I was 19 when she was born. She would never see her 19th birthday.
I was married and eventually had 2 sons. She would do neither of these things.
I was naïve and never gave a thought to death. In my world, bad things didn’t happen.
Inside, somewhere deep, I knew the score. I knew the odds were against her, and yet I lived in a dream world where she would come home. I visited her everyday, doing what I could for her, what the medical personnel would allow me to do. I held her. I talked to her. I fed her the small amount of food she could get down.
I made pink blankets for her. I hung a bright pink dress with matching panties in the closet for her to wear home.
I never shed a tear at the hospital. There was no need. Bad things didn’t happen in my world.
I brought things for her room. I did all the things I was expected to do.
I hoped for impossible things.
The call came on a Sunday, but before the message could be spoken the call was disconnected. Before the phone rang again, I knew what would be said. What had happened. Where we would be going. I began to dress as my husband took the call.
How could a mother not know? There is a connection between mother and child. And still, I hoped.
On Wednesday evening I walked in to the funeral home oblivious to all that was about to happen. I sat beside a friend in the lobby who chastised me for not going inside where her body was. What did it matter now? I had been with her as much as possible when she was in the hospital. Did anything matter now?
When I entered the room, and saw the tiny satin coffin, I could step no farther.
Reality hit me with the strength of a million hurricanes. I turned and ran outside and down the street. My husband caught me 2 blocks from the funeral home.
She was gone. My daughter. The child I had given birth to. The hopes I had for the future. The dreams I had for her life.
We had been told on Sunday that she was gone. We were offered the chance to see her one last time. My husband and father took that opportunity. I didn’t. Seeing her meant it was real. I didn’t want to believe in reality. I wanted my world of hope.
In the next few days we made the arrangements. We picked out her final resting place. We picked out the color of her coffin. We told those who needed to know. We were met by family members. We were hugged. We were consoled. We held hands. We prayed.
I clung to hope.
When I saw the tiny pink coffin, I saw reality. Death had touched my world. Death had taken my daughter. Death had stolen my innocence.
I knew life didn’t last forever. I knew there would be more visits to funeral homes and more graveside services. I knew one day I would walk in to another room and see a grandparent, or a parent, or a friend. I was 19 and I knew more than I should.
Stephanie died in November. The following February, my grandfather passed away. For as long as I can remember, he had been sick, but still his death came as a surprise. Mostly because it came in the middle of the night, at his home. Not in some hospital after a long illness.
None of life’s momentous events, before or since, impacted me the way that one pink coffin did. It startled me out of my Pollyanna world.
I am braver now. I am wiser now. I am more open to the things of this world. I know life is short. I am more empathetic to those who lives are changed by a diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, those affected by natural disaster, and those suffering in any way.
I am now the person I was meant to be. My loss of innocence gave birth to my real life.