I dreamed of you before I held you. Curious eyes. A smile that lit up your face.

When I saw the plus sign, I just had a hunch God was going to give us the same little girl who danced in my dreams. I was right. But I didn’t know the strength you’d give me. The strength you’d give to your daddy.

You see, daughter, he was dying when we found out about you.

He was trying to hold on. To grasp for any strength he had left for me and your big brothers, but the cancer inside was consuming him. But you, dear girl, were the hope that was growing inside of me. The hope your dad and I held onto.

He could barely walk when I was six months along, his body was tired and giving out on him, but he refused to let me push him in a wheelchair to see your gender reveal ultrasound at my doctor’s office. He held onto the railing in the hallway and walked into that room, determined to catch a glimpse of you.

When it was confirmed you were indeed the baby girl we were waiting for, you fanned the flame of hope that was dwindling inside your daddy.

You gave me peace when my heart was breaking for the love of my life, your daddy.

As you grew stronger, your daddy grew weaker.

Your mommy was tired and trying to be strong for your brothers and dad, but the only thread keeping us together was you, dear daughter. Your birth was the hope your daddy needed to keep going, just a little longer, so he could hold you. You were due in October. Six weeks before your due date, the doctors told your daddy he had only five weeks to live.

“No, matter,” your daddy said, “I will hold my daughter.”

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We weren’t able to paint your room and get your crib set up; others did that for us. All your baby gifts were piled in a corner as I couldn’t spend the time folding each blanket and onesie with care, smelling them, and imagining you in them because I had to help your daddy take a shower, remember which medicines to give him and teach your brothers their ABCs and 123s. If I had time I would, however, spend extra time in the shower, swaying as the water hit my tired body, feeling you dance around in glee. You still love the water, baby girl.

Your daddy was on oxygen, and our bedroom turned into his hospital room, leaving me to sleep on the couch weeks before you were born. When your brothers were finally asleep and the house was quiet, I put my hands on my belly and felt you move.

Your presence gave me the peace I needed as I watched your dad’s and my bedroom light sneak through the door into the dark hallway. I would wait for it to turn off, knowing maybe, that would be the last night with him and I would be so far from him, but you were so close.

Cancer tore us apart, dear daughter.

It stole his voice so he couldn’t sing to you and talk to you as you were cradled in my belly. It stole our strength, but you . . . you gave us more. You guided us to the finish line. His finish line.

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He lived to see your birth. He lived to hold you for your first hours in your new world. He only held you three times. He tried to change your diaper once, but I had to finish because he had to lie down in pure exhaustion. But I held onto you and I never put you down. You were with me always.

You gave me the strength to get up to change and feed you in the early morning hours after I had finally fallen asleep after administering morphine to your dad or talking him down from imaginary walls as panic set inthe type of pharmaceutical-induced panic that happens when someone’s life is about to end, and he knows there’s nothing he can do about it. You gave me strength, waking after your brothers’ screams from night terrors that plagued them as the only world they knew was crumbling around them.

Because of you, I had to keep going. I had to keep us both alive.

You were there in the crook of my left arm as I held your daddy’s hand with my right when he was placed into hospice for his last hours. Never making a peep. Never crying or fussy. Just a little bundle of peace, the only peace I had left to hold onto. And you were there as we slept next to your daddy, waiting for his last breaths, and when they came and his heart slowed to a stop, I had to get up from that hospital bed, where time froze, to feed you. To hold you. Because of you, I had to keep going. When a part of me died in that room, the rest of me yearned to live for you and your brothers.

Phil Hastings with newborrn daughter
Phil Hastings died November 20, 2013, two weeks after the birth of his daughter

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You lay in bed with me on the days when the only strength I had was to get up and feed you and get your brothers to daycare. You snuggled in my arms when I couldn’t sleep at night when the bed felt too big and the space he left was too cold.

And now, six years later, darling daughter, you wake me up with sunshine in your eyes and a continual dance in your step. You are generous in your hugs and kisses and I love yous, and I know you save them for me and only me.

You’ve become the little girl I dreamed of.

A spark of strength in this mad world, at least a spark of strength for me.

And as you grow, dear girl, I will do my best to give you the strength you so generously gave to me.

No matter how old you get, darling, when I see you, you’ll remind me of how far we’ve come. You remind me of the time you saved your daddy’s life, even if for a brief moment.

You’ll remind me of the time you saved my life.

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings