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Olive Shields Dillingham 1/20/2021 – 5/09/2021

My dearest Olive,

I am sorry.

I am sorry you spent your brief life sick and hurting. I am sorry for the tinkering and experimentation and discomfort we put you through. All your mom and I wanted was for you to have a shot at a normal life and we were willing to do whatever we could to give that to you. We would have done even more, everything and anything, if we would have thought the pain you lived in was going to be fruitful. But it wasn’t, and suffering for suffering’s sake is no life.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow up with your sisters and your mom and me. I am sorry you never had a chance to leave Johns Hopkins to be warmed by the sun on your face. I am sorry you never felt the wind or saw the moon. I am sorry you only met your sisters a single time. I am sorry you never met so much of your huge family and that they never got to meet you. I am sorry that your stink-eye is something you only ever shared with your nurses, not your siblings. I am sorry I only got to hear your tiny cry a single time. I am sorry for all the onces and nevers, in all their terrible shapes.

I am sorry you will never get to experience all the joys of life, both regular and exceptional. Eating pomegranates outside during the summer. Listening to a great song that connects with your soul for the first time. A perfect cup of coffee on a cold morning. The pride of knowing you did a job as well as you could. A warm blanket and cool feet as you sleep. Falling in love and fighting to keep that love alive and healthy. A visit with a friend on a lazy Sunday. Christmas morning treats. Silly photoshoots. Blankets. Warm fires. Mountain tops. Birthday dinners. Late night karaoke. Chocolate chip cookies. Making art. Hugs. All the silly little and big important happinesses that we take for granted. I’m sorry I cannot share them with you.

And I am sorry for all the sadness and annoyances you will never endure. Heartbreak and loneliness and embarrassment. Being kept awake at night thinking of some stupid thing you said to someone a decade ago. Seeing an ex on the street and quickly deciding if you are going to be polite or pretend you didn’t see them. Annoying work e-mails. Saying something unintentionally rude and having to own up to it. The shame in knowing you failed at something because you half-assed it. Fights with your sisters and your parents and your friends. The feeling that no one understands you. All the stupid little miseries that make all the silly little happinesses so much sweeter. I am sorry I cannot comfort you through them.

I am so, so sorry that I don’t get to know what kind of woman you would have grown up to be. I would give anything to know you as a child and adolescent through your awkward teenage years and into your formative young adulthood. And then as an adult and potentially as a parent. And if you didn’t want to have kids, that would be ok too. I wanted you to have a life that was your own—Olive’s life—to make decisions on how and where and with whom you live it. Olive’s choices and Olive’s mistakes. Olive’s triumphs. Olive’s failures. The tapestry of a life that should have been uniquely yours.

I am sorry you don’t get to grow into the old lady name we gave you. I am sorry you only ever got to experience the little girl version, even if “Livvy” is an especially cute nickname. It was such a perfect plan: strong old lady names with adorable little girl versions. Your mom and I were willing long lives for all three of you to allow you time to make the most of the names we gave you and to become the perfect, distilled versions of yourselves. I am sorry you will miss that.

I am sorry your sisters will grow up without their middle triplet, the filling in their sibling sandwich. Since we learned that there would be three of you, your mom and I had a thousand ideas about what sort of life you girls would have as a trio. We imagined you all growing and learning together, experiencing life as a unit. What would the dynamic have been like between you all? Was Penny going to be the protector and Beatrice the quiet accomplice to Olive’s adventures? Would you all be friends or not? What secrets would you have shared together? What tales would you have told each other? I am sorry they don’t get to have that and that you don’t get to be a participant in our lives. I am sorry that they will only ever know you from photos and stories. I am glad your sisters are spared from our current sadness, but I am still sorry we couldn’t share you with them.

And please know, my little Tapenade, that we did everything we could for you. We pushed you as hard as our hearts, modern medical science, and the counsel of the medical team in the PCICU at Johns Hopkins would allow. We spent every single moment we had with you in the hospital to advocate for you in the busy times and love you in the down times. We thought long and critically about what the best path was for your care. We subjected you to serious risk with some of the things we allowed, some of the things we pushed for. But all of it was with the hope that something would break through and allow you to get better so you could come home to us. So we could be a complete family. Olive, Penny, Bea, mom, and dad. All your mom and I ever wanted was to have all three of you home, together, and safe.

I hope, my heart, that we made your last few days as lovely as we could. We strove to fill your hospital room with as much color, brightness, and love as possible. We wanted every second of that limited time to be free of hurt. Everyone in the hospital who knew you and loved you came by to say goodbye and make a memory with you. There were photos and hugs. Nurses and doctors cried and shared stories with us. We had three days of photos and decorations. We smelled your little head and kissed your cheeks and played with your funny little poof of hair. We held you as much as we could in those final days to try to make up for all the time you were in the hospital when we couldn’t and all the time after the hospital when we wouldn’t be able to.

And I hope, in the end, as you passed away in our arms, that it was gentle. You were surrounded by people who loved you so much and cared for you so hard. I had my hand on your chest and felt your heart slow and then stop. I watched you take your final breath, and then we knew you were gone. I will never know what it was like for you in that moment, but I hope it was as easy for you as it was terrible for us. I would have traded your pain with you in a heartbeat. I would have given everything of myself for you, if I could have.

My sweet little Livvy Bear, I don’t for a second regret the horrible decision your mom and I made to let you go. Given the same set of circumstances, I would make the same decision again. We chose your comfort over our own. But I am forever, forever sorry that you didn’t get the chance you deserved to live, to thrive, and to be. I love you, Olive, and I am so very sorry.

Love always always,

Dad.

3 Comments

  1. Maggie Murphy Maggie Murphy May 26, 2021

    Joe-all I can say is that I am crying, as I never have had to experience what you and Sarah have been thru. What I do know is that it is an honor to have you as my nephew, that your life with 2 of 3 is so very different and as time passes you will experience the ups and downs of 2 but always remember your little Livvy Bear. You are an amazing person that you could write all this, So gut wrenching, so painful, so emotional. Thank you honestly for sharing this with me.

  2. Cristina Cristina May 27, 2021

    Beautiful and touching words. I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through. You said it all. Olive had a short and intense life but for sure she had the best and more loving parents (and family) she could have ever had.
    Much love to you Joe and Sarah and your daughters Bea and Penny, and of course love and light to Olive.

  3. Blee Shields Mahaffey Blee Shields Mahaffey May 29, 2021

    I only spent a short time holding your hand rubbing
    your head.
    Your are in my heart forever and we will see each other
    again.
    Grandma loves you sweet girl.
    You were here touching hearts so brave and strong .
    Your light shines bright it will never go out your a bright
    star.
    Peace be with you Wink,Joey, Bea Bear , and Pen Pen.
    I Love you all

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