Four years is how long I spent in high school; it’s how long it takes to get a Bachelor’s Degree, and in four years a child ages from ten to fourteen. Four years would be a good stint at a job, and four years of marriage gives you credibility as a couple. I could do a lot in four years, and I have. Four years ago, my third daughter died.
Four years seems too long in some ways, and yet not long enough in others. In four years, I’ve lived a lifetime. A lifetime of tears, sorrow, and grief. A lifetime of what-ifs and if-only’s. A lifetime of intrusive memories that sporadically show up at the most inconvenient times, forcing me to immediately and silently relive pieces of the worst day of my life at the most inappropriate and inconvenient times. A lifetime of thinking about the daughter I will never know in this life, and whose absence I feel deeply. In some ways, the last four years have hollowed me out and left me void of someone I once was.
Yet, in the last four years, I have also lived a lifetime of treasured kissed from my three earthly babies, a lifetime of swallowing the lump in my throat at the thought of how miraculous their lives are. A lifetime of breathing deeply of life, and feeling it fill every fiber of my being. A lifetime of recognizing that this life is short, and I want to live every moment to its fullest. A lifetime of valuing the relationships that really matter, and being willing to let go of those that don’t.
When I think back on September 19th, 2012, of course I remember the pain. But I also remember the love, deep and profound and like I’d never experienced before. The love of my husband for me and the baby we held while she died, and how we held each other and wept for what we’d lost, together. The love of my family who wordlessly and without hesitation flew across the country to be by my side, do whatever I couldn’t, and be there for whatever I needed. The love of the friends who left gardens of flowers outside of my door, left countless heartfelt cards, cooked unending meals, and who cried for and with me, feeling my loss as their own. The love of a woman at church who made all the funeral arrangements for a baby I didn’t know how to grieve, let alone what kind of casket to bury her in. The love of my church who paid for a funeral we couldn’t afford, and medical bills we hadn’t expected. The love of a friend made through mutual loss of babies born too early, and with whom I walked as we trudged through the grief and then the intermingled fear and joy of a new pregnancy and ultimately, two healthy babies.
I remember the love as vividly as the pain, and when I look back on that time, four years ago, I remember it as the time when I felt most fully alive. In some ways, I believe it was when I truly started to live. It took death to make me awaken to life.
Ever since that day, I’ve known what it is to fully feel the depth and range of human emotion, to let myself feel everything completely, not hiding it or masking it or burying it. While I will never be glad it happened, I’m grateful for what it’s taught me. Losing Eva has taught me to wrap my children in fiercely tight hugs whenever I get the urge, because I would never know if that hug were my last; Eva has reminded me not to settle for a mediocre marriage but to be the woman he fell in love with so that he looks at me every day like he did when we first met; losing Eva has challenged me to shed the skin of my insecurities and live authentically, fully knowing others and being fully known by them, recognizing that a life lived as someone else is really no life at all; Eva has changed my view of God from one in which He does what I want Him to, to one in which I recognize that He is God and I am not, and yet everything, EVERYTHING I have is a gift from Him. My Eva, in 22 weeks and 45 short minutes, accomplished more with her life than many people ever do, and I will always be profoundly grateful for how she taught me to truly live.