Losing a child feels like the whole entire universe is reduced to a grain of sand.
Empty, yet somehow filled with so much energy all the same. An unpredictable kind of force that will blind you. Grief is a tricky thing— it’s not linear. It sneaks up on you, and it doesn’t care if you have plans. It’s absolutely ruthless and there is no map.
Things still come in threes. As the days and months go by, I find myself sifting through gifts sent in three, gifts sent with love and without the unthinkable notion that we wouldn’t be bringing all three of our baby girls home. I cycle these gifts in and out as the girls continue to outgrow them. I always know when they’re wearing something that has a third, and it’s painful but I also find it comforting. I find myself desperately holding on to these moments— because it’s a reminder of the time before, the time of “is” and not the now of “was” that breaks my heart daily. It’s a reminder of a joyful time when we were just thrilled by our new reality of raising three little girls. And while it’s hard to see the third onesie or the third set of eating utensils, I’m actually more terrified of reaching the day when things start coming in two.
Moments like these have a particular kind of sting. They make me feel farther away from the time that Olive was here, and more thoroughly a part of the now where we exist without her.
I know by now that nothing will actually keep me from Olive, that there is no without, because she’s with me every moment. When I wake up and when I go to sleep, and in every step I take. Even still, I feel like I’m desperately hanging onto right now because I don’t want to keep taking steps that move me forward, creating this inevitable distance from the time that I last held her in my arms. I want that time back, I want to be back there. It was hard, but it was so beautiful.
I still hear the sounds of monitors in the PCICU, in the streams of the shower, the dishwasher, in traffic— everywhere. I often wake up expecting to head to the hospital, just like I did every day for months. I realize that’s not the case, and it just reminds me of how impossibly hopeful I was that things were going to turn out okay. I long for the time when there was still a true flame of hope. But honestly, I can still feel it burning in my heart months later. Even though Olive is gone, it persists. It’s as though that hope hasn’t completely caught up with reality. Hope doesn’t know how things are going to turn out, it exists regardless of outcomes.
I can’t express how badly I wish I could see Olive again, boop her nose, call her muffin. Some days are just more painful than others, but every day I’m considering every moment in terms of what it would be like if Olive came home. What would this whole experience of parenting feel like with Olive here too? Would she need a million hugs like Bea? Or would she be more independent like Penny? She would absolutely be something entirely her own, something 100% Olive. Ask any of the amazing staff at Johns Hopkins, Olive was not to be messed with— she was a sass machine, and she was also the sweetest baby and delicate in so many ways. She was little but not without personality, her impact vast and infinite.
I constantly feel the absence of her, I feel it framing my every experience. I feel it so deeply that sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I miss her. I just really miss her.
There’s a lot of not saying things throughout this process. There is a lot of skirting around the darkness with new acquaintances and coworkers. Almost every day I’m meeting new people at work and answering questions about myself, that’s kind of how it goes in a small town. People are interested in my life, my story. Do you have any children? What are their ages? Inevitably, I find myself answering the question I dread: you had twins?! I hesitate, I hope they can’t sense my hesitation. People are excited to share in the wonder of twins, I get it. It’s something that stirs up joy in just about everyone. But my mind travels to a hard place. I’m still figuring out how to navigate this loss. I tell myself that when it feels right, one day I’ll tell the whole story. Or maybe they’ll find out some other way— they’re actually triplets, not twins.
At their check-up, both nurse and doctor asked if Penny and Bea have any other siblings— we say no, but we think something different. I wonder if they “know” and how it feels for them to ask a loaded question that they are simply trained and required to ask.
It’s been a little over three months since Livvy passed. Last month the girls celebrated their six-month birthday. It’s a complicated celebration, a messy jumble of sincere joy for our two little ding-dongs, combined with feelings of great loss and immense aching for the now that could have been— the now of three and not two.
I’ve been hesitant to speak on or with anyone concerning Olive for the last few months because I’ve been too scared to move forward. I’m still just so scared and so unbelievably sad. But I do believe that the steps present themselves organically.
Just last week a coworker heard about our loss and asked a question that helped me turn that corner. She asked me, “What was her name?”
Olive. Olive, I told her.
It felt so good to speak her name. And I realized that my fear is that people will be too nervous to say her name— when all I want is to hear it. Olive. Never be nervous to ask about Olive, and please continue to say her name.
There’s still so much to uncover and learn in this process. I’m still figuring it out, and I’ll probably always be figuring it out. But I feel ready to start. I feel embraced by the love I have for Olive, her sisters, and her father. My heart got bigger because of Olive. It got stronger too.
The world is better for having had Livvy in it for whatever amount of time. Not enough time, that much is certain. But time feels different to me now. When Olive died time changed completely. The short time that Livvy was on this earth was enough to expand and fill an entire universe ten times over, absolutely crushing the trivial meaning of time. A few months, a few years, or a hundred. The love we have for Olive is infinite. My heart is a lifetime. To the moon and back, Livvy bear.
“We are photons released from a dying star
We are fireflies a child has trapped in a jar
And everything is distant as the stars
I am here and you are where you are”
— Nick Cave