When your child passes away, you feel helpless.
You rail against your reality, you scream, you beg, you hope with your entire might, that somehow this has all been a terrible mistake, that somehow you can change what has happened to you.
You cannot accept that this is your life.
Your healthy child cannot be just gone. It is not possible.
You are not one of those people that this happens to.
You cannot be this thing, this barely living, breathing thing, filled with so much pain and sorrow.
You cannot be this person, you don’t want to be this person, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
You cannot change the events of the past, no matter how much you scream, no matter how much you beg, no matter how much you hope.
Your child is physically gone, and you cannot bring them back, and it is genuinely the most terrifying, soul-destroying thing. They are gone, and there is nothing you can do.
There is no ‘fighting the good fight.’ There is no ‘anything is possible if only you believe.’
You cannot change the past.
You cannot bring them back.
This is your reality.
The loss of your child does not just change your now; it does not only change your future; it completely changes your past.
Every experience you have ever had becomes tinged with your current loss. The happiness that you felt in any given moment, gone, disappeared, no longer a part of your journey.
Or at least that’s what it feels like.
I noticed it first with my pictures.
The pictures of Riley, thousands of them, those treasured beautiful moments, I had captured to send to friends and family, or just to have for myself – a reminder of wonderful moments of connection, a chance to look and marvel at just how far our little miracle had come in the first year of her life.
Each and every picture was infused with love and joy and pride.
And then it all went away.
Riley passed away, and every picture once treasured became something sad.
They became painful reminders of a life I once lived.
A life with a child I loved beyond words.
Reminders of a life disappeared.
And then it expanded. Expanded beyond the life I knew with Riley.
Expanded into my life before Riley. Everything tinged with this horrible pain and sadness.
It wreaked havoc on every moment I had ever lived.
My childhood pictures were now the pictures of a child who would someday grow up and lose her only child.
There was no happiness, no innocence, no anything to be found in them anymore.
My entire life was no longer recognizable.
I would grow up, and I would outlive my only child and live the rest of my days in pain and sorrow.
And that is the power of perception.
Because back then, directly after the loss, my perception was colored by my loss and my pain.
I couldn’t change the past, and yet that’s exactly what I was doing.
Not by physically returning to the past and doing something different, but by looking at my life through a different lens, ones that were colored so entirely by my loss.
I didn’t need a time machine to travel back into the past. I changed it absolutely and completely with the grief I felt at the loss of my daughter.
By doing this, I changed myself, and worse, I changed my daughter.
They tell you at the beginning that with time, you will find joy in your memories again. You don’t believe them. You think you are forever changed and that life – past, present, and future, will never be any better.
But they are right, those people who have trodden this path ahead of you.
Because you do find joy in those pictures again and in those memories and finally in yourself.
And you realise that how you live your life today affects your past, just as much as it affects your present and your future.
You may not be able to change the events of the past physically, but just by changing the lens through which you view things you alter your reality.
So you stop viewing your life and the life of your beloved child through the lens of death and you start viewing it through the lens of a beautiful life lived.
A past colored by joy and love.
A now filled with gratefulness for the opportunity to be her mom.
A future filled with honoring her joyful, perfect existence.
That is the world I want Riley to reside in.
That is the power of perception.