After Child Loss, This Is One Of The Hardest Parts Of Grief

by Shayna Raphael
Originally Published: 
Mother and father with two kids smiling and sitting on the ground, holding a photo of a baby they've...
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Trigger warning: child loss

A day I never thought I would have to count down to. A day I never knew I needed. A day where I’m fractured with joy and heartache, with tears of bliss and tears of sorrow. A day where my youngest is technically still my youngest, but she has now surpassed her older sister in age.

We lost my sweet girl at 10 months and 3 weeks old. Her daycare provider didn’t take the same precautions we took with safe sleeping, and that choice was fatal. She was cruising along furniture, saying “mama,” and waving hello and goodbye. Rolling over was a thing of the past, because, why do that when you can almost walk? She seemed invincible, but she was still a baby. Still under the age of one and recommended to be sleeping in a crib, alone, on her back. The woman entrusted with her care decided my little girl didn’t need those precautions, and on my 31st birthday, I would see her alive for the very last time. She gave me a wave and a kiss as she was whisked away to daycare that morning. A life meant to do such amazing things, cut short by negligence.

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She has a little sister now, in addition to her older sister. It’s been difficult to watch all the things her little sister can do, knowing that she will soon be surpassing her big sister, my middle child. She will live longer than 10 months and 3 weeks. She will celebrate her first birthday. She will learn to drive a car and experience a first love. She will hold her head on my shoulder as she experiences her first broken heart. She will hold her daddy’s hand as she walks down the aisle. She will have children of her own and thankfully live a life where she does not know the grief I know, her daddy knows, her biggest sister knows. She will wonder about her sister, Claire, whom she never got to meet, yet she won’t walk in the shadow of loss like my husband and I do. This shadow that still allows happiness, but with a constant undercurrent of pain.

Words can’t describe how happy I am to know that Julianne gets this life. That we get this life to share with her. That we have her and are able to love her and watch her grow. None of that takes away the pain or wrongness of Claire not walking through life with her sisters. I have three daughters, two by my side, and one in my heart. And that heart right now is fractured, right down the middle. Extreme joy and thankfulness for Julianne and Lily and the hope their lives bring, and immense aching for my forever-baby, Claire.

Grief and child loss is not one-dimensional. You don’t just reach the end of it when you lose a child. You’ve lost a future. You’ve lost a teenager, a mother, a grandparent. You have lost hopes and dreams and aspirations. You’ve lost pieces of yourself. The order of everything you knew in life is gone. You have children, and you’re supposed to die before them. Now, not only have you buried a child, but you watch your other children grow up and become who they were destined to be, while the child who died is frozen in time.

When your living children, or children of friends, or anyone born after the child you lost surpasses them in age, your heart breaks all over again. They celebrate the passage of time, while you mourn it. You put a smile on your face while you hide your tears. You’re jealous and resentful and ashamed all at once.

And our children who lost their younger sibling? Their life is forever altered. They look over their shoulder and everything they’ve known is now this tangled web. There is no assignment at school that allows for her to talk about the sister she lost, or go into explanation of how she has two sisters, but her classmates only see one. So she’s thrown into this world of navigating how to make her life easier, with this immense pressure of possibly breaking her mother’s heart if she leaves anyone behind.

As parents who have lost a child, there’s nothing more that we can do but walk, dragging our broken hearts behind us. We look forward and back at the same time, forever. We keep our grief close to our hearts while also doing everything we can to keep our child’s memory alive. It’s a constant balance. We want to experience joy, but we are afraid others will think we are “over it” if we even crack a smile. We are different, forever changed. We have no choice but to live this new life, and bring our broken hearts with us wherever we go.

So here I am, so incredibly thankful and full of love that I have three beautiful, smart, and magnificent little girls. I’m here, counting my blessings that my youngest is going to be turning one shortly, and at the same time, my heart is shattered that Claire is gone. I’m looking forward, and I’m looking back, with this broken heart inside me, full of love, grief, joy, and pain.

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