When I was twelve, my sister found out that her newborn infant, Ailish, had a congenital heart defect and would need to have surgery right away or else she would not survive.
My family was scared, I was scared. My sister’s firstborn, who was just about to turn three, didn’t understand much of it yet. We picked her up from the hospital and as my mom strapped her into the car seat next to me I watched her sleepy little eyes droop and her slow breathing as the long drive home lulled her to sleep. All I could think was how precious she was, how lucky we were to have her there, healthy and alive. I thought, in that moment, that I would never take anyone’s life for granted again.
But I guess in a way, I did start to take life for granted.
This weekend I had planned to drive home to visit my parents.
When I arrived, I had planned to see my sister and her kids. I planned to take pictures with Ailish, and her little brother. I planned to give them lots of hugs and try to make them laugh.
I didn’t plan to anxiously wait for a phone call from my sister at the hospital, wondering if Ailish would come out of her coma.
I didn’t plan to see my sister’s firstborn, now a teenager, with her eyes welled up with tears after having witnessed her little sister’s seizure, and after watching helplessly as my sister and father attempted to resuscitate her.
I had planned to pack up some of my winter clothes to take back to school with me, I had planned to check my mail and open the wonderful things I ordered from Etsy, maybe showcasing them on my Instagram and this blog.
I didn’t plan to do all of these things while holding back the urge to collapse into tears, all delight I could have felt for any online purchase, no matter how lovely, now completely dissipated.
When I got back, I had planned to go to a Halloween party, drink some hard cider with friends and have a good time.
I did not plan to, instead, lay curled up in bed, knowing I had just lost my little niece forever. Knowing my sister had just lost the baby that for eleven years she had been fighting for.
In just a little under 24 hours, all of this happened.
It was just one day, and now our lives are emptier, lonelier. They still have to go on, somehow, but it hurts.
It hurts knowing I didn’t get that last picture with her, that I will never see her again. It hurts knowing that eventually I will start to forget what her voice sounded like.
I forgot that her life was not guaranteed to us. We were so tremendously blessed to have had her in our lives as long as we did, she could have easily been lost to us much sooner.
And I don’t believe in heaven, necessarily, but I like to think that Ailish is at rest now. Maybe she will live on in other ways, ways we can hardly fathom, or maybe she is truly gone forever — but either way, she is resting now. The battle is over.
Thank you for letting us fight with you, little one.