I‘ve had my life planned out since I was a teenager. My dreams were to be a teacher, wife, and mom in that order. I would teach elementary school and have the cutest classroom with the greatest lessons, and I’d teach until I was old and retired. The man of my dreams would sweep me off my feet in college, and we’d have a romantic wedding and start our great life together. Then, after a few years, we would have two children, a boy and a girl. We would be a blissfully boring, happy little family.
I didn’t want extravagant trips or large houses. New cars and the best of things didn’t interest me. I dreamed of a man who loved me, a job I loved, and children to raise.
For a while, that’s exactly what I got.
I graduated college and became a third-grade teacher. My husband and I married right after college in a sweet romantic wedding and two years later welcomed a perfect baby girl. We had a simple, sweet life in a little pink house, and it wasn’t always easy, but it was what I’d always wanted.
Then every dream I’d ever had for my life was blown up by four words: “Your child has cancer.”
My 2-year-old had Stage 4 T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, and after an 8-month battle of every complication and rare situation you could think of, she died.
I quit teaching while she was sick to care for her and never went back. My marriage has been irreversibly changed by loss and trauma. Motherhood seemed over and broken. No longer a teacher. A changed and broken wife. Mother to a child no longer here to care for.
My dreams lay shattered in the dust.
In the months and years since my daughter’s death, there have been many nights when I think How is this my life? Why didn’t I get the picture-perfect dream I wanted? How do I continue on with this life I‘ve been given?
It’s taken time and therapy, but I have come to accept that I don’t have that life I wanted. I’ve mourned the life I had and the one I dreamed of that will never be.
Grieving a child isn’t just about missing the one who’s gone.
It’s all of the things that the loss affects . . . in other words, every aspect of your whole life. It’s an all-encompassing, suffocating, life-altering grenade that drops into your life and obliterates it and you. Every relationship changes. You feel crazy most of the time as you cycle through the stages of grief over and over on a never-ending loop.
My husband and I are lucky—85 percent of marriages that suffer the loss of a child do not make it. We have been able to grow closer in our grief instead of farther apart, and for that I am thankful. It’s been really hard and a lot of days find one or both of us in tears or staring blankly into the depression of her loss.
For the most part, our days are back to “normal.” Work is different for me—I am not teaching, but I am OK with that. I have two part-time jobs I love and both allow me the flexibility I need for myself and my family. We added a rainbow baby brother to the mix a year and a half after her death and that has been its own kind of grief rollercoaster.
Joy at his life and sadness at the absence of hers are in a constant battle in my head.
Celebrating his milestones while mourning the ones she’ll never have. PTSD and trauma from her illness and death play a big role in parenting him even though I wish they wouldn’t, and I often fear he will grow up feeling like he got less of a life because his parents are broken by his sister’s loss. I also fear her being forgotten and him not knowing who she is.
Mainly though, we live each day as it comes. Our priorities have been changed forever, and the small stuff no longer seems that big. We put the important things first and truly know how short this life is.
While I would give anything to have her and my old life back, I’m thankful for the lessons she taught me and how her loss has shown me so much. This life is broken but also fulfilling. It doesn’t look like I dreamed but, even in the pain and the hard, I have the man who loves me. I have jobs I love, and I have two children who have made me who I am.
I’m a mom, stronger than her dreams ever could’ve imagined.