In loving memory of Mary

At the age of twenty three the unimaginable happened to me. My precious fifteen month old baby girl Mary, died in my arms and my journey through grief and loss began.  January 30th marks the twenty first anniversary of Mary’s death and this is what I have learned.

Life is a series of  choices. As I sat in Mary’s fathers lap holding her as he held both of us we had to make the most difficult choice of all….to take her off of life support.  At the time it didn’t feel like any choice at all, she was brain dead and there was no hope of her recovery.  It is still too painful to remember or share in detail the last hours of my time with her but this is when I made my first choice and it gave me a lifeline to hold onto as I started on the lonely road of grief. I gave her permission to go…we both did…we held her and sobbed and told her it was okay.  As she took her last breaths and we mumbled promises and made last minute pleas to God for a miracle I instinctively knew that I was at a dangerous crossroads. This loss could truly break me, I literally felt my heart ripping in a million pieces and my brain melting.

just do your best

That’s when I made the most important choice of my life, I chose do my best to find peace, and live a happy life in honor of Mary. I wanted the world to know that Mary was a blessing, I cherished every single second that I had with her…I loved being her mom, I still do. I couldn’t stand the thought of people having pity for me because of “what I went through”. She was a joy, a blessing, a much wanted and loved child that I desperately miss. My last thought before she took her final breath was ” go baby I will tell our  love story, thank you for making me a mom,”

The first year after her death is a blur, I cried so hard that my eyes would swell shut on many occasions. I would watch people and be stunned that life was still moving, when inside of me it had completely stopped. I felt alone and isolated from humanity. I desperately clung to Mary’s father because she was a part of him. He was grieving in his own way and seemed to be moving forward faster than me, I was scared that I would not make it. I questioned my beliefs…when people would say “she’s in a better place” I felt  I wasn’t good enough to be her mother. Another common attempt at comfort that people would say was “there is a reason for everything”. I still don’t know the reason.

As I went through the motions I clung on to one thing, that I promised Mary I would be alright. Sometimes that meant just breathing.  Grieving is a process, and I clung to the steps patiently waited for the process to play itself out and then be ‘normal” again. In my mind that meant that at the one year mark I would have healed and suddenly the pain would be tolerable….so did people who have never been in my shoes.  Silly, me! It was many years before I could even get through Mary’s birthday and other special occasions  without shutting down.

I mistakenly thought “time heals all wounds.” Healing is a gift, something that happens through experiences and that is hard to put a time line on. One year I was in church with my mom for Mothers Day. At the end of services they asked for mothers to stand up to receive a rose. I hesitated to stand because my child wasn’t visible, I felt like a fake. My mom gently took my hand and pulled me up. We accepted our roses and mom taught me that motherhood is a role that stays with you for a lifetime and losing a child does not take away that privilege.

That experience gave me a beautiful new truth….that people die but love never does. It was a turning point, I am still a mom. That simple truth gave me the freedom to talk about Mary without being uncomfortable. It was easy to talk about Mary to those who knew us, our history. But with strangers or new friends it was awkward, I would feel like I had to make them comfortable after they found out I had lost a child, or when coworkers would be talking about parenting concerns I would just be a passive listener.

One day at work two of my friends in the office were having such a discussion about some worry they had with one of their children. I made a comment and they kind of brushed it off because I did not have a child. I went home hurt that night because they both knew I had lost a child but they did not value my input because my child was gone. The next morning my friend Ann came to my desk and apologized. She had gone home the evening before and was sharing with her husband the conversation we had and realized what she had done. Her apology meant so much to me on so many levels. I felt validated as my role as a mother. I was impressed with her ability to recognize her unintentional slight  toward me and be brave enough to admit it. It was another healing moment.

Several years after Mary had died I found the courage to try to have another child. As my baby grew inside of me and I spent many nights thinking of what life would be like with this precious child. I imagined holding it in my arms, going to the park, all the wonderful first times and milestones. I also thought of Mary and how she would fit in our life with this new change. How do you make a child that is no longer with you a part of the family? For me it was to include her from the beginning. I had always kept a few of my favorite pictures in frames around the house. When we looked at photos I would share my memories of Mary. I kept it simple at first and as they grow older I share more details. Sharing Mary with her two younger sisters helped me to share her with others with the same joy. I slowly shifted from being sad and awkward with people who didn’t know her to talking about her matter of factly without feeling pressure to tell the whole story or make others comfortable.

I am the mother of three girls, each of them have given me gifts beyond motherhood. Mary taught me that love is eternal and has no boundaries. Jenna has taught me to love myself in a way I never did before. Christa my youngest taught me that love is unique in each relationship.  I am still working on my choice to live a happy life without Mary. It still hurts, it always will. But when I am hurting I know it’s ok. I am doing the best I can and Mary knows that.


  1. Bravemom3, I am so sorry for your loss. I found your story so sad, but beautiful at the same time, because of your commitment to honor your promise to her. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. As a mother of 3 wonderful amazing beautiful daughters, one who is in heaven, I feel every word you wrote. Although it has been 14 years now, since my oldest, my precious Andrea was taken from us on this earth (she was killed by a drunk driver) I too was not sure I would “make it” for many years. And I too thought that “the only way out is through” and all those other crazy lies we are taught. I thought that if I faced and felt my grief, that one day I would wake up *okay*. Today I am *okay* but not who I once was, and oh how I miss who I once was. I still shut down a lot. I still go “through the motions” way too much. But I am here and I would not be anywhere else. My daughter in heaven is with me always and no longer needs me. My daughters and precious grandchildren on this earth do and I will continue to live this life as best I can for the rest of my days……and someday, I will hold her in my arms forever.

  3. Nicole says:

    That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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