I am part of a club that no parent ever wants to be a part of. I live in a world that few can fathom. I know a searing pain that most can’t even bare to imagine. I know what it’s like to cry until I can’t breathe and I’m certain that all my tears have run dry, only to cry again. I live with a pit in my stomach as each day I am reminded that my loss is permanent, and it cannot be made right again on this side of Heaven. I know what it’s like to pray for hours on end only to wonder if God hears my prayers anyways because I have never prayed harder than I did that night and Adalyn still died.
I know what it feels like the moment that my child’s heart stopped beating but my very broken heart kept beating. Despite the pain, the brokenness, and the begging my heart didn’t stop. I know what it feels like late at night when the world is sleeping but I’m still awake trying desperately to make sense of the senseless. I know the struggles of endless guilt, anger, flashbacks, and trauma. I know what it feels like to stand in a funeral home, filled with things meant to be for saying goodbye to someone who had lived their long life, and make decisions about how I would say my last earthly goodbye to my child. I know, all too well, the lonely feeling that comes over you when you realize that you are the exception to life's rule, I have outlived my child.
I know what it feels like to hug my child’s lifeless body, tuck her in one last time, pray with her one last time, then be asked to close the lid, and walk away. I have lived through picking out flowers to decorate the church for my daughter’s service, picking out the songs that best told who she was, picking a scripture that would convey some message of hope (even though I felt more hopeless in that moment than I had ever felt before or since), picking out my favorite pictures of my daughter for her memorial tribute (while realizing that there would never be anymore pictures of her). I’ve had to shop for the dress I would wear to say my public goodbye to my daughter. I still remember the long walk down the aisle as I followed the ministers towards my daughter’s urn on the alter. I remember it all.
I also remember the desperate feeling of needing someone to really understand my pain. I needed someone to tell me that I could survive this and that I could make Adalyn proud. I was so lost as I joined support groups for miscarriage, stillbirths, and infant loss. I didn’t fit in; my loss was different. Then I joined support groups for child loss, but I didn’t fit in there either. These parents had lost their teenage children or their adult children. Adalyn would never even have a first day of school. Grief caused by the loss of a child was overwhelmingly devastating no matter what age the child was, but the loss was different. Adalyn wasn’t an infant, but she wasn’t a fully grown child either, she was a toddler, and I was alone in my loss.
When I made the decision to start a foundation specific to toddler loss, I faced a ton of criticism. I was accused of singling out toddler loss and trying to make it worse than any other child loss. People struggled with the fact that I only dealt with sudden, unexpected, loss. It hurt my heart that those people couldn’t see that I didn’t think that toddler loss was worse, I simply believed (and still do) that it’s a different kind of loss. It weighed on my heart that there needed to be a place for mothers, experiencing the same kind of loss, to grieve together. When the Acts For Adalyn Foundation became a reality I soon realized that the ones that criticized me did it because they couldn’t understand. Either they had never lost a child, or their loss had been different which made it impossible for them to understand. As I began to interact with each new mama in Acts For Adalyn, I realized that they too had felt so alone in their grief. They too had struggled to find a place where they belonged, and now they had finally found it. They found a place where others in the group knew every emotion, thought, struggle, and final memory of having to say their earthly goodbye to their toddler.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to child loss and life after trauma. If I am being honest, I have no answers to offer at all. I speak from my own experience, and I relate to my fellow grieving mothers on a level that, thankfully, few can even begin to understand. There is strength in numbers. Acts For Adalyn is place where we honor and remember each toddler on their birthday and on their angel day. We send extra love and support to the mama on those days because we know the reality of their pain. We light candles for each other’s children, send balloons to heaven, blow bubbles, light sparklers, eat a favorite dessert, sing a favorite song or whatever it is that the mama asks so that their child is celebrated all around the world on the tough days. We remember them together. We acknowledge all the things that come with being part of a club that no parent ever wants to be part of, and we do it together. We walk the grief journey together, from all around the world.
From the moment I knew I was going to be a mommy; I knew I would die for my child. I wouldn’t even need to think twice about it, I was ready and willing to go in her place at any time. I was not given that choice. I didn’t get asked if it should be Adalyn or me that night. I didn’t get to vote or even get a say in the matter. What I do get to decide is how the world will remember her. I get to make the decision to love Adalyn enough to live for her. I get to make the decision to carry her with me as I live my life to make her proud. It is not an easy decision to make and it’s one that I must make every single day. There are days that I don’t want to make the decision to love Adalyn enough to live for her but then I remember that I am her legacy. I remember that there are more than 100 other mamas walking this journey with me and that they too know all about being in a club no parent wants to be part of. It’s then that I am reminded that there is strength in numbers and it’s then that I find myself grateful for each one of my fellow sisters in grief.
***I am often asked about the toddlers that make up the Acts For Adalyn Foundation and now you have the opportunity to get to know some of them. Today, 11 new toddler stories were added to our website. These stories are the words of each toddler’s mama. You have the unique opportunity to get to know some of our toddlers through their mama’s eyes. Please visit https://www.actsforadalyn.org/stories to "meet" some of Adalyn's friends.***