The day that irrevocably changed my life began simply with hope. My baby girl appeared to be improving in so many tiny yet remarkable ways until she unexpectedly took her last breath. At that moment, darkness wrapped itself around me and enveloped my very existence. My worldview was irrevocably altered, and I discovered that the rules that I had been following to guide me in my life no longer applied. The meaning of life was noticeably absent.
I had not thought of religion or spirituality for some time; I had not sought answers since probably my college days. It’s not that thoughts of the afterlife never entered my mind, but rather I didn’t feel a pressing need to truly figure it out. I thought I had time. I accepted the mystery of the universe. While I did not have faith in a formal religion, I believed in science and love and connection.
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The morning before my life was altered forever, my husband and I had come to a shared understanding that our daughter would most likely have different abilities given her experiences at birth. But we knew we could give her the best possible life, and so, we began to hope. Our expectations of what our future would look like were transformed. We envisioned a beautiful new world, one that encompassed an entirely different set of challenges than those with a healthy newborn, but that also included so much love.
With my daughter’s death, I was thrust down into a rabbit hole onto a path to find out where my daughter was. I needed to know she was ok, as I did not have an unwavering belief in a heaven. I read book after book in a desperate search for the meaning of life, and a pattern emerged. These books focused on love and relationships and mindfulness, of living in the present.
I slowly realized that the answers had been inside of me all along. I understood I had the power to choose what to believe about the afterlife. I didn’t need someone to tell me since no one truly knows. I can choose. I get to decide how to think about my daughter’s death, whether to blame the medical professionals, or myself, or any number of things. Or I can choose to believe that which brings me some semblance of peace.
In the months after my daughter died, as light slowly returned to my world, I noticed the beauty of the sky. Even on a gray day, I saw the clouds as glorious and wonderful. A filter had been removed, and I observed nature with a renewed clarity. I saw my daughter in those clouds. And the sunrises and sunsets with pinks and purples in them became yet another way for me to feel close to her. I began to see her all around me and to sense her presence.
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While the sadness and sorrow were overpowering in the beginning, an understanding gradually arose that I need not say goodbye to my daughter, but rather I could say hello to her. While she was no longer here in the physical sense, she was present in a whole other realm; she remained in my heart.
Just as some believe in a heaven, I believe in a world where my daughter exists both apart and within me. I believe that our souls will be together someday, but I also believe that they already are.
Photo by Sara Schmidt