My daughter, Lilly, died 11 years ago at the age of 20 months from a rare mitochondrial disease. In addition to a small trunk of her belongings, I kept several of the plants given to us at meaningful times in her short life. These plants were given to us when she was born, the first time she was hospitalized, and at her memorial service. This February, I accidentally killed all of Lilly’s plants. It was one of those rare, gorgeous days in the midst of winter that we sometimes get here in the Mid-South. It was 60 degrees, and I thought it would be a good idea to put the plants outside for some sun. After a busy day, I forgot about the plants and the temperature dropped below freezing during the night.
It is an absolute wonder that I kept these plants alive for over 11 years. I was devastated when I realized there was no saving them. After all of these years, I still have a tendency to memorialize things and memories attached to my daughter. I still want to give and preserve meaning and moments and keep tiny fragments of this life that is so precious to me.
It’s common among bereaved parents to set up sacred spaces and start family traditions that honour the memories of our children. In the early years of my grief, hanging on to everything connected to my daughter helped me feel close to her.
My identity as a mother
Helping others through the shock of getting a terrible diagnosis and often walking with them through the death of a child helped me maintain my sanity as I figured out what my identity as a mother looked and felt like when my child was no longer living. It gave me purpose and helped me feel like I was honouring my child by remembering. It was a way of sending my love into the far reaches of heaven and parenting when there was no longer a child to parent.
Grief changes over time
At some point, some of the things I initially used to comfort myself began to feel like a burden and became a barrier to my healing. Rather than providing comfort, the traditions and memorials I had put in place began to break my heart all over again. There would be times when I simply didn’t feel up to doing a balloon release or special dinner. There were months and years when I wanted to keep my grief more private. I didn’t want to do a speaking event or write about my loss. The problem was that I couldn’t just stop doing any of the things I’d started as a way to honour my child without feeling guilty. Grief can still make me feel like a bad parent even when my child is no longer with me. It took a long time to let go of the guilt and to grieve free from constraints of my own making. I had to give myself permission to let go of so many things and to not feel bad that all these years later my grief doesn’t look or feel the same way it did in those early years.
My grief isn’t about loss – it’s about longing.
What hasn’t changed is how much I love my child. That love isn’t contingent on how many memories, objects, pictures, or events I have to mark her life. So, I gave myself permission to be sad that after 11 years I had to say goodbye to her plants. When I was done being sad, I gave myself permission to move on. Because, after 11 years, my grief isn’t about loss; it’s about longing—longing to see Jesus, longing to see Lilly and a deep longing for all things to be made new. My focus is no longer on the things that are gone, but the things that are to come. I have hope for a future I cannot see and hope for a reunion with a babe who has gone before me.
Our Guest Writer
My name is Amy Haas. I live in Oklahoma with my husband of sixteen years and five of my children. I dedicate most of my time to educating our children at home and drinking coffee. My second daughter died eleven years ago from a rare mitochondrial disease. I love to tell her story. I am passionate about sharing my grief journey to inspire others to grieve well and to give hope.
Image: Handlettering and artwork by Nathalie Himmelrich