Grief knows no boundaries. Whether you’re curled up in bed or at the grocery store, the weight of losing a child can crush you at a moment’s notice. It’s something I’ve learned to live with ever since two of my triplets passed away four years ago. But, my heart wasn’t prepared for a recent encounter on a typical summer day at the park.
As I scanned the playground through my sunglasses, I spotted my daughter in the distance. My fearless four-year-old, oblivious to the world around her, was climbing up the slide, instead of gliding down. It was a classic day at the park, the sun shining boldly as us mothers made small talk while keeping an eye on our children.
“Is she your only child,” asked the mom sitting next me. My heart skipped a beat as I quickly thought about my reality. Do I tell this stranger the truth, which could lead to an awkward moment, or do I skim past it and say ‘yes’, she’s my only child? For whatever reason, I felt comfortable that day, so I casually explained that my daughter is our miracle child. I told the woman next me that she’s our lone surviving triplet and that her brother and sister passed away within two months of birth.
The immediate reaction was familiar as the mother gave me a shocked and sympathetic look I’ve seen a thousand times before. But, it was what she said next that took me by surprise.
“Oh, I’m sorry. At least you have your daughter,” she said as she saw my child running past us.
I could feel my face getting flushed as I choked back the tears. Yes, this beautiful and strong little girl is amazing and she’s the light of my life. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that her brother and sister are no longer here on earth. As I looked at the woman’s children, all I could think of was responding, “So, what child of yours would you be OK with giving up?” But instead, I bit my tongue and let the tears slowly roll down my cheeks.
To a parent like myself, who faces the daily challenge of raising a family between heaven and earth, telling me that I at least have my one child is like a dagger to my heart. In a society that still considers child loss a taboo topic, so many people feel uncomfortable when the death of a child is brought up in conversation. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their child; that child is supposed to outlive you. So, it’s no wonder that people may feel heartbroken, pity or even awkward when they learn about the unimaginable loss of a child. But, what they might not realize is that many of us grieving parents want to talk about our children. We would give anything to hear someone else speak our children’s name or to ask us about what our babies were like in their short time here.
As I watch my survivor thrive, I’m in awe of the miracle of life. She shouldn’t be here today, yet she defied the odds stacked against her. You would never know by looking at her that she was born more than 17 weeks premature. You would never know that she was only one pound, her skin transparent and her tiny body hooked up to machines that kept her alive. No, this little girl shouldn’t be here, but I thank God everyday that she is here on earth.
As I casually wiped the tears away, I thought about the woman’s comment. She didn’t mean any harm and she most definitely didn’t mean to offend me. Like many people, she probably didn’t know what to say. Rather than silence, she made small talk, something us moms are well versed in at the park.
I looked at all of the children on the playground and then glanced over at the woman next to me. With my eyes watery, I smiled and nodded. Yes, at least I have my daughter. And as I watched my child in the distance, I glanced up at the clouds above. All three of my children will never be forgotten. I have one child giggling here on earth, with her brother and sister smiling down from heaven.