A couple weeks ago I had the incredible honor of winning a Butterfly Award in England. The Butterfly Awards honor champions and survivors of baby loss– those making a difference in the lives of bereaved parents. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to accept the award in person, but I did have the honor of writing an acceptance speech that was read on my behalf. Writing the speech was a daunting task– how in God’s green earth do you write an acceptance speech to win an award when you feel like you’ve lost everything in life that ever mattered to you? How are you a winner when you’ve lost the most precious gift you’ve ever had? The answer? There is no winning in child loss. Yet still, there are gifts to be found. Maybe not the gifts you wanted, but still gifts nonetheless. The secret is to look for them, and once you find them, give them away.
Here’s the most honest acceptance speech I could write about “winning” and child loss…
. . .
While I’m deeply honored to win this award, the truth is, there is no such thing as “winning” in child loss.
Truly winning would be not having a hole in my heart exactly the size and shape of my son.
Truly winning would be not belonging to this crappy club called child loss.
Truly winning would be watching my should-be eight year old jump in a pile of leaves with his two younger brothers this Autumn.
Truly winning would be watching my three sons grow up together– laughing, playing, growing older— year after year.
Truly winning would be not living a life sentence without one of my children.
Truly winning would be each of us having our children back in our arms where they belong.
Truly winning would be tucking all our precious children safely into bed each night.
Truly winning would be watching our kids grow another year older, instead of watching their younger siblings far surpass them in age.
Truly winning would be not aching with an ache beyond all aches, longing to hold, touch and see our child again for just one more minute.
Just one more minute is always and forever the cry of a bereaved parent’s heart.
I wish this award could grant us all of this and more—
because all we ever want in life is our children back with us. In our arms. Where they belong.
Even the best of moments are always painfully bittersweet. There is always someone missing. Always one empty chair. Always a hole in our hearts.
This isn’t the life we ordered, nor is it the life we want. Every day feels like a cruel joke that never ends. We stand with one foot in the life we had and one foot in the life we have. With an aching heart often stuck in what could have, should have been.
Yet still, we live. We live despite the most horrific trauma a person could ever endure. We cry, we smile, we ache, we laugh, we keep walking, keep breathing, keep loving and living.
Despite the never-ending ache for our children, eventually we somehow get past just surviving. Eventually we find beauty– gifts– life.
The trick to surviving is to find life, to find the gifts, the miracles, however small, at first. Find whatever it is that breathes you back to life again– whatever it is that brings you even the smallest amount of joy. No matter how impossible it seems, try to find the gift in your pain, or let it find you.
For me, the gift I found was writing and creating community. Writing the truth of grief and loss, writing of love and life so truthfully– so honestly and so painfully– that I sob with each letter I type.
In doing so, others have felt less alone. In turn, I have felt less alone. And somehow, we have been able to help each other heal. Which, I think, is one of the best things we can hope for in child loss: to find a village of people who get it– to find open arms of unconditional love and compassion, to find a sea of people nodding and saying, “me too, me too”, to know we’re not alone in our suffering, to find hearts that ache and beat in the same way as ours– broken open– each beating especially for our children gone too soon.
The truth is, that hole in your heart shaped exactly the size and shape of your child will never, ever go away. But the love that oozes from it has more power to change the world than anything I’ve ever known.
Let it lead you to unimaginable places.
Let it inspire you to do all the things you never, ever dreamed possible.
Let it transform you. Let your love for your child break you wide open, over and over again– so you become changed, deeper– more.
In the words of Pablo Picasso, “The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.”
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Photo credit top: Lisa Ventura
Photo credit bottom: Furry Apple Photography