It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, an occasion that I have been bracing myself for throughout the past few weeks. Not only is this the first family holiday that I would have spent with my almost four-month-old daughter, but it is also the one year mark from which I discovered I was pregnant with Leah.
This time last year, I was quietly wondering about the possible reasons why my waking basal body temperatures had not returned to their normal pre-ovulatory range. Despite my lingering confidence in the natural birth control method I had employed without fail for the previous three years, I still decided to opt out of the glasses of wine that were offered to me during the various dinners I shared with family and friends over the course of the weekend.
By the time Thanksgiving Monday rolled around, the suspense became too much. To put my mind at ease, I finally decided to buy a home pregnancy test. It was a good thing that I purchased a double pack, as in my impatience I did not take the time to read the directions and complete the first test properly. I took my time with the second test and left to walk my dog before reading the result. During this time I snickered to myself as I envisioned pranking my husband by telling him that the test was positive when it obviously wouldn’t be.
Little did I know that two bold pink lines would be waiting for me when I returned home, and that this day would ultimately change my life forever. While I initially kept the test, as is my tendency with any artifact that symbolizes a momentous occasion in my life, there came a time during my pregnancy when I considered throwing it out as we packed up to move to a different apartment. I was six months along at this point, and reasoned that I would soon have many items of greater significance by which to remember Leah’s earliest days in the world: Newborn clothing and toys; blankets and books; and of course countless photos and video clips that would capture the significant and mundane aspects of our life together.
When it came down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to throw the test out; it now sits in Leah’s memory box, housed along with all the other items that embody the most intimate details of her brief life. On this day, that decision is one thing I am profoundly thankful for. As for the Thanksgiving holiday in general, I find myself struggling with Leah’s palpable absence as much as I imagined I would. I am painfully aware of how different each moment of this weekend would be if my daughter was alive, and I know that each subsequent holiday will coax me further into “the other life” that I am forced to adapt to without her.
Despite the emotionally harrowing reality that is my new normal, I resolved to set aside some time this weekend to reflect on the things I am thankful for. To an extent it is true that Leah’s death has instilled in me a renewed perspective on life that vividly colours my every thought, word, and deed. After all, I am now counted among those who know firsthand how truly delicate and precious life is. While I still struggle to find beauty in a physical world where my daughter only remains as ashes, my life is not completely void of sunshine and laughter. And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, I want to express my gratitude for the life-giving connections that have nourished and sustained me for the past four months.
First, I am thankful for my marriage. I count myself incredibly fortunate that my husband—a notoriously private person who would likely prefer that I do not share any of what I am about to write—has been my ultimate lifeline throughout my grief journey. These days I find myself looking at him with renewed love and admiration as I consider the multiple losses and struggles that have shaped his life. Throughout the ten love-filled years that we have shared together, he actively supported his mother during her hard-won battle with cancer, and said goodbye to two grandmothers along the way. In 2016 he lost a much-beloved uncle, and then just weeks before Leah’s due date, his father died unexpectedly. While still navigating the maze of paperwork resulting from his father’s sudden death, he found himself sitting next to me in a hospital room, jointly holding our daughter while her brief struggle to cling to life ended just as quickly as it began. In the weeks that have followed, this remarkable man has been unfailingly kind, attentive, and patient when I have been downright difficult to live with. Moreover, no matter how dark my days become, he somehow manages to inject glimmers of light into the morose monotony of my Leah-less life. Even though we have been through the worst together, each morning when we awake and our eyes eventually meet, we still smile at each other just like we did when we were first married six years ago. There is a beautiful simplicity about this dynamic that is difficult to put into words, so I won’t try to.
Second, I am thankful for the people who have comprised my invaluable support system throughout my grief journey. They are the ones who continue to stubbornly insert themselves into my life day after day, asking me how I am and reminding me that they are thinking about me and my baby girl. They are the ones who actively invite me to express my fear, sadness, and anger, and commiserate with me in my darkest moments. They don’t advise me to think or act in any way that does not reflect the truth of my pain, nor do they insinuate that I need to “move on” and grieve according to a mythical timeline. They are the ones who carry a piece of my pain with them every day, even though they don’t have to. They speak Leah’s name openly and welcome me to do the same, just as they understand that the depth of my grief is a reflection of my deep love for my daughter. These precious souls have demonstrated what true love and friendship mean, and I know they are the ones who will continue to weather life’s storms with me for as long as we are privileged enough to walk through this life together.
Third and finally, I am thankful for my daughter. She is the one who taught me about the incredible, all-consuming capacity for love that I did not know existed within me. As much pain as it brings me, lately I have resolved not to shrink away from the memories of pure, unadulterated bliss that I experienced during the months that I carried her. While these fleeting moments anticipated a long, happy life together that never came to pass, that does not make the joy that Leah brought me less real or less valid. Many people saunter through life without recognizing or appreciating this depth of love, and while my daughter’s unnatural absence now leaves a gaping hole in my heart, my life is infinitely richer for having known her during the brief moment in time that she was here. Exactly one year after she crashed into my world, more than anything I am thankful for the immensely strong, impossibly beautiful, dark-haired, green-eyed girl who made me a mother.