Two years have passed since I last saw my daughter alive. Two years since that fateful morning in June, when a compassionate doctor helped us understand that it was time to let her go. Two years since I held her for the first and last time. Two years since I watched her velvety skin darken. Two years since I felt her five-pound thirteen-ounce body grow cold in my arms. It’s two years later. Two years since our whole world shifted and I found myself transformed.
I discovered countless things about myself during our first year after loss.
Everything I had ever known was called into question. Even my own reflection appeared unrecognizable. I learned that loss touches every single aspect of one’s life and that simple questions no longer claim simple answers. I learned that friendships advance quickly when built upon a foundation of shared loss and mutual pain. I learned that we as a society have been trained to believe silence is uncomfortable and to be filled at all costs — even if it is with empty platitudes.
And while that first year was eye-opening, this second year of life after loss has been revelatory.
Two years later, I have learned that triggers persist.
Sometimes they are predictable and come in the form of birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Often they seem to arise out of nowhere, providing no warning nor the ability to prepare. It could be a facial expression, a smell, a photo, an innocent conversation, or a social media post. These unanticipated triggers hold power to bring me to my knees. They continue to derail me completely and render me exhausted and raw.
I have learned that there is no right way to honor a child.
I carried so much doubt throughout our first year of loss, constantly second-guessing how we memorialized our daughter. I harbored an intense fear that if we didn’t do “enough,” her little life would be forgotten. I understand now that no matter how we choose to remember her, if it feels right to us, then it cannot possibly be wrong. While our choice may not resonate with others, it is our hearts that need to heal. It is our daughter’s legacy in our hands.
I have learned that though it has changed, the heaviness of loss remains.
How could it not, when our daughter’s life holds no less weight? I know now that joy and sorrow will be perpetually interwoven. Each beautiful moment is intensely accompanied by the knowledge that someone is missing from these memories in the making.
In this second year, I have also learned that my love for my daughter will never fade, that it will only grow as the time between us expands.
I reflect on her life and feel excruciating pain. But a surge of pride quickly follows. I have learned that she will never be replaced nor forgotten, no matter how the rest of my life unfolds. Her place in my heart belongs to her alone. And I continue to hold space for her every single day, through this second year and beyond.
Sarah Burg is a wife, writer, and mother of three beautiful children. Following a heroic battle with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), Sarah’s second daughter, Willow Grace, died in her arms shortly after birth in June 2016. Willow’s death has transformed Sarah into a writer with a reason, and she hopes to offer healing and kinship to the child loss community through her words. Sarah also blogs at The Rising (www.sarahjburg.com), where she explores life after loss.