have them, and had my beautiful child back instead. If only I could turn back time and things had gone differently, and she’d lived as they said she would.
Year two is just as painful as year one so far. My hope for this year is to face the pain, and walk through it; I don’t want to be forever stuck in grief, or take it on as my identity. I don’t want to become so wounded I am unable to function; I have to learn to live with my wound that I will always carry. My identity is not “mother who lost a child”, but “beloved child of a powerful, loving God”. I wish I knew why God allowed this to happen to Fiona, and why our family has to suffer. I just don’t understand it. Much of our understanding of life is seen through a glass, darkly, and we know only in part; one day we will know as God knows us, when we meet Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). The only peace available to me is knowing that God loves Fiona, has her safely in His care, and He has purposes and plans I can’t understand right now.