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Years ago, I received a phone call from a former co-worker, telling me that a student I knew had been hit by a car and died. She was just about to turn six-years-old. I was devastated by this news. She was such a spunky and sweet girl who I had nicknamed Ramona, because she reminded me of the book character with the same name.

Her death was the first time I knew a child who had died. It felt unreal that such a dynamic and beautiful little girl was gone. Never again, would “Ramona” laugh or smile. I was heartbroken. I thought about her a lot in those weeks after she died and then she retreated to the back of my mind where she would rise to my consciousness every time I saw a blonde, pixie-like girl with a huge grin.

About two months after she died, I saw her parents; Ramona’s parents. I had just walked into the grocery store and there they were, standing together in the produce section picking out apples. I froze when I saw them. Seeing them there was so shocking to my senses.

How could they be shopping for apples when their daughter had died? I wasn’t indignant about it, I was simply curious. I was marveling at how they had the strength to go grocery shopping, how they were able to navigate the real world after such a tragedy in their lives. All throughout my shopping trip, I felt fixated on them. They were fascinating to me. The only thing that brought me back to reality was when we passed each other in the dairy aisle and we smiled at each other to say hello.

Fast forward six years later, and I am sitting in the hospital after my own daughter, Dorothy is stillborn. The shock of it all is wearing off and I’m starting to realize that I’m facing the task of having to live my life without her in it. It seems impossible. No one could be expected to do this. It’s too painful.

Then, I thought of Ramona’s parents. I remembered seeing them that day in the grocery store and wondering how they could maneuver through a world that no longer held their beloved daughter. It had seemed impossible, but there they were.

Now, I’m them.

That thought came forcefully crashing into my mind and when it landed I felt gutted. I was one of them. I was a bereaved parent. I was going to be that person others saw in the grocery store or the post office or in the hallway at work and maybe they would wonder “How can she be here after losing her child?”

Their question, also free of indignation, would simply be the same curious one I had wondered not so long ago. Before I became them.

Now, I’m them. They are me. We are each other: a community of grieving parents. There are many of us who have had to say goodbye to our children long before we were ready. We are living our lives without our children and it is so painful. These were all things I imagined when I saw Ramona’s parents that day, but it wasn’t until my own Dorothy died that I really knew what it was like to be them.

I know that they were there that day because they had no choice. They were living their lives because that’s what you do when your child dies. You put one foot in front of the other. You love them fiercely. You remember them bravely.

And sometimes, you go to buy some apples.

Originally published on the author’s blog 

Rachel Whalen

Rachel Whalen is a writer and Kindergarten teacher who lives and loves in Vermont. She is the mother of two daughters; Frances who is 14 months old and Dorothy who was stillborn two years ago. Her daughter's silent birth has inspired her to use her voice to share about grief, pregnancy loss, and parenting after loss. 

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