I recently started a part time retail job as a way to get my feet wet after taking a year and a half off to grieve the loss of my daughter. Going back to work has been hard in so many ways. I realize now how much I miss my former coworkers, and the field I used to work in. Going bwork was also the loss of the plans I had to be a stay at home mom to my daughter. It felt like going back in time and returning to the person I was before she entered our lives. It was also scary because I was afraid of meeting new people and being asked, “Do you have kids?”
It’s not that I don’t want people to ask, and it’s certainly not that I don’t want to talk about Aria. I always, always, always love to talk about my sweet girl. But it’s challenging because people are always so stunned when I say, “I have a daughter, but she passed away in January 2016.” They’re always so shocked and dumbfounded by my response. Sometimes they just end the conversation there. Sometimes they immediately change the subject. Sometimes they say well intentioned but hurtful things as a way to gloss over my loss. Sometimes they surprise me and say the perfect thing, and that makes all the difference.
It’s so frustrating that the topic of my child instantly derails a conversation. Think about a conversation between parents of all living children.
“Do you have kids?”
“Yes, we have two boys.”
“Oh! How old are they?”
And the conversation continues and stays pretty light hearted.
For me, it’s quite different.
“Do you have kids?”
“I have a daughter, but she passed away last year.”
This is when I see shock all over the person’s face and they say, “Oh. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine.”
And the conversation turns into discussions of her illnesses, or thoughts about life after death, or other heavy topics.
You know, sometimes I really loathe that. I love that people are trying to be sympathetic, but I wish we could talk about her without getting so sad. I wish I could talk about her all while keeping a conversation going in a smooth and typical fashion. But I know that unless this is your normal, talking about a child who died isn’t going to come easy. I get that. Nonetheless, it’s still incredibly frustrating.
So on my first day of work, I found myself at the center of a team huddle in front of half of the store’s employees being asked to say a few things about myself. I fumbled through all of it. I joked about not being that interesting. Then I said I was married, and just moved to Texas from Florida. I tried stopping there but I could tell the girl leading the meeting wasn’t satisfied with my very non specific response. So she asked, “Do you have any little ones?” My heart raced, my stomach twisted into forty knots, and I panicked. So I lied. “I have my dog, Lana.”
I instantly felt sick. How could I just pretend Aria never existed? I feel like I’m fighting day in and day out to make sure people remember her and know that she still matters. I’m constantly trying to find ways to talk about her, and show the world who she was. I felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite.
I keep envisioning Aria watching over me from heaven. She’s getting excited to hear her Mama talk about her to a big group of people at work, and then she watches her Mama tell a big fat lie. I worry that she thinks I forgot her, or that I don’t think of her as my daughter anymore. What if she’s saying, “Mom… what about me?” The thought is heart breaking and terrible.
I just didn’t want to make this meeting all about me. I didn’t want to derail it the way I always do in conversations. I didn’t want this to be one of the first and only things a group of strangers knew about me. If it had been a one on one conversation I would have jumped at the chance to talk about her, but I was so afraid of being branded as “the girl whose baby died.” Yet I also feel guilt because my love for Aria should have overcome all of those things, shouldn’t it? I know I was trying my best to be a good employee, but I feel like it cost me my ability to be a good mother.
I just wish society was different, and that my life story wasn’t so taboo. I wish the topic of my child’s brief life wasn’t so jarring. But most of all, I wish I could tell Aria how sorry I am, and that what happened that day does not mean I love her any less. She is still an equal part of this family, and she always will be.
Your life matters, sweet pea.