Back To School Time Hits Differently As A Bereaved Parent

My Baby Will Not Be Going To Kindergarten This Year, And It Hurts Like Hell

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Courtesy of Caila Smith

Trigger warning: child loss

I’ve come to peace with my daughter’s death. There was a time where I never thought I’d be able to say that, a time where I didn’t want to say it, but it’s true.

Something happens when you experience something like that — something so horrible, so traumatic, and so far beyond the depths of your control. Your body becomes so tired of the fighting, tired of the resistance and denial, that the only response you have left to give is acceptance.

It’s fragile, not something you can build up in one day, one month, or even one year. It’s not always consistent, either. Big days come years later where you find yourself right back at square one working to accept the finality of your child’s death all over again.

What should be my daughter’s first day of kindergarten is one of those “big days.”

Courtesy of Caila Smith

As I see my friends posting pictures online of their time school supplies shopping with their soon-to-be kindergarteners, I’m reminded of how much I am missing out on, how much she is missing out on, and how cruel this life can really be.

I remember my daughter for who she was when she was alive every day — I always will. But one of the things I don’t allow myself to do very often is to imagine what she would be like it she were still alive today. It’s too painful, and I don’t find my peace in picturing what feels like some far-off fairytale anymore.

But lately, I can’t help it. I see potential pieces of her in every kindergartener I meet. Her “would be” existence is a sea of endless possibilities that only widens the wishes reserved for her in my heart.

I find myself wishing I knew her as a five-year-old about to start kindergarten.

… wishing I knew her quirks, interests, and worries.

… wishing I could tell her to stop growing up on me instead of her being my forever-baby.

… wishing I could fill out one of those “about me” chalkboards and take pictures with her hair all done-up on the front porch like all the other parents with kindergarteners will be doing. Like I should be doing.

… wishing she wasn’t dead and this abundance of love I hold for her had someplace to go.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

All the hopes I had for her dwindled into nothing more than empty wishes, and I didn’t expect to feel like this.

I didn’t expect to think to myself “that should be me” every single time I saw one of my friends post on Facebook about meet the teacher night. I didn’t expect to wonder so much about what life would look like if she were still here.

The split-second glimmer of happiness I feel from imagining who she could be is almost instantaneously stolen by the gut-wrenching pang of who she will never be. I feel sad, angry, and cheated. Mothers aren’t supposed to outlive their children. It’s not the natural order of the way life is supposed to go.

I know enough to understand that these are the things you never get past. You learn how to live with them instead. You adapt. Not because you’re particularly heroic or brave, and not because you’re the strongest one in the room, but because you don’t have a choice. You go on because the world doesn’t stop spinning for your tragedy.

Seeing other kindergarteners start the school year is, yet again, further proof of that for me.

I’m learning that this is a new first. A first that didn’t hit for nearly five years. A first I didn’t expect because I’ve already gone through dozens of holidays, five of her birthdays, and 1,801 normal days without her. It’s the first time she’s not here for what should be her first day of school, and that’s a giant milestone we are both missing out on.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

But it’s not just this milestone in and of itself as much as it is what this milestone represents. It puts into perspective how much time has really passed. How much of the boring, ordinary, delightful, and beautiful memories we didn’t have a chance to make; how much of her didn’t get to blossom.

A little over four months. 124 days. A blink of an eye. A lifetime. It’s never enough when you’re supposed to have forever.

These are the things I have to accept all over again. That my baby will always be my baby. That we won’t make any new memories. That who my daughter was is who she will always be. That she won’t be starting kindergarten this year.

There’s a sense of comfort in knowing that I’ve been here before. To know that these feelings are no strangers to me. Threaded in grief, they are stitched at the sides of me, and I wear them well.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

I wear them well because I’ve seen these hard times co-exist with some pretty great ones too. Because grief is not so black and white at all. Because sometimes you appreciate the good this life still has left to offer just a little bit more when you’ve lived through so much of the bad.

Because even though she’s not here for her first day of kindergarten and it hurts, I’ve come to peace with her death.