The day my daughter died, I stopped knowing how to live.
Her death was not sudden… it came after a long, hard talk with our caring team of oncologists, and after a day and night of saying our goodbyes.
Her death was peaceful. We held our three-year-old in our arms and sang her songs, in a hospital room surrounded by loving family and friends.
Her death brought with it devastation, but also relief. She was no longer fighting the cancer that had wreaked havoc on her life, nor undergoing the treatment that had taken such a toll on her tiny body.
My daughter’s death came as gently as I believe it could have, and yet I was still wholly unprepared for the devastating emptiness that followed.
After saying my final goodbye, I was momentarily struck with a gut-wrenching panic as I wondered to myself: who will take care of her tonight?
My brain knew that I no longer needed to worry about her safety, her comfort, her happiness… but my heart was desperately telling me otherwise.
And so began my journey as a grieving parent.
My husband and I had a strong support network. They carried us through the days following our daughter’s death, filling in the empty spaces and helping us make the decisions that needed to be made.
But in the quiet moments, I could feel myself fighting against time… fighting against life… as if every labored step forward took me farther away from that which I could not live without.
How could I still be in this place, when she no longer was? It seemed to break the very laws of existence that had been forged into my heart.
Wherever it was that she had gone, I longed to follow.
In an effort to throw ourselves back into living, my husband and I decided to take a backpacking trip overseas. We were greeted by a world that was continuing in full force, oblivious to the fact that ours had just come crashing to a halt.
We hiked in the rain and sat by the sea. We talked about our daughter, about our overwhelming loss, about how hard it was to keep going.
And then we kept going.
Everywhere we went, in everything we did, we tried to look for her… in the wildflowers, the tiny butterflies, the breathtaking beauty.
We were still engulfed in our grief, but we did our best to take in the wonder that was all around us, feeling that somehow it might help our broken hearts begin to heal.
As time moved on, taking us steadily farther from the moment we’d last held her in our arms; we continued to look for our daughter in everything.
I noticed the myriad ways that life was constantly ending and beginning.
I paid attention to moments of unexpected beauty.
I sought out joy and surprise.
I embraced the little things that would have made her laugh, and the opportunities to use everything that she had taught me.
The more I looked, the more I found her. And the more I found her, the deeper I looked.
Eventually, I stopped seeing this life as something that separated us… and I started to see it as the very thing that could once again connect us.
I couldn’t follow where she had gone, so I would find all the ways that she was still here with me.
I welcomed the glow of sunlight that filled my house.
I looked up at the stars, more than I ever had before.
I planted things in the earth and watched them grow.
I opened myself up to everything, the sorrow, and the happiness… and I felt my place in all of it. I found the way back to my daughter, and in my search for her –
I found my way back to life.