Each morning when I wake, I count the days and wonder how I will ever make it through another one without Julia by my side. Today, number 1461, is like every other morning. I think of Julia during my waking moments, wipe the tears from my eyes, and feel this enormous void.
Four years - an eternity without Julia, and yet, it feels like yesterday.
How can so much time have passed? I can see in my mind’s eye, every detail; the length of her fingers, the color of her eyes, the details of each freckle on her nose. I can remember so clearly our last conversation, the night before she left us.
“You know I love you Julia?”
“Yes, I know.”
“You know that everyone loves you. So many people love you.”
“Yes mom, I know they do.”
“Good, now sweet dreams. Dream of puppies…, of the big, big boat…, of the ocean.”
“Okay, mommy. You dream of me and you.”
“I will Julia”
This is the dichotomy of time. It is a contradiction, both long and short, both bitter and sweet. It seems like a blink of an eye since I was with Julia, and then again it feels like an eternity without her. This is my reality.
Four years, I have waited, hoping for a glimpse of Julia in my dreams – but my restless nights continue without her there. So, I have relinquished myself to the fact that I may only ever dream of Julia during the day. I spend time each day thinking of Julia and what could have been, of her life, and her impact. Day dreams filled with tears and smiles.
Four years have passed and during this time I have had to face Julia’s death and my unending grief, while attempting to discover what it’s like to live again. I have learned so much about loss, but then again understand so little. Yet, throughout these four years, I try to remember the lessons Julia taught me about living.
I have learned that grief does not travel in a straight line. It’s not a trip taken that ends when you have made every stop along the way. I knew about the stages of grief but with it came the expectation that once I got through each step, I would reach a finish line. The reality is that you bounce through stages; anger, sadness, denial, bargaining, acceptance. On any given day, you can jump from one emotion to the next; a trip no conclusion. This has been one of the hardest things for me to understand, expecting, somehow hoping, for an end to this miserable journey.
I am surrounded by family and friends, but still I can feel alone. Another contradiction. How can anyone else comprehend the emptiness I feel? But in these four years, I have come to understand that I am part of a larger group of other grieving parents. We are members of this awful club, one we never asked to join. No secret handshake for us, just a common emptiness and sadness in our hearts. I also struggle with the realization of how many more parents will join us. I wish I could make it stop, take away their impending pain, somehow take their place. After all, I know what to the future will bring.
I have learned how to be strong, even when I am falling apart on the inside. In some way, I have found the ability to appear resilient, digging deep inside my broken spirit. Strength and fragility at the same time – yet another paradox.
And then, there has been the biggest challenge of these last four years - life versus living.
Each morning, when I am through counting the number of the days without Julia, when I am through wiping away the tears, I sit and remember. I remember Julia’s smile, her love of life, her positive outlook. And each day, because of Julia, I am reminded how to live.
I remember to be bold and embrace each day, just as Julia did. I may get up to dance, or take that trip, or perhaps sing out loud. I am no longer afraid of who is watching or what they might say. I try to remember to live life courageously, like Julia. Our time here is too short and I now realize there are no second chances.
I remember to take a moment each day just to appreciate the simple things in this life. Julia lived in gratitude each day. Whether it is gazing at the flowers in the yard or watching the stars twinkle in the sky at night, I try to take the time to look at the world through the wonder of a child’s eyes, recognizing and being grateful for the beauty in this world.
I remember to do something every day that will make me happy. It can be a simple and obvious choice, and on some days, I must search a bit harder. But, like Julia showed me with her list, I choose joy and happiness.
More importantly, I want to be like Julia and bring happiness to others. This is where the greatest satisfaction in life comes from and Julia, at a young age, knew that. So, every day, I try to remember to do something kind for someone. I think back to how Julia reached out to give a stranger a hug and let them know they were loved. I have found that I get the most fulfillment and happiness by helping others and sharing Julia’s grace and love.
Four years – an eternity and yet, a blink of an eye. One thousand four hundred sixty-one days of contractions, but one thing has remained constant. Julia has been in my heart, to guide me through this life, to continue to teach me about the goodness in this world, and to remind me to live, just like she did.