Tree of Bright Stars: Holiday Reflection

The following story was shared by Vanessa Reimer at our Tree of Bright Stars memorial event on November 17, 2017.

This is one of the last photos taken of my daughter before she died in June of 2016. She is the reason why I’m here today.

The journey that brings me here ultimately began in the fall of 2015, when my husband and I discovered that we were expecting our first child, much to our surprise and joy. A few months later, our excitement grew when we learned at my 20 week ultrasound that our baby was a girl. We chose the name “Leah” for its beauty and simplicity, and we named her right then and there.

My pregnancy was a healthy one, so we weren’t overly concerned when, at three days past my due date, I noticed that our daughter wasn’t kicking quite as much as usual. We decided to go to the hospital as a precaution, but quickly found ourselves in the midst of every parent’s worst nightmare. Leah was delivered by emergency c-section within the hour, and we soon learned that sudden and unpreventable complications had made her condition far worse than any of us could have anticipated.

After making the heart-wrenching decision to remove her life supports, we got to spend thirty precious hours with our daughter before she died in my arms. The days and weeks that followed were filled with indescribable pain as I learned to navigate the world as a bereaved mother. While I was grateful to have a supportive network of family and friends to confide in, it often felt like no one could really understand the unique grief that comes with losing a child whose life ended before it ever truly began. I frequently found myself feeling hurt and frustrated by empty platitudes, unsolicited advice, as well as the silence that came from those who were too uncomfortable to reach out to me. Worst of all, as the months crept by, it seemed as though my timeline for grieving was reaching its expiration date, as well-meaning people began to wonder why I wasn’t “getting better” yet.

These feelings were only magnified as December drew nearer. Rather than spend my time preparing for our first holiday season with our daughter, I spent the month bracing myself for the crushing silence that would await us on Christmas morning. Being surrounded by other people’s festive joy made me feel that much more alone, as each holiday event that I attended only reminded me that the world had moved on, untouched by Leah’s absence, and it was expected that I should do the same.

More than anything, my first few months as a bereaved mother taught me that grief can be a very lonely place—but it also doesn’t have to be. In the fall of 2016 my husband and I began attending an infant loss support group that was facilitated by Bereaved Families of Ontario. Once a week, this group provided us with much-needed space to share our grief journeys with other parents who knew our pain and understood our struggles. This peer support provided a lifeline during the darkest period of my life, and it has resulted in the cultivation of invaluable friendships that continue on today.

Indeed, this group provided us with connections that allowed us to not only share our grief, but also our joy. In December of 2016, I discovered that I was pregnant once again. Much to my surprise, I soon learned that several of the other couples from our group were also expecting. Even though our group sessions had formally dispersed, throughout the next nine months we continued to meet and support each other as, one by one, we welcomed our beautiful children into the world. This past August, I took this photo, showing our babies side by side.

Yet, as much joy as these little faces bring to our lives each day, they cannot replace the much-loved babies that left us with aching arms and broken hearts. And so, as the world continues to turn without our deceased children, we continue to actively remember and honour them by speaking their names and sharing our grief together, as a community.

To that end, it is a bittersweet privilege to be here with you today as we remember all of those whom we have loved and lost. Once again, or perhaps for the first time, we stand poised to face the upcoming holiday season without them—but, in the midst of our grief, we do stand together. And this, I believe, makes all the difference in the world.

I will now close with one of my favourite quotes about grief that many of you may already be familiar with:

“We talk about them, not because we’re stuck or because we haven’t moved on. We talk about them because we are theirs, and they are ours, and no passage of time will ever change that.”

With that, I wish you all a gentle holiday season. Thank you.