One year ago today, we lost our beautiful baby girl.
One year ago today, a constant and irreparable ache was introduced into our hearts.
One year ago today, Annaleigh died.
The year has gone by faster than we ever would have imagined, despite the fact that, at the time, we were quite sure that we would be stuck at the St. Peter’s NICU for the remainder of our natural lives.
Charlie and Lily came home right before their due date (October 5). For three months or so, they kept us awake pretty much around the clock. For the four months after that, we slept a little more but the time we were awake was much busier, what with learning to sit up, roll over, crawl, stand, eat solids, say “da da,” do “so big,” blow kisses, clap, laugh, etc. When we got to the point where we’ve been sleeping through the night, our days became even more hectic trying to keep up with two mobile babies. And if there is one simple truth about Charlie and Lily, it’s that they are the happiest, most wonderful babies we could ever imagine.
And so, the days pass and turn to weeks, months, and now a year. And as happy as they are, that sense of loss is with us constantly. We are grateful for Charlie and Lily—never think otherwise—but we know that we were meant to have three babies. Every time we do anything as a family, the feeling of incompleteness is there. The seating arrangement at restaurant tables was supposed to be harder; car seat placement in the van was supposed to be a nightmare; feeding time should have been even more stressful. So when things are difficult, our fall-back mentality is, “things should be 1/3 harder.”
But even so, nothing can kill a good mood like someone saying to us, “oh, are they twins?” Because we’re stuck. At this point, we’ve got two options: we correct them and say, “no, they’re triplets but their sister died,” which would make just about anyone uncomfortable; or we simply say “yes,” and spend the rest of the day feeling like we just disrespected Annaleigh. And when someone who knows our story, who knows the pain we’ve felt, refers to them as “twins,” it takes all the restraint in my body not to scream. When Charlie and Lily are older and they’re out in the world of day care, kindergarten, little league, dance school, we know we’ll have to get used to constant “twin” remarks, but I have a feeling that that word will always make us cringe.
The sense of loss follows us because there are so many questions: What would Annaleigh have been like? Who would she look like? Would she be bald like Lily, or in constant need of a haircut like Charlie? Would she be talking? What would she have thought of the beach? And there are the more painful questions: Did we love her enough? Did she know we loved her? Where is she now? Is she watching us from some far-away place and wishing she were with us? Is she jealous that we’re having fun with Charlie and Lily? And then there are the worst questions: Could we have done something differently? Should we have fought harder for her? Why did this happen?
But there are no answers to these questions and there never will be. So we take comfort in the little bit of speculation that we can do. I mentioned to everyone in my eulogy at Annaleigh’s funeral that Brooke and I had a vision of our future in our heads. About a week before Annaleigh got sick, Brooke and I were at the Rainforest Café for one of our many between-NICU-visit meals, and we sat at a big round table, just the two of us. We spent the majority of that meal talking about what it would have been like to be there with our three babies after they were a little older. We imagined the seating arrangements, the food fights, the toy stealing, the fussing, the wonder… and we were happy. We envisioned that Lily would be beating up on Charlie, demanding what she wanted, ruling the roost. Charlie would be clinging to his mommy for comfort, too sensitive to defend himself. And Annaleigh would be there, calmly eating her meal, taking in the surroundings, and scoffing at how immature her older brother and younger sister were. We had that vision in our heads, clear as could be. From the start of the pregnancy, we had these personalities for the three of them, distinct and real. And amazingly, our vision for Lily as talkative boss and Charlie as sensitive brother have really been accurate. So if our versions of Lily and Charlie have proven to be on the right track, that must mean that our vision for Annaleigh was right too.
So here’s what we know about Annaleigh. She would be beautiful. Not like Lily beautiful, but more mature looking. She would be the mediator of disputes and the one who always knows how to solve a problem. She would be smart and advanced, well ahead of her siblings in all things. And she would be happy.
Of course that’s only speculation, but the last year has taught us a lot, too.
First, we have gained perspective about things. We know what matters and what doesn’t. So what if we have to sell our house? Who cares if money is tight? Why stress out about work? Charlie and Lily are healthy and happy, so everything else will fall into place.
Second, we know how important it is to show Charlie and Lily how much we love them. Just yesterday, we got them up for their morning nap and both were sitting up in their cribs smiling and laughing and clapping because we had gone into the room together smiling and laughing and clapping ourselves. They were happy to see us and we were happy to see them. When one of us comes home and Lily and/or Charlie comes joyously crawling towards the door with a huge grin and a loud laugh, we know how lucky we are to have them. It’s clichéd but true: our children are our world. I don’t know if we would have fully grasped this if we hadn’t suffered the loss that we did. Would we have been overcome by the difficulty of dealing with THREE baby’s sleep habits, feeding issues, and personality foibles? Maybe some of the patience and understanding that we have now wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
Finally, we know that Annaleigh has made a difference to more people than we even know. We get messages and comments from people literally all around the world telling us that her story touched them, that she has made them appreciate their own children more than they had, that her life meant something to them. So many people have hugged their kids longer and more tightly because of Annaleigh, appreciating what they have and showing the love they otherwise would have kept inside. When things get hard, people think of her and remember, and feel better about their own lives. She lived for only eight weeks, but her impact has been felt by more than most who live a long, full life.
So today, one year after NEC took our beautiful, sweet, smart baby girl from us, we will celebrate her life. We will be sad—we’ve been shedding tears pretty hard already today—but we will use that sadness to remind us of what we have. We’re going to spend the day doing the things that we know Charlie and Lily love to do, and we’re going to do them as a family. There will be a hole there, an incompleteness to anything that we do, and we will not be as cheerful as could otherwise be, but we will honor our daughter by being together and being happy.
We miss you, but you know that. We love you, but you know that too. Please never think that we’ve forgotten you, that we’ve “moved on.” We haven’t, and we won’t—ever. When we laugh, it’s not as hard as it would be if you were there. When we joke, it’s not as funny as if you were with us. When we love, it’s not as whole as when you were a part of it. You’re never more than a thought away, even when we seem distracted. Please know that we would do anything to have you with us and you will always be a part of us. Thank you for letting us love you, for letting us know you, even for just two months. They will forever be the only time our family was whole. Please keep looking out for Charlie and Lily; when they start randomly laughing at nothing that we can see, is that you? Please keep them safe and healthy and happy, and know that they will know all about you as soon as they can understand. Rest easy, baby girl.
We love you forever.
The blog post from 8/22/09
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