Loving Life After Losing My Most Important One
By Lindsey Henke
I don’t believe we are meant to walk this earth with the most important people in our lives for very long. If we do, we should consider ourselves fortunate. I am one of the fortunate ones. My parents are still alive and very influential in my life. My sister, even though I didn’t care for her much as a child, has become my best friend over the years. Some of my best friends I carry with me are from my youth— the young days and the party days, if you know what I mean. I’m even more fortunate because for the last eight years I have walked this earth and journeyed through life with my husband and best friend, Nick, while we parent our almost two-year-old daughter, Zoe. Nick is one of the most important people in my life, and I hope we get to spend 50+ years together as my grandparents did.
I am fortunate that all of these important people still accompany me through life. But there is and will always be one person missing, and I dare to say, maybe the most important one: my first child and daughter, Nora.
She was a beautiful baby, with long black eyelashes and big dark lips. I will never know the sound of her coo or the color of her eyes as they did not open. Nora was born dead, forever sleeping, stillborn. She moved and grew into a healthy child inside of me for 40 weeks and 4 days. She only became silent in the hours that I slept before her quiet birth. That night, she succumbed and left this earth as quickly as she came due to a fluke infection.
I did not know agony and pain to this degree before. How could I? I had never lost a loved one out of the natural order of life, or at least not without warning. How could I? I had never been a mother until then. The darkness and depths of grief from losing a child, a baby none the less, I feared would swallow me. I would be changed forever and now live as a broken, bruised shell of a woman, only left with an empty womb where my baby once lived and died. I feared I was no longer a mother. I believed I was a useless woman. I thought I would become a lost soul with no light in her eyes left to show the world. At the time of her death and in the weeks to follow, I had no belief that life could be worth living again without her, my daughter, my most important person.
But something happened that again was unexpected. Life started to be less dark. I will not lie: there was still darkness and pain within my days, but it’s as if by some miracle, I had found a light within the cave. A small flickering flame guided me through. I can’t tell you what one thing it was that pulled me out of the darkness of losing a child. There is no one thing. But looking back, I suspect it was a few things. Maybe it was the daily writing and blogging that helped me process the trauma and loss of her. Maybe it was the weekly therapy sessions I attended for three years, where I would weep at the resurgence of grief brought to light by mentioning her to my therapist and missing her all over again. Maybe it was the community of other brave loss moms I had found that so gently and compassionately wrapped their arms around me and embraced my pain, which helped lighten some of the darkness. Maybe it was the consistent and unconditional love of the other most important person in my life— the person who had lost her too— my husband, that helped guide me through.
I don’t have a magic answer for what it was that helped me emerge from the depths of the darkness of grief, but I did. I have! Life after loss is now filled with joy again. Yes, I still miss her. I am still bereft. There are days when grief bursts still find me, and I will start crying out of nowhere in an inconvenient place due to a memory of her suddenly flooding my mind. But most days, I am satisfied. Life is good, even without my most important person.
Maybe life is good because she is still there as my most important person. She may no longer be physically with me, but she appears in and through the work I do and in how I choose to live my life. She is the driving force behind my passion for helping others. She is the reason I parent my subsequent daughter with such fierce love and devotion. She is the person who made me a mother, even if only for the moments she stayed. The effect her life has had on me has forever changed me, and not in the ways I had feared. I’m not a shell of a woman. I am a mother. I am her mother, and I will always be. There is still light in my eyes. Some days, I believe there is more than before she entered and left my life because now I know how fleeting life really is. Now I know that the soul that has experienced heartbreak has the most beauty shining through its cracks.
Life after loss is hard. It is difficult and different, but it can also be beautiful. I guess what drives me to live a life of love, hope, and joy after loss is that I know that it is what my daughter would have wanted me to do. What better way to still mother her than by living a good life and helping others who have also been through the loss of a child? It’s the least I can do for my most important person. For my girl.
Lindsey Henke is the Founder and Executive Director of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters, one she holds her hand and the other forever holds her heart. You can find Lindsey writing about her personal journey through grief at her blog Stillborn and Still Breathing and on her Facebook page and personal Instagram account.