THE THIRTEENTH MONTH

 Devil's Lake State Park, Baraboo, Wisconsin. July 23, 2017.

Devil's Lake State Park, Baraboo, Wisconsin. July 23, 2017.

On our baby girl’s first birthday one month ago, we felt like we had made it. We had survived the first year of life after loss, certainly no simple feat. Somehow we had found a way to breathe through our first summer, fall, winter, spring, our first holidays, birthdays, wedding anniversary, and all the ordinary days in between, without her. We thought the fog would surely lift, that we had escaped the suffocating clutch of early grief. During the first year of life without Willow, every month marker pulled me into the trenches. I found myself sinking ever deeper until I would crumble beneath the massive weight of hopelessness. Grief’s waves would wash over me, and I could do nothing but surrender. Month after month, I reassured myself that after the first year, when the age of a baby is no longer measured in months, these dates would become easier.

Today marks thirteen months since the day our sweet Willow entered the world with her beautiful face and her fighting spirit. We have passed that mythical one year milestone, and yet another 23rd weighs heavy on my soul. Though the air has certainly shifted since we escaped our first year of grief, I realize now that we will forever be left with a trail of dates telling a tale far different than the one we had imagined. This thirteenth month marks one year since Willow’s due date and one year since she came home in an urn. And thus, while we have surpassed many difficult firsts, we know now that the seconds and thirds and fiftieths will bring challenges all their own. This is the nature of grief after child loss. It cannot be conquered or outlived. It may change its shape over time, but as long as there is love, grief so too remains.

Today also marks the first anniversary of another kind. One year ago, I allowed my friends and family the first honest glimpse into the raw reality of child loss. It is remarkable to revisit my writings from this day one year ago and realize how far a year has brought me. I remember clearly the dark place of utter despair from which my words flowed. The future felt eternally bleak, a series of meaningless motions. It seemed impossible that the darkness surrounding us would ever be penetrated, despite the frequency with which joy’s return was promised to us. We’ve stumbled our way through an entire year since then, and from my vantage point in this thirteenth month, I can see with striking clarity that there is, indeed, more beauty to be found. There are still days when the weight of life without her feels unbearable, and every ounce of strength is required to keep breathing. But the distance between these days is growing larger, and more often we find ourselves seeking new places and leaning in to new experiences, always with our dear, sweet Willow in tow. Whether the thirteenth month or the fiftieth year, we will seek her spirit to guide us through this life, and with certainty I know that she will not lead us astray.