When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

On Birthdays and Grief

Today is my birthday.

I’ve spent the last two days focusing on my grandpa. We shared this day as our birthday and I celebrated my first 21 birthdays with him. He even went to the casino with me on my 21st (his 70th) for drinks and to play slots. So many special memories come to mind surrounding our birthday, from blowing out the candles together, to Labor Day picnics, to a motorcycle ride to Eat ‘n Park for a birthday breakfast.

My grandfather’s death was my first experience with grief. I remember crying on the floor in my grandparent’s bathroom after saying goodbye to my grandpa for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. I remember telling my cousin at the funeral that I didn’t want them to close the casket because as soon as they did, it would be real. There were tears over songs that made me think of him. There were tears when I looked at other grandpas with their grandchildren. Eventually the tears came less often. The heart healed, though it would never be the same.

Now, eight years later, my heart still hurts on days like today. It hurt on my wedding day when Grampa was not there. It hurts on Christmas morning when he doesn’t call first thing to wish us “Merry Christmas”! It hurts when a commercial comes on TV and the song in the background is George Jones.

It is true that we move through grief. It changes us. It makes us stronger. It enables us to be more compassionate. Over time, though the loss is always present, the pain lessens. Now, when we think of Gramps, we remember happy times. We enjoy some of the things he enjoyed as a way to remember him. We tell stories and laugh together. Share pictures and songs.

This birthday I’ve come to realize, between my lessening grief for my grandpa and my unbroken grief for my baby, that life really is precious. What a gift. It was such a gift to have Gramps for as long as we did. When a life is long and full, you can celebrate amid your grief.

And when life is taken from this earth far too soon, you grieve that which you knew, those kicks and punches and rolls and the sound of Joanna’s heartbeat, and you grieve the future you’d dreamed for your child.

I didn’t really want to celebrate my birthday this year, but I realize now that each year, each day, is a gift. Even if I’ve had to go through the hardest thing in my life during my last year, it was also my best year. I had a daughter and she was beautiful. I got to hold her. Then, I was forced to change, to grow, to become stronger, to break down, to rise again. Joanna’s life, however short, was the greatest gift. She made me a mom and she taught me that life is fragile, unpredictable and beautiful.

Somewhere between my griefs today, I celebrated the gift of my life, and I celebrated life, for those who cannot.

Here’s to my life and yours, may we always remember how blessed we are to be here [still].