Ten years ago this summer, my daughter Lahna died due to complications from Trisomy 18. This article describes the immediate grief aftermath of her death. Mississippi Man and I grew stronger as individuals and as a couple, but it hasn’t been easy.
The day after Lahna died, I woke up with a few seconds of peace. When I remembered Lahna was gone, I sobbed. After I pulled myself together, we left home to visit the funeral home. I sat in the passenger seat with anger in my heart for every single car that drove past us. How did they look so normal? Didn’t everyone know that my daughter had died? My world felt over, but no one flinched.
THE FUNERAL HOME
John M. Ireland, the owner of a local funeral home, had come to get Lahna after she passed away. If you are in the Oklahoma City area I cannot recommend his funeral home enough. I desperately wanted to see my daughter again. Not holding my baby or being able to see her for 12 hours was agonizing. I felt that if I could see her one more time, it would bring me peace. Staff told me that although they could let me see her, she would no longer look like the daughter that I loved so much. They also warned me that seeing her in that state might cause more harm than good. Mississippi Man agreed, and I did not see her.
We went into a room there to look at tiny baby coffins. It was overwhelming. I don’t remember crying in that room, but I do remember an inability to think. My heart was racing and I felt completely broken. Why did they have coffins for tiny babies? Mississippi Man and I decided to have Lahna cremated, and bought a beautiful tiny urn online.
LETTERS TO LAHNA
When Lahna was still in the NICU, I had kept a journal in a Tinker Bell notebook. I wrote it in order to show her as a teenager everything she had overcome. Instead, now I had this horrible chronicle of false hope and devastation.
In the same journal I wrote Lahna letters that will never reach her. I have never shared these notes before today. I wrote several times in the weeks and months after she passed. They slowed to about one letter a year over the next decade.
A grief counselor from the hospice group came to our home with clay. We were to each make a sculpture while talking about Lahna at the kitchen table. I was so angry at the entire situation, but especially angry that I couldn’t save her. During her struggles I had never given up hope that she would prove all the experts wrong. They didn’t know MY daughter. She was stronger.
I was angry that I had pressured Mississippi Man to get me pregnant. I had baby fever but he was concerned we weren’t ready. My husband’s heart broke, and I had destroyed him by insisting on this baby. How could I have known this would be the outcome though? Babies aren’t supposed to die.
BACK TO WORK
I went back to work in the immunization clinic one week after Lahna had died. I was under a fair amount of pressure to return to work. The military trains to help soldiers overcome trauma. They help the soldier (or Airman in my case) return to normal daily routines to help them move on. So my commander and first sergeant were eager to get me “back into the swing of things”. In hindsight this was a horrible idea.
I was under incredible stress as we prepared for flu season and then an inspection. Grief was compartmentalized, meaning I shoved the pain into a box while at work. I occasionally locked myself into a bathroom and bawled. When Lahna should have been 3 months old, I knew. When she would have turned 6 months, or a year old, I knew. I never had to do the math, her “age” was ingrained into me. Seeing babies that would have been the same age as my daughter tore scabs off my healing heart.
My interpersonal relationships at work suffered. I had no patience at all. To throw myself into my work and ignore my pain, I became driven. I vaccinated 90% of the base with the flu vaccine within a week, but had been short with people and demanding. I had no compassion. I had been a leader, but had turned into a cold manager.
I wanted to kill myself to be with Lahna. I felt that I was on earth to be a mother, but why should I be here without my baby? Work was a disaster. I fell asleep crying and holding Lahna’s blanket and urn every night. In the mornings I had 1-2 seconds of consciousness before breaking again. This had lasted for months. The rest of the world had moved on but I couldn’t. It was agony.
Mississippi Man and I grieved differently. He cried the night she passed away, but I have never seen him cry again. I felt that I was to blame for her death. I did everything “by the book” during the pregnancy, but must have fucked something up. I had killed my daughter and broke my husband’s heart.
Luckily my husband took me to the mental health clinic and I spoke to a counselor. He had me sign a contract that I would not kill myself. I told Mississippi Man that I would never make him go through the pain of losing me like we had Lahna.
Grief is…well it’s a motherfucker. I didn’t want to be happy ever again. Then about 2 years after her death, I actually wanted happiness. I wanted to let go of the grief and sadness. I didn’t want to feel guilty for smiling and laughing. The problem was that I couldn’t let go of that sadness. A cloud had captured my heart.
Grief began to loosen its grip on me. I felt like I was progressing, but I would somehow go “backwards” several steps. The constant crying resumed. I ate an incredible amount of food to help push those painful emotions down. Grief isn’t linear, there’s no one direction to recover from grief.
This summer marks 10 years since Lahna left us. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been so long since I’ve been able to hold her in my arms or kiss her sweet face. I think about my firstborn every day. Lahna will forever be my baby. I hope and pray there is a heaven and that she’s there with loved ones. Here on earth, although I still struggle with depression, I am very happy. I have a very good life and I am so lucky to have my husband and kids.
My kids know her name, and they know very well that they have a sister in heaven. Somehow both of my kids feel a very deep connection to Lahna and miss her. Mississippi Man and I have a strong marriage. If we were able to survive losing her, we are able to survive anything together.
I want to help people, so that Lahna’s legacy will be one of helping others. She changed people who met her, and she continues to do that when I share her story. I’ll respond to all messages about Lahna. I urge you to share this story with others you think might appreciate reading it.
If you missed part one of this series, you can find it here: Lahna and Trisomy 18: When My Baby Died