Most loss parents will admit that they routinely lose track of time. Grief makes us foggy and unable to focus on trivial nuances, like days of the week or what month it is – that is until it comes to certain anniversaries related to our child.
And then we know what day it is. You bet we know.
Time is peculiar after the death of a child. It feels like it has been a million years but also only a few minutes since they were here. Memorable dates loom on the calendar, marking the only time we had with them. The days in between are filled with the regular routine of life, going by almost unnoticed. We know these dates are coming even if in between we have no idea what day it is. Outsiders might think the important dates for loss parents are the obvious ones – birthdays, holidays, the day they passed away.
Loss parents know better. We know it also includes the day we felt them kick for the first time or the day we got that awful diagnosis. It’s the first time we saw their little black and white body on ultrasound.
Our memory and ability to keep track of time might have been dulled by unrelenting grief, but every detail of our child’s life, however innocuous, is etched clearly into our minds. Specifics of their life crowd everything else out for fear of forgetting every moment of their time with us.
Today’s date holds so much meaning that it threatens to bubble up and out of me. October 21 of last year was the day I crafted a tiny wooden box and placed in it a few items with which to surprise my husband. I recorded our exchange, handing him the tiny box decorated in a travel theme, to tell him that I was pregnant. It was surreal to learn that there was a baby the size of a poppyseed taking shape in my belly. We excitedly started planning for our future, thrilled that all of our plans were falling perfectly into place.
There are so many dates throughout my pregnancy that will forever make me stop and reflect on what I was doing during those 30 weeks of pregnancy. December 21 is when we heard the soothing lub-dub of her heartbeat for the first time. January 23 is the first time I felt her kick. March 6 is the day our lives changed when we received our amniocentesis results.
Dates on the calendar help shape the very small collection of memories we have from our daughter’s short life, but I have a love-hate relationship with the calendar and these dates. I cling to them because they are proof that she was here. However, everyday that passes carries me further from the time I spent with our child on earth. The calendar marches forward relentlessly, marking all of the dates ahead of us that she won’t be here for – her birthday, her first day of school, her wedding.
When we don’t have them here for their “firsts” we have to rely on the “onlys” of their life – the only time we held her, the only time we bathed her, the only diaper we changed. The dates attached to these memories become holidays in our minds; a day to reflect on what is and what should have been. These dates are triggers, taking us right back to that moment in time where we wish we could hit pause forever.
A loss parent may not know what day it is if you ask them, but you can bet that they know exactly how many days, months, or years it has been since they held their child. They know there’s a date coming up that will pass by normally for other people, but will hold a lifetime of memories within it for them. If you encounter a loss parent on a seemingly normal day and they seem “off” to you, be gentle.