Still Standing

Gifts from My Daughter

Photo by Sara Schmidt

Since my daughter died one year ago, the sky holds more meaning for me.  

The rising and the setting of the sun have become a means of connection with my daughter. A couple of months after grief became my world, I noticed the most glorious clouds in the sky. The colors seemed so vibrant, even on the grayest of days. It was as if I had been living my life without wearing my glasses; and suddenly I put them on and I could see the details of the world with renewed clarity. I wondered how I could be witnessing such beauty when my mind and body felt only devastating sorrow.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a free outdoor concert with my husband celebrating our wedding anniversary.  As we listened to the music in the town where we fell in love, I glanced up into the sky as I do so often these days, and I realized we were on an isthmus. Surrounded by water, the sun was about to set for the day. I felt an energy mount within me and a fire ignite inside. The sun never used to do that to me. But then again, I see the world differently now.

This summer I set an intention to see the sun rise and set over water at least once.

While there are lakes nearby my home, there are none within walking distance. And therefore, I have not captured these moments with the scenery that speaks to my very soul. With the awareness of water in close proximity, I turned to my husband who somehow discerned my thoughts. We took off towards the lake with a shared purpose. As we approached a hill, we both recognized the house that my husband had lived in when we first met. While we were running to catch the sun, a path emerged that led to the water. The trail appeared to have been there for some time and yet we had never noticed it so many years before. But then again, I did not seek out the sunset in my world before my daughter died.

Perhaps the path was new, but I do not think so. As we raced down the steep stones, my thoughts were of my daughter and this gift she was giving us. We sat on the rocks, with trees above us, and the word ‘LOVE’ written in graffiti on the wall. As I watched the sun set with the love of my life beside me, I could feel my daughter’s spirit sitting there with us as well.

Photo by Sara Schmidt

I see the world differently now, not just the colors and the beauty in nature.

People are also viewed in a new light. I appreciate their strengths, their flaws, what makes them human. Before my daughter died, I only saw what people wanted me to see; I did not search any further. But now I look at people’s faces for clues, to see if their words match their expressions. I wonder if they have a story that could bring me to tears. Is their goal only of maintaining the illusion of a perfect life or do they want to share a part of who they really are? Perhaps it is the introvert in me, but I seek more meaningful connections now.

I have been given the gift of self-reflection, the chance to reexamine my relationships and my goals in life. The very meaning of life feels almost within my grasp.

I can choose to reevaluate my beliefs and transform my worldview. Or I can elect to stay with the pain brought by my past ideas about the inner workings of the world. My daughter has given me a renewed perspective which has allowed me to empathize in a way that was not possible before. I do not shy away from my vulnerability as often but rather I embrace it more and more. I have learned that vulnerability is a beautiful gift that allows us a glimpse into the soul. My daughter’s birth taught me about my heart’s capacity for love; her death revealed the ferocity of that love.

In the first couple of months after my daughter died, I remember reading about gifts that our children give to us after they die.

I didn’t understand at the time. It felt like a betrayal to my daughter to think that anything good could happen after her death. I thought that if I found something positive then that would explain why she had to die. It brings me back to that old belief that the things that happen to us occur to teach us something. But there can be no reason, no lesson nor gift that will justify her death.

I know now that there are gifts that my daughter has given me.

She has awakened my very soul and allowed me to see beauty in nature, in the light, and in others. She has given me a unique perspective to appreciate the complexities of others and to seek out meaningful connections. My daughter has inspired me to love more, to live more, to be more. She has revealed a new world to me, one that includes her in it, if only I open my eyes.

I won’t pretend that these gifts are accessible all the time or even the majority of the time. But they are there, and I am choosing to appreciate them more and more. While I would give every one of these gifts back in a heartbeat for just one more moment with my daughter, I know that she would want me to live. And so, I live while also learning to accept these gifts as they are shown to me.

Have you found any gifts after your child died?