“Oh, twins! They’re so cute!” exclaims the lady in the checkout line at the grocery store. In a nanosecond, I have the following conversation with myself: “No, they’re not twins, they’re triplets you just can’t see the third one. Does this lady care that one of my girls died? Am I just going to depress her and ruin her day by bringing to the light the fact that babies die? How do I phrase it? Surviving triplets? Two of my triplets? Two of three? How much longer will I have to stand here? Can I just turn and run away? If I just say ‘yes, they’re twins’, have I dishonored Zoe and confused Avery and Lily? Do I have the energy to deal with this today?”
I smile at the woman who is still admiring my girls and reply: “Actually, they’re triplets. Their sister, Zoe, is in Heaven.” To which I usually get a surprised “Oh”, followed by silence and diverted eyes or an honest look of empathy accompanied by “I’m so sorry.” But sometimes, I hear a quiet “I lost a baby once, too.”
I usually tell the person asking that they are triplets and I do this for the following reasons: Because they are, in fact, triplets who grew in my womb together, were born together and spent almost 4 months at home together after 9 ½ months in the NICU. They don’t stop being triplets just because one dies.
Second, it gives me a chance to say Zoe’s name out loud; which I crave daily. And, more times than I can count, the person asking has lost an infant or child and much like the magical bond that exists among parents of preemies, it is the same for bereaved parents. As one bereaved mother to another, I don’t have to explain the pain behind the smile. I don’t have to hide my inner turmoil at the dichotomy of emotions I feel on a daily basis, as happiness and grief play tug of war with my heart. The comfort of understanding and knowing you are not alone is like a warm blanket fresh from the dryer that radiates love throughout your entire body. It is an opening to share your story and to know the person listening will not say something insensitive.
There seems to be an agreement that we will not judge you for the manner in which you grieve, nor will we put a time limit on your journey. As parents whose arms also ache to hold their child one last time, we accept you for who you are, wherever you are along your grief path. Each story is different, each experience a tragedy beyond comparison. When we find even one person who understands what it feels like to walk around with a part of your heart missing, we find hope. Hope that one day it might not hurt quite so much or that the pain won’t bombard our thoughts 100% of the time. Hope keeps us moving forward, hope gets us out of bed each morning, hope helps us to remain present and invested in the family we do have left on Earth, and affirms that we are not alone!
My hope has come from a growing faith in God; living through experiences that seemed unbearable where I thought He had abandoned me. However, when I reflect back over the years, He was closer than I even knew. As the great Civil Rights leader, John Lewis so eloquently writes in his book, Across That Bridge: Life Lessons & a Vision for Change, “faith has power, but often this truth does not become meaningful to us until we are tested by a challenge we think we may not survive. It is then that we experience how transformative our capacity to believe truly is.”
It is through my faith that I believe people have come into my life at just the right moments, not by mere coincidence. Just when I needed someone who understood, there they were. It is by faith that I have emerged from the dark valley of death and loss and now walk with my fellow bereaved parents in the warm sunshine. Do hope and faith ever replace the longing in my heart for my daughter? Of course not. But it does confirm for me that this “new normal” is a good normal and many will benefit from just one little girl with a smile that made her whole body shine.
Have you lost a child? Are you raising surviving multiples? You are not alone. There is an ever-growing network of parents, just like you, who are eager to offer you a “Hand to Hold.” To read more about my personal journey through the premature birth of my triplets and raising my survivors please visit my blog, Tripled Pink or our Foundation’s website.