By Shayna Raphael
April 24, 2015, was supposed to be a wonderful day. I took the day off work to spend some one-on-one time with my three-year-old daughter for my birthday. I was going to pick my baby up after a half day at daycare, and then we would have a family BBQ that evening at my mom’s house. At 31, I was excited to do nothing but spend time with those I love the most.
April 24, 2015, ended up being the worst day of my life. It’s the day my world came crashing down. Halfway through the day, I got the call and was told that my sweet, happy, healthy 10 ½ month old daughter was gone, and I needed to go to the hospital. There, I would hold Claire one more time, and my life would change forever.
Not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t ache and I don’t miss or think about Claire. My heart is heavy in search of her, it longs for our complete family. I’m sad, and some days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I do. Every single day. I get up, and I live a life that Claire would be proud of. I am determined to have Claire’s life mean something other than the end of mine. Overwhelming grief calls to me, but Claire is not there, so I cannot go.
An important part of me left with Claire that day, but I think that in return, she left so much of her love here to help me survive. I feel her all around, and I use that love and her bright light to keep moving, to keep our family together, and to make the world a better place in her memory.
The old me is gone—I know that, but a new me has come alive in her absence. It’s not a better me, but it’s a different me. I love more deeply. I appreciate every moment, and I realize all that I have to be grateful for. Through my incredible heartache, I am thankful, and I am determined. I take on each day with hope in my heart, appreciation for all that I have, and an unbreakable bond with both of my girls, one beside me, and one in my heart.
The first three months following her death remain a lost blur, but I made it. I spent time thinking of ways to keep my sweet girl’s memory alive, and I did just that. I looked for signs, in butterflies and hummingbirds, in a sunbeam shining down on her sister, Lily, or sweet memories popping up to show me light in what seemed the darkest times. We painted rocks and brought them to her grave. I received a necklace with her initial that I wear every moment. I put pictures of her everywhere. Claire is not with us physically anymore, but her spirit does live; she lives in our memories, conversations, and sweet tokens of love. I fundraise in her honor. I say her name daily. I continue to advocate for her, and I talk to her all the time. I whisper to her. I sing to her. I touch her in my mind’s eye, and I hold her in my arms.
It’s been nine months, and my heart still hurts, but I know there can be life after death. I can find joy in life. I can find happiness, and that doesn’t mean I have to leave my sweet baby girl behind. I take her with me every step of the way. I will never be the same, and that’s okay, because that’s my reality. I lean on my family and friends. No, no one else can understand how I feel unless they’ve experienced this loss, but I can let them show me love and compassion. I can find meaning in Claire’s life. I can love.
I made the decision to continue to let love into my life. My husband and I promised to continue to love each other for the rest of our lives. We grieve so differently, and that’s okay, too. We are different people. We both love and miss Claire, and it’s okay for us to express that in different ways. We communicate and connect, because to do otherwise would be to lessen the importance of Claire’s life.
I’ve also found the most loving and supportive group of women I’ve ever known. We come together as bereaved moms, loving our children—those here and those we have lost—and we support each other. I made the decision to let this love into my life, too. They tell me they understand, and they do.
Above all, I am thankful for Claire. I’m unspeakably and forever heartbroken that Claire is gone, but I am thankful for every second she was present in our lives. How lucky am I to be Claire’s mother! The smiles, the cries, the open-mouth kisses, the full-belly laughs, the hair pulling, the crawling, the escaping… I’m thankful for all the love I have for her. I will miss her every second of every day, but nothing can be more precious and valuable than the love and time I had with my sweet girl.
It’s not easy to come alive after death, but I am determined to live a life with joy and love with Claire’s spirt with us every step of the way.
Shayna lives just south of Seattle and is a wife to Justin, and mother to two beautiful girls, Lily and Claire. Claire died suddenly and unexpectedly last spring, leaving Shayna lost. Through this unimaginable heartache, Claire’s beautiful soul and bright light, with the love and support of those around her, have kept her going.