One of the hardest lessons I learned from Amber is that no matter how much you love someone, you can’t keep them forever in your grasp. This was the lesson I did not want to learn, and it is one I am still learning.
When she was first born, with brain damage, weighing less than my dumbbells, I was terrified of losing her, and terrified that I would do something wrong that would hurt her. When we finally were able to bring her home, after two months, I couldn’t sleep with her in a crib. I was so afraid she’d leave me, learning that crib death is more prevalent in preemies.
So, she slept with me, on top of me. I was a real basket case, believe me. I was so nervous when she wasn’t in my arms. I drove everyone else nuts, who wanted to hold her, because I would hover nervously over them.
Needless to say, it was an unhealthy way to live for us both. Amber got so used to me holding her all of the time that she would scream at therapy. The therapist told me I had to do something and suggested I get a part-time job and put her in day care. I did that. Oh, how difficult that was.
I had created a world that was just the two of us, and it shut a lot of people out, I see that now. Learning to trust Amber to the care of another person was a difficult, but freeing thing. I had to let her ride the bus to school when she was just 3 years old, because kids with disabilities started school early.
I had to let her go when she had her first, of many, hip surgeries. The first time I handed her over to the anesthesiologist, I bawled like a baby. She was 7 years old I think, but was little for her age. She was always little for her age.
When she had to be in the hospital, I would be with her as much as possible. When she was in recovery, I held her, and stayed with her, sleeping in a chair by her bed, trying to help keep her from being too homesick. She would always say, “home” when she was there, not really enjoying being in the hospital.
I have to admit that being that obsessive with my girl was exhausting. She had so many needs. So, when she started school, it was a bit of a relief that I was not fully responsible for her every moment. I could breathe a little.
But, when she came home, with a smiling sweet face, I adored that time too. Seeing her get off the bus was the high point of my days.
As she grew up, I was constantly reminded that she would not be with me forever, quite likely. She lost classmates to death over the years, and that was scary to us both. Yes, we believed in Heaven, and still do. We knew that ultimately, death is not the end. But, that didn’t make it that much easier. Goodbyes are never fun.
I used to have dreams of losing her from time to time, and they haunted me. I would wake up and as soon as I could, run to her side and hold her. The most real dream came just a month before her passing, and I realized that I needed to pour out my love on her as much as I could. I didn’t want to see that she was slipping from my grasp.
Then, it happened. That thing that only happened to other people, not us. She left our world for another, and we had to learn to cope, to let go, to trust that she was somewhere more magnificent, with no pain, no tears, no disabilities.
Since it happened, almost 4 years ago, I have gone from crying every day, to crying just once in awhile. I have gone from a gaping, aching pain to a remembering of good times, an appreciation of what we had. But, it has taken a lot to get here and I still get knocked for a loop by grief from time to time. Great grief is a symptom of great love.
I realized something, as I keep going day to day — our grasp on our loved ones is never set in stone. We never know when it is their time to leave. That’s not to be morbid, but simply to say that I’m glad I was able to try to pour as much love into her as I could during her last days. I’m glad she got to live fully in her 23 years, in spite of the obstacles. And, I’m glad that she isn’t left behind mourning me, because I always wanted to spare her every pain I could. I am mom. I am big enough to take the pain of staying behind. I will carry the burden of separation with honor, knowing my child doesn’t have to. And, in order to heal and live fully, I have to keep letting go of her. Our love for each other goes on and on, and death cannot take that away. Someday, we will see each other again, and the reunion will be awesome. I think that is a big part of what Heaven is – a place where there are no more goodbyes. While I am committed to living here on this Earth and doing what I can to honor Amber’s memory, I do look forward to the day when I can look on her face again and touch her hand and never let go again.