The Aftermath

Shortly after Leah’s death, I began regularly conversing with a fellow loss mama. After sharing with her how mystified I felt by my grieving process, she sent me this image:

grief stages

Image source via Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation

I think that pretty much sums it up.

When I first returned home from the hospital, I was indeed too shocked to fully process all that had happened. For the first two weeks there were many moments where it felt like I was still waiting to go into labour and bring my daughter home. I also experienced a healthy dose of denial, where my mind blatantly refused to accept the magnitude of my loss. I would place my hand on my soft postpartum belly and shake my head, wondering how the tiny girl who had been kicking fiercely against my ribs for so long was suddenly nowhere to be found. I was no longer pregnant, yet I had no baby. I had a c-section scar, newly widened mama hips, and engorged breasts overflowing with milk that was meant to nourish and sustain Leah’s life. I was a mother without a child, and it made no sense.

At the same time, there were many other moments where I felt like I would be crushed under the weight of this devastating new reality. Each morning I woke up thinking how I should be taking care of Leah, yet she was not here. I had tied up all my ongoing academic projects weeks ago so that I could spend the entire summer exclusively being a mother to my daughter. I physically yearned to hold her in my arms again and feel her soft newborn skin against mine. I spent hours alone in my room, rocking back and forth and sobbing from the sheer agony of missing her. Suddenly all the light and purpose was gone from my life. The world seemed full of joy and promise before Leah came into being, but as soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test I began carving out space in my life that was specifically for her. And now that she was gone, no other person, thing, or experience could fill that void. This gaping hole will remain for the rest of my life; it is the price I have to pay for loving and losing my darling girl.

In the seemingly endless moments since those initial weeks of mourning, I have grieved for all the pain and struggle that Leah experienced in the hospital. I have grieved for the life she will never get to live. And I have grieved for all the moments I will never get to share with her. I will never watch her take her first steps, or board the bus for her first day of school. I will never sing to her as she blows out the candles on a birthday cake, or snuggle up with her to read a bedtime story.

Most of all, however, I have grieved for the love I will never get to share with her. From the moment I knew she existed, I began cultivating a love that was and will always be just for her. By the end of my pregnancy I was simply bursting at the seams, ecstatic to finally shower this love upon her outside the womb. Now I must carry this love with me until my dying day. It is often said that grief is love with no outlet, and I am now acutely aware of what this means.

More than anything, I grieve because Leah will never know that, of everyone who has ever lived, loved, and lost, for the brief moment in time that she was here I loved her and still love her with every fiber of my being. And I grieve because I will never feel her wrap her little arms around me and hear her say “I know you love me, Mommy. I love you too.





In Loving Memory Part 2: Paying Tribute

The days between Leah’s death and her memorial service are now a blur in my mind’s eye. Getting through each day was difficult but manageable since there was always a task to get done, a visitor to entertain, or a phone call to return. This busyness prolonged the initial numbness that often jump starts the grieving process, and I was grateful for it. As long as I didn’t have too much time to spend alone with my thoughts, I was able to put my emotions aside and function like something akin to normal.

I spent the days leading up to the memorial service putting together a picture slideshow and writing a eulogy to share. Finally, the day before the service, Leah’s urn was ready to pick up. Its hand painted floral design was almost as beautiful as she was, and it was strangely comforting to bring it home.

shrine 2

Leah’s urn with the framed photos we displayed at the memorial service

At last the day arrived. My husband and I were deeply touched that so many family and friends traveled from near and far to join us for the service and take part in honouring Leah’s life. People kept commenting on how strong we were and how impressive it was that we were able to maintain our composure for the service. For me, however, this was not a challenge. As tragic as my loss was, I was proud to share my daughter’s story with everyone and was determined to do her memory justice. I did not waver or hesitate when I read the eulogy, which was addressed as a letter to Leah from my husband and I:

Dear Leah,

It’s difficult to explain how a single day can be both the best and worst of our lives. Because of you, we will always remember Tuesday, June 21, 2016 this way. This is the day that you entered the world and we were able to meet you and hold you in our arms. However, on this day we also learned that our time with you would be much, much shorter than we ever could have imagined.

I vividly recall the day that you initially came into our lives. I can still see the shocked expression on your dad’s face when I showed him my positive pregnancy test. You were a surprise, to say the least, but one that was much wanted and instantly loved. I remember walking home from the doctor’s office the next day in the beautiful October sun and feeling overcome with joy that you were going to be a part of my life from here on.

I’m grateful that you took it easy on me for the next nine months. Only one bout of morning sickness and some sporadic cravings. At fifteen weeks I started feeling your little flutters and by nineteen weeks you were kicking every day. I savored every interaction that we had during this time. Unfortunately you seemed a bit shy of your dad, since you would hide away each time I told him to come feel one of your kicks! It made me so happy to feel you growing big and strong, and I prayed every single day that God would keep you healthy and safe.

Needless to say it was quite scary for me when, the day before your birthday, I didn’t feel you kicking quite as much as usual. Dad and I had already been expecting your arrival for a few days, so we decided to head to the hospital rather than take any chances. Things progressed very quickly from there. Within an hour I was being prepared for an emergency caesarean section. Still, despite our fear, we were excited that we would be meeting you very soon. It broke our hearts that they had to take you away immediately and hook you up to so many machines to try to preserve your delicate little life.

Several hours passed before we heard any updates about how you were doing. The news we received was far worse than we could have anticipated—not only were you very sick, but it was also unlikely that you would live through the day. When your dad and I heard this, we knew we wanted to spend as many precious hours with you as possible, so we asked them to bring you to our hospital room so we could spend the day together as a family.

I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hold you against my skin and kiss your head for the first time. I took in every inch of you—your smell, the creases in your legs and arms, the same full crown of dark hair that I had as a newborn, and your dad’s beautiful deep green eyes. We marveled at how strong you were as you grabbed your blanket and raised your head off my chest. I was even able to feed you, and it meant so much to be able to give you every bit of love and care that I could during our short time together. Dad and I stayed up with you all night, rocking you back and forth when you cried and telling you how much we love you.

By Wednesday morning we could sense that our time together was growing short. We could tell that it was becoming more difficult for you to breathe and the seizures you experienced in the first hours of your life were returning. Still, you spent the morning and afternoon in our arms, and I was even able to feed you again. I am so grateful that I was able to hold you and comfort you when you breathed your last breath several hours later.

And so, my darling daughter, your dad and I want to say thank you for coming into our lives. The love we have for you has fundamentally changed us, and it will never fade away. Thank you for being so brave and strong; you fought so hard to stay with us, and the two beautiful days that we spent together far surpassed what any of the doctors had expected. You touched so many lives during your short time on this earth, and you will always be a part of our family. You are God’s gift to us and we love you more than you will ever know.

Hugs and kisses,

Mom and Dad

It meant so much to receive such palpable love and support from our family and friends that day. Strangely enough, I did not want the day to end. For a moment in time, it felt as if the world had stopped to take notice of a precious baby girl whose life came and went in the twinkling of an eye. On that day my grief for Leah was truly shared by the most important people in my life.

However I also knew that, after this moment passed, the world would have to start turning again. I knew that in the coming weeks the visits, messages, and phone calls would dwindle as everyone around me continued on with their lives. As much as people could sympathize and offer their love, only my husband and I would have to return home to a bassinet that still stood silent and empty next to our bed. In many ways, it wasn’t until this shared day of mourning ended that my own grief journey truly began.



In Loving Memory Part 1: Making Plans

Touching Leah’s body for the last time before leaving her behind at the hospital was undoubtedly the most difficult moment of my life. Never again would I caress the soft folds of her skin, which had now turned pale and cold. Never again would I hold her warm belly against my chest, our hearts beating together as one. I returned countless times to her bassinet in the corner of my hospital room to stroke her cheeks and hold her tiny hands, all the while she lay still in her white dressing gown. Even in death she was beautiful, like a delicate porcelain doll. As we packed up and prepared to leave, I finally bent down to give her one last kiss.

Goodbye my sweet girl,” I whispered into her ear. “Mommy loves you more than you’ll ever know.”

The grossly unnatural act of returning home without my daughter was initially eased by my lingering shock and exhaustion. I had not slept in 48 hours and so much had happened during that time, it was beyond my mental capacity to process everything just yet. I don’t believe I cried too much that first night. Instead, my husband and I lay next to each other in bed, holding hands and discussing our disbelief that any of the previous days’ events had happened at all. It felt like a bad dream that we would wake up from after a good night’s rest.

Of course it wasn’t a dream. When I woke up the next morning the empty bassinet standing next to my bed was all too real, and the crushing weight of this new reality hit me afresh. “She’s supposed to be here,” I thought to myself as I let the tears wash over me. Still, there were plans to make for Leah’s arrangements, and they mercifully gave me a sense of purpose and a place to focus my energy during that first week of mourning.


The contents of Leah’s memory box: My positive pregnancy test, her pacifier, the blankets she used in the hospital, her hand and foot prints, her knitted hat and “angel wings”

I knew immediately that I wanted to have Leah cremated and keep her ashes so that she would always be present in our home. It was decided that we would hold a memorial service for her in my hometown so that we could share her little life with all our family and friends. In the meantime my husband and I printed out all the photos we had taken during our hospital stay and put an album together. I savored every moment of this process. In a strange way, making these preparations allowed me to feel as if I was taking care of her. I was still her mother, after all, even though I was perusing urn and funeral card designs for her instead of changing her diapers and fussing over which outfit to dress her in each day.

Part of this process also included writing something for her funeral card. At first I resisted the idea, feeling too numb to channel any emotional or creative energy. But one evening my inherent writer’s instinct kicked in, and the poem that I would title “Leah” came together in my mind in a matter of minutes:



The poem I wrote for Leah as it appears in the funeral card

Read the second part of In Loving Memory here.