Eleven months. It has been 11 months. Almost a year. We have watched the first Spring arrive, the flowers blooming the day she died, May 1. We have seen the first summer pass. One that should have been filled with fun summer memories of camps, and theme parks, and lazy days at the beach. We have lived through the first Fall, her baby brother trick-or-treating for the first time, without his big sister to lead the way. We have stumbled through the first birthday without her. We have cried as the first Christmas went by. We have held our breath through all these firsts, dreading the days that had the word “happy” in them, steadying ourselves in this new dimension that we exist in now.
But here we are. It has been 11 months. And after living through the hardest year of our lives, it feels like it’s about to get a lot harder. As the one year mark creeps closer, we stop counting the firsts, and start remembering the lasts.
This was the day we celebrated our last holiday together. Here comes the day we had our last outing. We look at the last picture of her healthy – a quick silly snap on an iPhone, never knowing a reality where that could be the last. The last day she was ok. The last time we were ok. It’s all so vivid – in full technicolour, every detail somehow engrained into my memory, even though the 3 weeks she was sick all seemed like a chaotic nightmare. The last time we had hope. The last time I believed love was enough to save her – to keep her safe. To keep her.
And now, as I can’t help but play the “one year ago” game, I am filled with the terror that we lived through 11 months ago. Only I know how it ends. And the absurdity of life without my child looms ahead of me. One year survived, but so many more to come – so many years without her in my arms.
In the last 11 months, I have become painfully aware that although we are every parent’s nightmare, we are also so many people’s reality. We are but one family of many who belong to this wretched club. A club where statistics mean nothing, where natural order has been demolished, and where words like fate, or heal, or plans, are hollow and laughable. We were robbed. Our children were robbed. There is no healing from this. This kind of pain delivers you to a new dimension of existence where you must carry on in pieces.
We have other children who still need to be parented, jobs that still exist, and a world around us that continues to spin, until you want to scream at every person you meet – “Don’t you know what has happened?!? Don’t you know what I have lost?!?” It’s a terrible club. But it has more members than anyone ever realizes until you become a part of it.
So, here at 11 months, I hold new truths. I know the strongest thing in the world is the love I have for my children. I know in the darkest dark, when all I could feel was pain and emptiness, I still loved them more. I loved them more than the despair. I loved them more than the guttural screams. I loved them more than the anger and the grief. I was destroyed beyond belief, but I still loved them more – and I always will.
I know that it’s possible for the sun to shine, but for the shadows to be such different shapes. I know that when we laugh now, when we play, when we are caught in a bright moment, the shadows that our sun casts show a completely different silhouette than what meets the eye. For even in our sunshine, we are holding grief. We are never without it and our loss is never absent. We have had to learn to hold joy and sorrow in the same moments, in the same breaths.
I have learned that the only way to survive without her, is to refuse to live without her. I have learned the only way to hold onto any shred of sanity, is to continue to mother my girl, in whatever way I can, every single day. To speak about her and to her. To count her every day. To tell her story – not just her tragedy – but her triumphs, her big and small moments. Because although it is true that she died, it also is true that she lived. We have lived without her for 11 months, but we lived and loved with her for 9 and a half years, and those years counted.
They will always count and she will forever be loved.