It’s now been 21 years since I said goodbye to my first child, the amethyst color of my heart. The day of her miscarriage, I was so filled with shock that one moment I could be pregnant and the next, not. That just wasn’t supposed to happen. Now, a lifetime later, I barely even remember being that shocked person so long ago.
I was not naive; I had experienced death in my family already. I had lost grandparents, but then it is the normal order of things for them to go first. I had lost a beloved step-father, well before his time. But I hadn’t been close to the death of a child, the end of a life that had barely begun.
A death of a child, no matter the age or stage of pregnancy, is an end of innocence, the child’s and our own. Our lives are irrevocably changed. As Benjamin Allen puts it “We move into a different world. The world of before the loss is now the world of the Afterloss.”
This post-loss life may appear to outsiders like it is the same life we had before. We may live in the same house and drive the same car to the same job, where we eat the same lunch. The apparent sameness of our life pre- and post-loss mocks us because we cannot stop thinking how different our life should be. But we know that our life, the parts of life that really matter, have been changed, shattered, and destroyed.
We are constantly aware of the loss. At first, every breath is agony for the weight of it. Then, slowly, the intensity lessens. The tears slow. The weight of grief becomes less and we become more accustomed to carrying it. After twenty years, the weight of it is familiar; it has just become part of who I am. I may not think consciously about missing my children every moment of every day now, but the feeling that life is incomplete is ever present. But we never forget.
We never forget, because we never stop loving our children. We also never forget because there are always reminders around us of how old our children should be, what they might doing and learning, and how our lives should be.
In some parts of the world, it is back to school season again, that yearly reminder of how the kids around us are growing and learning. Most of us seem to have at least one child in our lives who was born around the same time as we had to let ours go. We see their pictures and try to imagine our child. Which backpack would she pick? What fandom would she love? What career would she be considering? But I can’t see a clear picture; it’s just a pale ghost image, an echo of someone else’s life.
It is hard to picture how different my life would have been if she had lived. It’s hard to imagine being the mother of a child in college. It’s hard to imagine learning to let her go slowly, as she strives toward independence, when I had to let go suddenly, completely, utterly.
I hold her in my heart, though I never held her in my arms. All I have are echoes of a life that could have been. A life that should have been.