I Choose Joy In The Face Of Incomprehensible Tragedy

My Simple Chalkboard Sign Took On New Meaning When My Daughter Died

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Fabian Blank/Unsplash

Trigger warning: child loss

Almost three years ago in the crisp and rainy days of fall, I sat in the passenger seat of an ambulance wishing more than anything that I could trade places with my daughter who was guarded by three or four EMTs in the backseat.

We never came to a stop and were speeding … so why did it feel like the vehicle was moving so damn slow? I wanted to scream, “She’s dying! Drive faster!” but all I could do was quietly and repetitively mumble a few words.

We passed familiar street signs, houses, and buildings I’ve driven past at least a million times before. And then we were at an unknown entrance of a hospital, the same hospital I’d come to know for many years prior.

I tried to stay out of the way, thinking that somehow that was the least that I could do. Too small for a gurney, my daughter was carried into the trauma entrance of the hospital by a blonde EMT.

I left wearing my husband’s boxers, barefoot, with my daughter — but not really with her either. And I came home in scrub pants, hospital socks, holding a pink, already-stuffed Build-A-Bear, a purple keepsake box, and the city coroner’s card.

Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

We were forced to leave her there when the pathologist arrived at the hospital. Now we were parents of child loss.

That drive home with my husband was silent, without a single word or voice on the radio to be heard.

Yellow tape reading “CAUTION: CRIME SCENE” shielded every foot of our home once we reached our property. We went through the back door to avoid a crowd, through the kitchen and into our dining room where we found our striped rug and hardwood floors littered with medical equipment.

In some instinctual way, I wanted to crawl into a ball on the floor and lay where my daughter did, surrounded by the intubation trays, oxygen masks, central line IVs, many tubes and empty plastic wrappers.

The officers must have gathered everything together and bagged it up while I was being questioned for the first of many times. Because when I turned back to look back at the small, bare spot in the middle of that littered rug, suddenly, it looked like nothing had happened at all that morning. Like my life wasn’t just forever altered and my daughter didn’t just die with multiple attempts of resuscitation right there on that shagged rug.

I wished more than anything that they would have or could have left everything as-is for me to dispose of. After all, it felt like one of the last, new things I could do for my daughter as a mother.

I looked up at the chaos, and my world went even more still — for there was my old, plain, what was meant to be repurposed chalkboard staring at me on my dining room wall.

It’s fall, y’all…

My heart, throat and stomach flip-flopped remembering the two hours I spent making that silly sign just a few weeks prior.

The breaks in the letters, where I had to stop what I was doing to tend to motherhood’s calling, used to feel like mishaps. But in that moment, all I could see were the vivid memories of the time I spent nursing and loving on my daughter.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

It’s fall, y’all… 

Somehow, it wasn’t fall anymore. A month zoomed by, and it was winter — my first new season without her.

My house didn’t know she was gone yet, because it still left traces of her. A sock beneath the couch, a mitten by the bed, pacifiers lingering under furniture.

I was physically alive, but emotionally and mentally, I felt like I, too, had died.

Yet, my chalkboard remained as it was … unwashed, un-wiped, and uncleaned.

It’s fall, y’all… 

Then it was spring, and I found myself pregnant again. Only this time, it was twins! My joy and sadness were mixed, but they brought me the same-looking tears. Guilt consumed me as my life moved on from the outside. Because, on the inside, I was cemented to one moment in time.

But my chalkboard was still there, unchanged.

It’s fall, y’all…

Then it was summer, and the first of what would be many birthdays without her.

I glared at shampoo bottles in the shower for too long with near-envy. How could they take up residence in my home for longer than my daughter? Life felt unfair, but those words seemed redundant by this time. From the outside looking on, it seemed like I was adjusting better.

Little did everyone know how painful it was to live that summer with all of the many reminders of my daughter.

My chalkboard was smudged from my kids’ curiosity. But even way past season, the words were visible.

It’s fall, y’all…

The crisp and rainy days of fall came again. And again. And they are coming soon again like they do every single year. It’s been nearly three years, and this chalkboard’s words, along with its memories — which could be erased in a moment — stay unscathed as a reminder.

freestocks/Unsplash

It’s fall, y’all…

You see, because of this one treacherous day, I could allow sadness to consume me with every passing season. And for awhile, I rightfully and respectfully did. But now, I fight the seemingly strong urge to build a shell around myself out of my sorrow.

This chalkboard’s many smudges remind me of the fragility of life which could be altered in an instant.

The breaks in the letters bring nostalgia filled with bittersweet memories, and I’m reminded not to take a single moment for granted.

It pushes me to work through my sadness instead of hardening me up around the many areas which surround my grief.

And everything this silly sign represents, urges me to choose joy, despite the crappy season I might find myself in.

There are moments still when I want nothing more than to grieve over what was meant to be. And sometimes, I find myself collapsing too easily into that need. Then, when I need it the most, something comes along to remind me of this life’s beauty. And, my Lord, isn’t there just so much of it?

For years, my reminder has come in the form of rainbows, gummy smiles, sticky kisses, and a chalkboard on my wall.

It’s fall, y’all…

I’m still alive, and that in itself can be painful. But I owe it to my daughter to choose joy while I live my life without her.