From the day Aerilyn left, my nights have been filled with emptiness. My ritual for falling asleep would be to get on my phone and look at pictures of Aerilyn. At first it was just a few we’d taken ourselves. Then as the pictures rolled in from Meghan and the NILMDTS photographer, I’d look at those.
While scanning through these pictures I’d relive that moment; by the end of the photo album, I’d have shed a few tears or even been sobbing. I have had pictures of her up around the house from almost day one, so why did this nightly ritual get to me? If I had to guess, it’s because I finally allowed myself to grieve and feel. Most days go by in a blur and I’m not able to feel the aching of my arms for her or the tortures of knowing I’m missing a child. Having a young child takes time and energy, even when you want nothing more than to shut the world away. So, instead of leaking all my grief onto kanin, I held it in until I was in bed. There, I’d cry myself you sleep; even if it were just a single tear on my pillow.
Fast forward to last night, I looked through that album and became a blubbering mess; more so than I have in a while. It donned on me I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at those particular pictures. I instantly felt guilt and regret. Guilt because I hadn’t looked at them, regret because I couldn’t remeber. It’s not because I don’t miss her or want her, but I think I throughly engraved those pictures in my mind I didn’t need my phone anymore.
While looking through them I was completely swept up in how different I am now vs then and how different I am from before her to now. There are pictures we have that no one will ever see. Not because they’re morbid, have nudity or something like that; no, they’re things that Josh and I agreed we’d keep private. There are pictures of us holding her, while my doctor held a stethoscope to her heart. Us looking at her expectantly, waiting to hear those fateful words, “she’s alive, I can hear her heartbeat.”. There are pictures of our reactions right after she was born. Even more heart-rending for me is the picture that captures the moment we were told she had passed.
It’s those private photos that bring me to tears, photos we’ve never shared with family or friends— sans our photographers. Those are the memories that bring me to tears. When I look at myself in those pictures I see a haunted person staring out. Someone who’s just seen their worst fear come true. From the moment we heard Aerilyn had Anencephaly, my eyes have grown more and more haunted. Each picture I take, I look at myself and see that I’m not the same person I was and I never will be.
Other people may not see it,or they may choose to ignore it, but I can’t. I don’t have the ability to ignore the look in my eyes. The ones I’m holding my sweet girl are the worst. Lost. Devastated. Shocked. Love. I see those and so much more, but the one that truly sticks to me the most is lost. Lost on what to say, lost on what to do, lost in the pain fighting its way up from the calm that was the days we had her. I look into my eyes and am sent right into those emotions. I see it in my friends who’ve lost children as well. Their pictures are changed and to see them in person….it’s a kinship like no other.
I miss the times before pictures haunted me. Worst yet, I miss Aerilyn more than anything. As her birthday nears, a mere seven scant days away, that emptiness intensifies. At first I didn’t notice it. I thought I was just too busy and that it’d hit me on her birthday. Little did I know I was just inadvertently shielding it. That wall is coming down and I’m afraid the 15th will be one if the most difficult days of my life.
How do you celebrate the first birthday of your dead child? Anguish. Anguish and hope you’ve done enough to honor them.