Here I sit, 10pm on February 15th, 2010, less than 12 hours from the 2nd anniversary of Zoe’s death. I’m not even certain of what I feel. It is a very uncomfortable, unsure, uneasy sensation. Like when Zoe died, the instant they disconnected her vent, her IV’s, everything that was keeping her “alive”… I was in such shock, such disbelief, my brain knew what was happening, but my heart refused to believe it. My arms felt the weight of her limp, lifeless body, she was no longer full of life, she was just heavy with death. She was gone, before they even gave her to us to hold her, she was already gone.
I knew this. I knew she was gone, I knew she would not open her emerald green eyes again and yet, I had to tell myself to cry. I had to tell myself to wail. I said to myself “What is wrong with you? Cry, Keira. Scream. Who cares who hears you! Your daughter is dead.” And so I did. I cried, I sobbed. I did all those things I should do but it was like I had to force myself to do it. It wasn’t spontaneous outbursts of anguish. I think a part of me, in my heart just didn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t believe we had just lived through the course of events of the last 24 hours. There were moments in the hours that followed, the last moments we would spend with Zoe, when I smiled and I may have even laughed. I remember giving her a bath, washing her arms and legs, her cheeks, her hair. I chatted with Richard, Martha, Anne,and Stephanie. I felt my hands on Zoe’s soft skin. I saw my fingers soaping and washing, wiping and rinsing. Cleaning her body for the very last time. I don’t think I fully comprehended that these would be the last moments I would ever spend with her. It was an out of body experience, to seeing myself doing something and yet not truly feeling what I was doing. My mouth moved and formed words of conversation. What did I talk about? I haven’t got a clue. Did I talk about how Zoe would pretend to fall asleep when we tried to feed her? Did I talk about her deep raspy voice and how she would wake me up each morning by kicking her right leg and saying “ha, ha” and then flash one of those incredible smiles? Did I talk about how she loved to play “peek-a-boo”? Or how she liked watching football with her daddy? Did I talk about how she loved her baths, how she would splash and kick and squeal with delight? Did I talk about the first time she rolled over by herself? How proud she seemed to be of herself and her new found freedom to move? Did I talk about bringing her home from the NICU and how Avery gave me the cold shoulder for at least a day when she realized that yes, there was another little girl she would have to share my attention with. I have no idea what I talked about bout. I was not fully present in those moments.
My memory is segmented into these snapshots. These small, yet significant moments that chronicle her last day on Earth. I can turn the pages in my mind and recall what was happening, I can read the narrative of what the doctors and nurses said, I can feel Richard’s arms holding me tightly when she coded trying to keep my head pressed into his chest so I wouldn’t watch them perform CPR; but again it’s not like I remember living it, it’s more that I am watching myself live it. I knew in my mind that I should be screaming with anguish. But I wasn’t. It was, and is, the most unnerving, most traumatic thing to experience.
I believe God shut down a part of my mind, heart, or soul because if I were to feel and understand the full gravity of what had just transpired I surely would not have made it out of that hospital live myself. He must have produced that intense state of shock so that, while I would come to feel and understand Zoe’s death, it has been in moments and in chunks of time that I can endure. Of course I didn’t always feel like this is something I could endure, but slowly as time has passed it has become a part of me. As much a part of me as my arms, and hands, and eyes. Always there, always a part of who I am. I recently read something written by a bereaved parent who was 22 years beyond the death of his son. He said “you live hard, you grieve hard…grief is like living with arthritis, always there and sometimes it flares up”.
And I sit here now, my eyes misting with tears, my throat closing tight, my stomach uneasy and again I am wondering what I’m supposed to feel. Of course I’m sad, of course I miss her, of course I wish so deeply she was here to play with Avery and Lily. But what else? Shouldn’t there be something else too? Because this is how I feel on most days, not completely consumed by my thoughts of Zoe and my longing for her anymore, it’s just a part of me now. There is no guidebook for grief, nothing that says “you do such and such on the first anniversary and will feel this way, on the second anniversary you’ll feel like this, and so on”. It is written that everyone grieves differently and I know this to be very true. But I feel like I’m missing something, like something is just not here that should be in my deepest emotions. I suppose it is the lack of her physical presence that creates this void in my heart that just can’t be filled.
I have found a way to feel joyful, and not locked in self pity. I have found happiness amidst this sad, sad anniversary. And on this day, I have to find my thankful heart and my nurturing spirit. I have to, for Avery, for Lily, for Richard, for our other angels, and for Zoe. I have to because pain does not equal the depth of my love for Zoe or her sisters. To feel intense pain and despair and to remain locked in that place does not honor Zoe’s life or serve as a “suitable” way to remember my precious baby.
The other night I pulled out all my pictures of her and I specifically took out the ones that show her laughing and smiling. There are quite a number of them and to look at each one and remember those moments in which they were taken eases my discomfort just a bit. It creates a warmth in my body that settles deep in my heart. I can almost hear her squeaky laugh, I can almost see that sparkle in her eyes again. I can almost feel her chubby arms and her thick soft hair between my fingers. I miss her terribly, my heart is gripped tightly with longing for Zoe. I haven’t slept well in weeks in anticipation of this anniversary. I’ve shouted at Avery and Lily for no good reason and had to put myself in time-out. I know this is all my human reaction to these deep feelings of loss that I am still trying to make sense of and unravel in my brain. But what does this do to honor Zoe? Me walking around like a zombie doesn’t nothing good, being a subpar mother to her sisters during my moments of weakness does not illustrate my love for Zoe. Feeling worn out, beaten down and exhausted does not say to my living daughters “Your sister’s life, however short it was, was worthwhile and important.”
While I have tried and tried to think of the perfect thing I could “do” for Zoe’s angelversary, I’ve come up empty. Nothing seems good enough, it all seems so “run of the mill.” So, on the 16th, I’m going to dedicate the day to Zoe, and all the days after, by loving my life, cherishing my husband and my surviving daughters. I am going to be thankful that I had Zoe for those 14 months. I am going to laugh. I am going to smile. I am going to cry, and that’s ok too. I will play with Avery and Lily and focus my full attention on them. I am going to commit to loving as deeply and as freely as Zoe did and continues to do from Heaven. I am going to commit to sharing her love and God’s love with the world. I am going to reaffirm my choice to become better, not bitter, because of our loss.
My darling Zoe, my sweet warrior princess who victoriously battled countless odds, who sends sweet ladybug whispers to us all, as your daddy said “you are deeply loved and eternally missed.” I love you forever and ever.
Here are just a few of my most treasured Zoe photos: