By Kate Morrow
Friends and family often comment on this past year saying, “I don’t know how you did it. You and Cam have been through more in a year than most go through in a lifetime.”
I remember being eight-years-old and going to the beach with my family. Growing up in Savannah, our Sunday tradition was always the beach. My mom would pack a cooler full of treats, sandwiches, sodas, boiled peanuts, and we would spend the day there. Swimming, collecting shells, capturing sand dollars with our toes. If you grew up at the beach, you probably swam in the ocean frequently like I did and experienced the terrifying moment when a wave took you down. Tumbling beneath the ocean, sand in your mouth, saltwater up your nose, and holding your breath, you would hope to make it back to the top. As soon as you did and took a deep breath, another wild wave took you down.
That’s what this past year has felt like as I experience two of the most traumatic experiences of my life back to back.
This past year I was thrown into a micro-preemie twin mommy life, spending 76 days in the NICU and another 200 in medical isolation, being forced to resign from my career, and then losing my father suddenly as soon as I was healing. I moved forward from this past year in a blur. I somehow told myself that if I got to a year, I would be okay. I felt so strongly there was healing at a year. There would be peace at a year. Life would presume normally at a year.
As March 13, the anniversary of my dad’s death approaches, I realize I am so wrong. So, so wrong. The pain catches me nearly every day. I jetted out of a Target at 10:00 p.m. on December 23 and ugly cried in my car after it hit me that I wouldn’t be buying stocking-stuffers for him. I full on lost it at my best friend’s wedding in January and wept as privately as possible as she danced beautifully with her father. Dancing with my father at my wedding was one of the best moments of my life. Songs on the radio, memories— hit me out of the blue. Ironically, I was fine on the major holidays. It’s the little moments I have not prepared myself for that hurt the most and come out of the dark unexpectedly.
Having to experience amazing firsts with my one-year old twins while simultaneously having to experience my sad firsts without him is cruel. It’s indescribable.
But somehow, wildly, I am stronger. Not stronger in a “I don’t get sad anymore kind of way,” but stronger in a “I am wiser beyond my years kind of way.” I feel so different than many of my close friends. I have experiences many of my best friends have never experienced yet, and I hope they never experience, but that is what makes it so tough and such a lonely grief journey.
I’ve experienced what it is like to watch your child suffer and the many scary thoughts that run through your brain while your child is in the NICU. What if I have to say goodbye? What if they make it but are mentally or physically impaired, and I have to come up with the strength to become a parent to a child with disabilities? What if I can’t keep them safe once we leave the NICU?
I’ve also experienced watching an ill parent. I spent so much time letting my dad know he was loved and hugging him extra tight because I knew his health wasn’t the best. Then I lost him when I didn’t expect it at all. I was prepared and unprepared all at the same time. I was the very first and only of my close friends to lose a parent.
I surrounded myself with NICU mommies who got it and my parents’ middle-aged friends who knew what it was like to lose their beloved mother or father.
As I started healing, I started realizing we all have our own journeys: some the same as others, some having lonelier journeys like me.
I am learning to adapt. I am learning not to resent others just because their life has gone differently than mine. I have learned not to be angry or jealous about the hand I was dealt. I have learned others have it rougher. I have learned some have it better.
I am not perfect every day, but I am trying. I am finding strength. I am finding peace. I am finding my inner fight.
It has been a year since my life forever changed, and boy, has it been a year since my life forever changed.
While I am not quite where I thought I would be at a year, I think to myself, “Double whammy. I may not be healed, but I survived.”