To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees- these are the risks that involve vulnerability and often pain…I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us now to live with joy, gratitude, and grace. -Brene Brown
I chose an outfit she would have loved, a navy blue polka dot dress and bright green wedges. My petrified body marched into the large room where her wake would be held and took in something no parent every should. My six year old child was in a short, white coffin, surrounded by photos from her too short life. I wailed. I shook. I sobbed. I looked up at the heavens, tears flowing like a faucet. I shook my head “No.” I asked God “Why?” I couldn’t get too close to the coffin without feeling like I might fall over and collapse. I didn’t touch her or kiss her because I refuse to remember her like that.
The funeral was standing room only. Then there was the burial. A goodbye to her earthly body that had betrayed her. Our friends and family walked up two by two, some unable to make eye contact with me, tears falling onto the petals as they laid a single flower on her coffin, then walked away. After everyone had come and gone I stood in the rain and thought… “Now what?”
Now, the real work starts. The re-building after the wreckage.
The truth is falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up. -Brene Brown
Today I drove through the wreckage of the tornado that hit Hamden at the exact moment of Lea’s wake. The past nine months has felt like a tornado. An uprooting of our lives. An angry, violent and tumultuous event that ripped through our family, flipping us upside down, smashing our hearts and souls, and destroying one of the things we love the most in this world.
On that violent night, when I saw my six year old child in a coffin, it felt as if my world was over. If I am being honest, there were moments I wished it was.
The sky in Hamden during Lea’s wake. Do you see the heart?
We were brave, and strong, and we fought hard with her. Now we have to figure out to heal, and mend, and rebuild a new life, without her. A life that very frankly, scares the shit out of me. And where do you even begin? When the wound feels so deep and raw, like it might never close… where every minute is filled with a new set of emotions.
The next day the sun came up, like it always does. I got out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and made a coffee… just like every other morning.
It took Lea nine months to grow inside my body. It also took nine months for cancer to overtake her body as we watched. As quickly as I became a mom of three girls, I became a mom of two… and that feels so wrong. Most of the past nine months feel like a blur… a bad dream, a horrible nightmare, filled with the most awful things we could ever imagine enduring. But we did. And here we are, still standing. Forever changed, but still standing. Broken, beaten and so very sad, sprinkled with a touch of anger and a dash of envy…but we are still standing.
We are taking this grieving and healing process one moment at a time. I believe there is no right or wrong way to do this… there is only what feels right to us, today, and every day looks so different. Some nights are unbearable. My newfound anxiety takes control of me, my blood pressure skyrockets and it feels like I want to crawl out of my skin, unable to find peace or calm. On those nights I am thankful for prayer and Ativan. Some mornings are horrible. Like when I forget she is gone and go into her room to wake her up… only to find her empty bed, perfectly made and covered in her favorite stuffies and Beanie Boos. On those mornings, I am thankful for three amazing distractions and work that gives me purpose.
Fear not, for I am with you. -God
Tomorrow would have been Lea’s seventh birthday. To us, she will forever be six.
One year ago.
I am sure she is eating plenty of chocolate ice cream in heaven, as Lea’s heaven has candy lined streets. I can see her up there, skipping, smiling, painting the heavens in bright and beautiful colors, and making everyone around her laugh as they marvel in her joy and sparkle. I miss her every second of every day… some seconds hurt more than others.
One of the many things I have learned through this tragedy is the true resilience of the human spirit. It can be shattered into what feels like a million pieces and then, slowly rebuild, stronger and wiser than it was before it was broken. Today marks two weeks since her death. Today I actually laughed. And smiled. And while we are not ok, I know in time we will be.
Lea’s story might be over, but ours isn’t. I will continue to document our “what comes next” and how are are navigating and healing. And to answer to many of your questions, yes. Someday, I hope to write a book, but for now, there is so much more to tell.
Experience and success don’t give you easy passage through the middle space of struggle. They only grant you a little grace, a grace that whispers, “This is the part of the process. Stay the course.” Experience doesn’t create even a single spark of light in the darkness of middle space. It only instills in you a little bit of faith in your ability to navigate the dark. The middle is messy, but also where the magic happens.-Brene Brown, Rising Strong