By Michaela Evanow
Once upon a time, I had a little girl. Her smile and curls and doe-brown eyes were a sight to behold. She was mine. My dream. And then, one summer day, Florence was given a terminal diagnosis for her weak muscles: Spinal Muscular Atrophy type one. I shook my head in disbelief. She would beat it. She had to. This was impossible. This was not how the story was supposed to unfold. This was my firstborn daughter. The one I had dreamed of since I, myself, was a little girl. I needed to see her grow up. I needed to see her thrive.
But nothing changed. Her disease weakened her over time. On a spring day, three years after her diagnosis, when the marigolds were in bloom, Florence Marigold took her last ragged breath and slipped into the arms of Jesus. She was surely welcomed with joy and glory as she took her first shaky steps. But in the dust, her mama and daddy sat holding the weight of her. She was gone forever from this world. The storybook ending was rubbed out, black ink oozing all over all that was good and pure.
My daughter died, and pieces of me that had been awakened over the years of her life slowly crumbled into ash. I felt the heat of heaven that day, so close was I to going with her. How could I go on?
I caved right into myself, slammed the bathroom door and felt the waves of shock curse through my body. I knelt down in the shower, feeling the need to cleanse myself and scream and shrivel right up. Perhaps the water would drown out my wailing. I’ll never know if others heard me sobbing in the shower at the hospice that night. But I remember thinking about it, trying to curtail the groans that escaped from my lips. Like labour, I heaved and moaned and let the waves pound me. Then I paused, looked at the tile wall and gasped. How normal everything appeared, and yet my entire body was in agony. I pictured everyone going about their happy lives, unaware of what was threatening to consume me. It felt terribly unfair and unjust.
When death greets you, hollow, gray and permanent, you are singed. These were not words I wanted to live with. Death. Grief. Hollow. Pain. As I entered into the grieving process, I felt like I would be swallowed whole.
But a few months later, I knew I needed to pick up what was left at my feet, however ugly these pieces appeared. I began to feel every breath that escaped from my lungs, easy and smooth like silk on skin. She struggled to breathe her whole life. I must carry weight with this breath of mine. I must use my words well.
I have never felt more beautiful, capable, strong, wrecked and broken down. I have never felt and seen so much.
The newfound lust for life. The weight of mourning clothes. The buttery shell of a croissant on a weekend morning. The defeat during the holidays. The simplicity of sunshine on a cloud filled day. The familiar terror when my son has a bad cold.
Everything is now magnified. Yes, my sorrow is great, but there is also something magical that has occurred: my joy is greater, my hope is wilder, my gratitude is deeper, my fear is falling away.
Eight months into my grieving journey, and I’m just starting to see the light, but I am choosing to see it. The little slivers of it that have peeked through the darkness. They are there, beckoning me to rise up and greet the day.
I will come alive. Minute by minute. I will let myself come alive again. I will welcome the life that I have left to live with wide, open arms. Elbows bent, head tilted back, I will gulp it all in. Florence.
I will always sing your name, baby girl. I will always choose you.
Perhaps this is what guides me through. Knowing I would choose her again. Knowing I wouldn’t trade in the pain and agony. I wouldn’t give up my opportunity to birth, carry and know her.
So, with each melodious memory, carefully crafted by my girl, I will learn to dance. It will be clumsy, it will be beautiful, but it will be.
I will not let grief overwhelm me. I will welcome it, acknowledge it, and write it all over me. Who says good things can’t grow in the dark? This is, after all, where all of life began. In the dust, in the dark, in the quiet of the womb.
I see through new lenses now. My eyes have adjusted in this place of perpetual night.
I can see the good gifts my daughter has left me. Hard fought, costly, but gifts I will receive.
I will let my fists unclench. I will open my eyes. I will feel the stunning current of joy rush through me. Grief takes away, but it also gives back.
I will not let death defeat me, nor will I let it snuff out her flame.
Michaela Evanow is a wife and mama to two children (one on earth and one in heaven). She’s the creator of the #MamaGrief community, a social media gathering place for mothers in grief. She loves sharing sacred stories, writing, and seeing Jesus in the dark. You can find her stories on Instagram, on Facebook, and on her blog.