Four years. It was four years ago today that our daughter died. I am trying to put into words how I feel, as I do every year. This is, of course, the question that people have when they are reminded of this dark anniversary. It is also the question I often ask myself: “How do you feel?” On previous anniversaries the question was inane, rhetorical, the answers obvious. “I feel like shit. I feel like there is a whole blown clear through the center of my chest and all the world is plastic.”
Today, on the day that marks four years since my precious, perfect 18-month-old daughter died the answers are not as clear.
Yes, I am still heartbroken. But that heart-brokenness looks different now. I live my life, I work and play and parent my son and partner with my husband and engage in the world. I laugh, yes, laughing has returned, and I cry, still, often, usually in private, sometimes in public (generally at the site of little girl dresses or swimming suits). I garden and walk and Snapchat and bake and paint and clean the house. All the normal living sort of things a person in my age and stage and culture does. But things are not the same, they are not as they were before June 3, 2013 when we lost the most beautiful girl in the world. When my son lost his sister, when my husband and I lost our daughter. All of life is veiled, covered in the thin film of her absence.
Yet, I don’t want to admit it, but the whole in my chest has become a scar, the plastic world has come back to life, mostly.
Healing has snuck up on me and I am learning to accept it without guilt. It feels so wrong to heal when she didn’t. It feels so wrong to enjoy the beauty of the world, to laugh and to embrace life. But that is what I am doing. I am enjoying my life again. And today, especially on days like today, days of keen remembrance, that feels like betrayal. It feels like I should have climbed into bed and never climbed out again. There is a voice, one of the many voices of grief that whispers “How dare you live a good life when she is gone?” There is that feeling in the pit of my stomach when a friend asks “How are you really?” and I hear myself say the word “Good.” And I am immediately washed in guilt. “How dare you! How dare you feel Good? How dare you heal from the unthinkable? How dare you!”
Over the past four years I have come to see my grief as a part of my identity. I have held it high and protected it – my heart-brokenness has been a companion to me, shaping me, changing me, seasoning every area of life. My daughter’s death has defined me, and though it will always be somewhere on my emotional CV I feel it slipping lower on the list.
Just under that voice of guilt, I hear the voice of my true self nudging gently, “This is life, all of it, the days of crippling pain and the slow unexpected healing.”
I hold tightly to the strong sense that the two things can live in the same heart.
Healing and pain, growth and sadness. A daughter gone and yet still deep within my soul. My wound turned to scar does not mean my girl has been forgotten, it means that though my life has been permanently changed, it still goes on. A healthy person still grieves, a scarred person still remembers the moment of wounding. Healing is not betrayal.
These are the things ruminating in my mind and heart on this anniversary. Today I look at every single photo I have of her. I caress her tiny dress in my hands and read my journal from four years ago. I dream of what life would have looked like with her in it and I cry. I also give thanks and wonder what the combination of grief and healing will bring as life continues on.
Guest post by Amanda Strain, Eleanor’s Mom