Twelve Years Later (Aubrey died 12 years ago today)
When I was in the 3rd grade my teacher limited me to six questions a day.
It’s true. I’m not sure if I was too curious or too immature.
I was given six question cards each morning and when I asked a question I had to turn one in. Once my question cards ran out I had to write my question in my Question Journal and she would sit with me after school and answer all my extra questions and I’d take the late bus home.
If I didn’t get off the first bus my mom knew I had a lot of questions that day and she’d return to get me.
My innate (and somewhat overwhelming) curiosity has remained a part of who I am today. I didn’t grow out of it.
My computer is my ‘question journal’ now. I often sneak away to sort my thoughts one keystroke at a time. Sometimes I wish I could go back to third grade when my questions actually had answers and it only took 30 minutes after school with my teacher to catch up on all the things I didn’t understand.
The questions in my life now are more journey than destination. I will never get to arrive at the place where the answers are all there and everything finally makes sense, as if there is a such thing. No one tells you the need for things to make sense is dangerous and misleading. I had to learn it the hard way.
Grief taught me that most questions are not answered by facts but by experiences, relationships, patience, love, tears, and laughs. Healing after loss is more art than science. It is nuanced and non-linear, like all of life. I just didn’t notice until I was crawling on my hands and knees up the mountain of my grief.
No one questions how love defies physics or how forgiveness cultivates freedom or how tears cleanse the soul, but grief gets scrutinized the way other emotions never do. We demand answers in our pain we’d never ask about any other experience in our lives.
Hugs can allay more fears than answers. Friendship offers strength medicine can’t. And the few questions that do have answers never provided the relief hoped for.
Answers don’t solve pain it turns out. Only love does that.
This time of the year is heavy-hearted for me. It begins every June 24th and doesn’t end until July 11th. It stirs up a lot in my mama-heart recalling the days of having my girls, losing them, and then burying them. This time brings me peace and reopens wounds all at the same time.
I like to remember the still moments when I carved the memories of their tiny faces and little hands into my mind; their strawberry hair, long eyelashes, how they would turn their heads toward my voice when I talked to them – the moments in between the fear and heartbreak of watching them get so sick and ultimately losing them both.
I wonder if I’ll ever have true enough words to describe what those weeks felt like. It’s been 12 years and I still can’t completely express it.
I suppose some experiences are meant to be just mine – but I’m not sure I like that. I’d prefer to share the things that have shaped me the most. I wish my girls could be more easily seen and my heart for them more easily understood.
It takes me a little time each year to scoop up my broken heart and take yet another step forward into one more year without my girls. I tend to need a minute to just sit down, stop moving, let it all sink in…again.
I need sunshine this time of year. Sunrises and sunsets. Time by the beach. Time in the water. Time just being and not moving to fast or too far ahead.
I experience a combination of surrender and resistance the way my girls taught me. It was their greatest gift to me.
Ellie, my mellow girl, had a peace about her I did not share. She was sick and she was dying and I HATED it. I was powerless to help her and it enraged me.
She was sicker from day one than Aubrey was and she never had the feistiness her sister had. She was a sweet little girl. Chill. I loved it.
I respected who she was entirely and considered her God-given nature when faced with the decision to remove her from life support.
It never quite came to that, not entirely. It wasn’t really up to us. Her body was failing, and she was the first to surrender to it. When her intestine ruptured (after two brain hemorrhages, an open heart valve, and a lack of white blood cells) the doctor told us she would most likely not survive the surgery to fix it. The next decision felt obvious, despite being the hardest decision of my life.
No baby of mine was going to die on an operating table with strangers.
I had to let her go.
She died on a Tuesday in my lap wrapped up like a preemie baby burrito. I was so afraid she was cold. I made sure she was cozy and gave her a thousand kisses.
I knew she was gone because it felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. That was the end and the beginning all at the same time.
Aubrey was ornery from the start. She made it clear she wasn’t thrilled with the situation. It was quite impressive to see something so tiny protest so much. I loved it.
Tubes and tape, diapers that didn’t fit right, being swaddled…she wasn’t having it. She pulled her arms out of that swaddle every single time. I finally had to order the nurse to just leave her alone. She knew what she wanted, and it wasn’t to be held down.
After Ellie died, my feisty fighter Aubrey dimmed her light. It took me a little bit to figure it out, but eventually I realized she didn’t want to be here without her sister, and no one was going to make her.
Her sister may have graciously surrendered but Aubrey was stubborn and no one was going to convince her to do anything she didn’t want to do.
She died on a Monday. I stared into her smoky grey eyes until she closed them and never opened them again.
I buried Aubrey and Ellie in the same casket. It seemed right that if they shared a womb they should share a grave.
Their funeral was a confusing day for me and I remember it in a dreamy blur. It didn’t feel real. Yet there I was, buttoning up Dustin’s tiny little collared shirt to take him to his sisters’ funeral.
I wore a cream colored dress with a dusty purple sash. The sun was in my eyes the whole time. I cut off all my hair and it looked terrible. I leaked breastmilk all morning. I hardly talked.
I yelled at the poor man who brought my babies from the morgue because he asked if I had any clothes I wanted to dress them in and I yell-sobbed back at him, “What in the world would I have to dress them in? They were too tiny! THEY DON’T MAKE BABY CLOTHES THAT SMALL!”
He was gracious beyond measure and placed them without my help, one of my greatest regrets. I should have wrapped them up and put hats on their heads to keep them warm. It took me years to forgive myself.
I have never felt such grief in all my life. Healing has not been an easy road. Yet the mark they left on me is my greatest privilege, on par with raising my two boys.
What used to crush me I can now carry. What was once debilitating is my strength. One of the greatest lessons they taught me (and there are many) is life is lived in duality. Grief and joy. Acceptance and hope. Brokenness and wholeness. Sorrow and comfort. Fear and certainty. Confusion and clarity. Surrender and stubbornness. They can all co-exist and they do co-exist, ebbing and flowing, ALL THE TIME.
Deep wisdom from such tiny souls.
Choosing to accept this duality is how I chose life every single day. Pain doesn’t make me less alive. Loss, regret, unanswered questions, and the deep ache do not steal my aliveness. I won’t allow it.
Thank you, sweet girls, for teaching me so much.
Aubrey, it’s your day, my feisty fighter. Twelve years without you has not been easy. You left your mark and I’m honored to carry your flag. I snuggle you in my dreams and hear your voice in my heart.
I believe you are with your sister and I respect you for knowing what you wanted – what you needed. Remember what I whispered to you before you left? It’s all true. Every single word.
And Ellie, see how loved you are? None of us can stand to be without you.
I love you, sweet girls.
Not sure where to begin to heal your heart after loss? Download your FREE Grief Guide. It’s the best first step you can take toward healing.