It’s a busy morning as I race around the house, stashing piles of laundry and picking up week old cheerios that are scattered about. My daughter’s fourth birthday is approaching and company will soon be arriving, ready to celebrate our miracle child. As I search the couch crevices for lingering crumbs, my daughter grabs my attention from the other room. Next to her play kitchen, she quietly sits, assembling her pretend cake. I walk towards her and squat down, inquiring about her colorful wooden cake. “I’m practicing for my birthday! Let’s sing Mommy,” she exclaims. Right at that moment, a familiar feeling sweeps over me; one of pure joy, mixed with pain and heartache. As the tears quickly form, I jump to my feet, not wanting my daughter to see my sadness. I rush to the kitchen with the promise that we’ll sing together in a few minutes. It’s at that moment I am reminded of the challenge I face being a parent to children both on earth and in heaven.
When I was pregnant, I never imagined that I would be confronted with such a dilemma, bad things didn’t happen to me. But on June 23, 2013, my world came crashing down. Our first triplet passed away within hours of birth; our second baby died 55 days later. For months, I pushed the grief aside, staying strong for our lone survivor fighting for her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. It wasn’t until our daughter arrived home when the deep sorrow enveloped me, leaving me in a foggy state between reality and what could have been.
As the months passed by, the grief slowly changed. I found myself concentrating on the positive moments my micro-preemie was achieving, her milestones even shocking the doctors and nurses who cared for her. But, as I watched my daughter accomplish the unthinkable, my mind kept wandering to my two children in heaven. The questions of “what if” were peppered with “woe is me”. I was conflicted; feelings of sheer happiness were blurred by self-pitty.
For those of us in the club no parent ever wants to be part of, there is life pre-loss and life post-loss. Grief explodes at the most random times and tears are often considered the “new normal”. The first few years post-loss, I found myself living life, wondering when the knot in my stomach would reappear. Typical milestones like Christmas and anniversaries would leave me choking back the tears, the uncontrollable sobs eventually grabbing hold of my body and soul. Then months would then pass by before I had another spell of heartbreak. Sure, the tears well up most days as a simple thought can trigger grief, but that’s part of being a parent to children in heaven–you wear your heart on your sleeve.
Over the years, I have found life after loss. Most days with my daughter are filled with sweet moments of love and tenderness. Her witty and over-the-top personality are a reminder of the strong child who fought for her life since day one. I often stare at her in awe, amazed by the miracle she has become. I make sure she feels loved and understands how special she truly is. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of her brother and sister, but the tears are fewer and further between the more days that pass by.
As my daughter keeps herself entertained with her imagination and her pretend food, I begin wiping away the tears. I take a few deep breaths to compose myself and blot my puffy eyes with a tissue. For some reason, this week leading up to their birthday has been much more difficult than in years past. I have found myself fighting back tears at work, the grocery store, even at the gas station. I’m tired and emotionally drained, but life doesn’t stop when you have a child eager to play.
As I walk towards my toddler, I glance at our bookshelf in the distance. A sense of peace sweeps over me as I spot Parker and Abby; their two pictures staring at me, keeping a close eye on our family from heaven. I glance over at my daughter, Peyton, just as she pretends to blow out her birthday candle. “Did you make a wish?” I ask her. “What’s a wish?” she replies. At that moment I feel genuine happiness. While I’d give anything to have Parker and Abby here playing with Peyton, I try to be grateful for all that life has given me. As I explain to her what a wish means, I realize my wish has come true. I have a happy and healthy child and two beautiful angels guiding our way. It may not be what I envisioned, but I am finally learning how to balance life between heaven and earth.
A version of this originally appeared on Perfectly Peyton