I found Brian in college. Our roommates dated, and so we met. We didn’t fall in love; we became casual friends, talked intermittently, grew on our own, and ended up back at our roommates’ wedding years later. Then we fell in love – quickly, easily, and countries apart.
It is a good love story; it is sweet and romantic, full of travels and letters and hours upon hours of talking. He took me to Paris for our second date, said I love you in the kitchen of his flat next to the garbage bin because he just couldn’t wait any longer, planned trips to the theatre and restaurants he knew I’d enjoy during our times together. He loved me so well. But I was not his greatest love.
He saved this for our daughter.
Brian and I sat in the ultrasound room at 20 weeks pregnant with our second child, a lifetime away from where we had been. We were eager and ready to see all the moving parts, decline to know the sex, fall more in love with this new baby, and move on with our day. I would go pick up our son from my parents’ house and Brian would return to work a few blocks away.
He didn’t return to work that day.
We were given bad news. And then we were given worse news. Her heart was beyond any reasonable repair, and we had decisions to make.
“Whatever happens, whatever choices we make, we just need to tell each other what we’re thinking. Every single thing.” That evening, as we sat dazed and broken on the couch, Brian looked into my red-rimmed eyes and shared the words on which we would model the rest of our life. How did he know exactly what we needed? How did he already know the best way to love our daughter?
We made our choices and Bethie was born. We knew we would lose her. She arrived crying and even somewhat pink, which was quite unexpected, and she was placed directly into Brian’s arms. He fell more in love with her in that moment than he will ever be with me in our lifetime. I saw his face; I recognized it immediately.
He held her first, and then he handed her to me. Already, he loved her enough to let her go. (I rarely let her go.)
She defied every prediction. She grew; she nursed; she laughed; she lived. She was dying every day, but she was also living.
Brian held her as often as he could when she was small, but he never took her from me. He loved her with empty arms when I couldn’t give her up. She grew to prefer my arms because of this. He never complained.
The two of them snuck in walks in the stroller and drives in the car. He would cruise her around in the neighborhood when I couldn’t get her to nap, peering at her sleepy eyes under the stroller canopy as they looped around and around parks and neighbors’ houses. And he would drive her to see the mountains when I couldn’t get her back to sleep at 4 am. Bethie never hiked or camped or skied – a right of passage for so many children growing up where she lived; but every Saturday and Sunday morning, as the sun rose, he drove her to see the mountains. This was their time. It was early and exhausting, and he never complained.
Brian could only stay home with us for so long before he had to return to work. From that point on, he loved her from an hour away, knowing that she could die at any minute and he might not be there. He never complained.
We lost her.
I had been the last one to hold her. He rushed from work to find her dying on an emergency room bed. He never complained. He rejoiced that she was ours; he told me to grieve in any and every way I needed; he sat in his office with the door closed every morning for months and read our eulogy for her. He never complained.
I know he always wanted to hold Bethie more. I know his arms still ache without her here, and for a long time, I imagined they ached more because of how infrequently she was in them while she was ours. Months after we lost her, I told him that I had very few regrets, but I did wish she had happily allowed him to hold her more.
He replied, “She was where she needed to be.”
She will always be his greatest love.