My daughter sleeps with me.
On the rare nights that she doesn’t, early the following morning, she clambers under the covers with me. She sticks her cold feet on my cold feet.
Sometimes we talk, sometimes we watch a scary movie, but mostly we lie there, happy to shut out the world for a while. Cold feet pressed together, holding hands, and relishing that little bit of time when it’s just a mother and her daughter and no one else.
The last time we did this, we were in a tiny cabin overlooking a picture perfect lake. It was a beautiful morning filled with sunshine when she lay down next to me, sliding her cool feet under the comforter. She lay there sharing stories about her friends; I lay there sipping my coffee and listening.
I love her in the quiet of just her and I.
We snuggled in closer to get warmer and I pulled out my phone to snap a photo of the two of us. I took two photos of us that early spring morn. In the first, we share identical smirks, in the second, a smile is creeping across my face but she’s laughing. Her head is thrown back into the pillows, her mouth wide with laughter.
I love that photo. I love that memory. I love her.
My daughter’s name is Megan. She’s 16 years old. She’s an artist with artsy friends. We make chicken BLT pizzas together. She loves animals. She is also very funny, with a lightning-quick mind, and a flair for sarcasm. Megan is my younger child and one of the most wonderful, beautiful creatures I have ever had the honor of knowing, admiring, and loving.
I am Megan’s Mummer and she is my Princess Smiling Face.
Megan is also dead.
That precious human being lost her battle with depression on May 29, 2016. My baby died by suicide.
Let me tell you now, I am no stranger to the loss of loved ones and the grief that comes with it. But this—the awfulness of losing your child—is like no other pain I have ever known. The heartbreak and utter despair is suffocating.
You start to lose your mind when your daughter dies.
On May 29, 2016, I received the worst phone call of my life from my son and ex-husband. By the time I got to their house, Megan was being prepared to be transported to the hospital.
Zach, my son, and I later stood in a private waiting area of the hospital with our family. An older doctor who was overseeing things sporadically came and updated us for the next two hours with reports about her that were a mix of both hopeful and hopeless.
As soon as my ex-husband arrived, the three of us were ushered back to her room. We did not know it was to say goodbye.
I stood in the corner of the emergency room watching a young nurse pounding on her chest. I could feel the thunderous explosions in my mind. When the doctor put his arm around me and told me there was nothing more they could do…all I could hear was a frizzle of static.
When I heard the words, “Time of death, 10:02,” it was only then that the static and explosions were drowned out by a mother’s wails—my wails—for her baby.
Standing in the now quiet and empty room, her father and I looked at our sleeping girl. We touched her, hugged her, kissed her, loved her. We washed her pretty face.
And we begged.
We begged her to breathe one more time. We begged the universe to give her back.
It was to no avail. Megan had left us far too soon.
While still stunned and reeling from the unrealness of Megan walking on, the real insanity began.
I got into the car with my ex-husband to cry together as we drove to meet the funeral director, our new unwanted best friend for the next six days.
I’ve always considered myself fairly adept when it comes to putting pen to paper, but that confidence blew away in the wind while I sat on the too-soft couch in the funeral home telling the director that, no, one of the pre-written obituaries would never do. I’d write it myself.
My mind was continually blown by the nightmare of it all. As I sat on the couch, still in shock, I was asked to answer a tangle of awful and absurd questions.
“How many death certificates will you need?”
“Do you want to serve meatballs and roast beef?”
“Did you bring her clothes?”
“What was her favorite color?”
“Which urn do you like the best?”
Disbelief. Why was I being asked these questions? Why was I here? Who was this man asking about my daughter?
Then it hit me: Megan died. This wouldn’t be the first time that the loss of her punched me in the stomach, but I didn’t know that then.
In the week we spent preparing ourselves to say our final goodbyes to Megan, I wrote her eulogy. It took me days to decide how to approach it. Any parent worth their salt can stand at a podium and talk about their child for hours, and I am that sort of mom. I could have done that, but I didn’t need to.
Megan was such a light in the lives of all that knew her, that those in attendance would need no reminding of who she was.
So I thanked everyone who had known and loved her. It’s what Megan would have wanted and that’s what I could share with those who knew her:
“Our girl is gone, but her short 16 years were filled with love, laughter, and adventure…Megan lived! She lived a wonderful life because of you. She was such an important and special young lady because of you!”
I thanked her big brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, family friends, and her friends. I reminded them to live their lives in a way that would honor her memory. Lives filled with love, beauty, happiness, and kindness. Just like Megan.
On May 29, 2016, I learned that platitudes are perfectly useless.
I’ve had a number of well-intentioned people tell me that Megan is in a “better place.” Better than what exactly? Better than here, with her mother, father, and brother? Better than here, alive, and sharing her sweet self with the world?
I have learned over this endless summer without her, that Megan’s untimely and sudden death is terrifying to outsiders…as it should be. I have also learned that my role is not only that of a mother drowning in grief, but also a counselor to frightened parents. The ones with children who are her age.
These parents offer me no platitudes, and I love them for that. These are the people who will go home and talk to their kids, hug them a little tighter, and pay closer attention to the kids around them.
These people sustain me.
These people know they don’t want their baby to be in a “better place.”
The platitude people are also the people who say things like, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I am totally unsure why the platitude people think that saying something like this would be a comfort to a grieving family.
All I can say to these people is that Megan suffered from a mental illness that, despite our family’s best efforts and her doctor’s best efforts, we could not save her from. When depression creeps into one’s psyche, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to cognitively and logically think about the pain and emotions that one is experiencing. Suicide to the suicidal is a way to take that anguish away.
My daughter did not follow through with her suicide because of us, her family and friends, Megan died by suicide to escape the pain in her own mind. A pain that she found inescapable. A plethora of pain and emotion that became too much for her to bear.
Every day, I wake up and the first thing I remind myself to do is breathe.
I don’t think I remembered to breathe for nearly a month after she died.
But breathing is healing.
In the face of excruciating heartbreak, I will breathe and heal. Every day.
I’ve had to take stock of my own behaviors since her death. It’s easy to be perpetually sucked in by the black hole of grief when you fall into destructive patterns. Megan does not want her mom wrapped in a blanket crying on the couch for endless days. Megan loved the times that we laughed, told stories, and were surrounded by friends. I’m trying to do that.
“She held her grief behind her eyes like an ocean and when she leaned forward into the day it spilled onto the floor and she wiped at it quickly with her foot and pretended no one had seen” ~ Brian Andreas
The days still come when the shock of her absence is too much to bear. The days when no breathing or healing will happen. When all there is…is me aching for my girl.
My life changed on May 29, 2016. My life with my wonderful daughter ended. The days of feeling her arms wrapped around me and hearing her voice say, “I love you, Mummer,” are gone and I weep. Adventuring with Megan and my older child, Zach, will no longer happen, and I scream. Those mornings, snuggled under the quilts, cold feet pressed against cold feet, giggling and whispering to each other, are now just a memory in the last photo of us together.
That dark day and the days that have followed have also changed me. I have learned that I am far stronger than I ever thought I was. I have learned that having part of your heart die does not mean that you are no longer capable of loving. I have also discovered that my baby is always with me—on my most broken days is when I feel her near.
On those days, I am so grateful for everyone else in my life. When those sad days come, so do my family, friends, Megan’s friends, Facebook friends I’ve never met face to face…they ride in like a cavalry. My own army of wonderful souls to remind me to stay afloat. They tell me how special she was, they share memories of her, send me love to try to fill that empty space, and they remind me that it is okay to cry and scream for her.
They have become part of my world, just as Megan is part of my world.
They remind me that I am strong.
They remind me that in all of this pain and ugliness, there is still beauty in this world.
Author: Missy Ojibway
Image: Author’s Own; Natalia Drepina/Deviantart
Editor: Catherine Monkman