Moving on is very different from moving forward.
As the leaves swirled around my car, the balmy late November breeze evidenced in the swaying of the almost-bare tree branches lining the street, my drive home included an insightful bit of wisdom from NPR. Speaking on loss and how we humans deal with it, director and writer Kenneth Lonergan repeated the thought-provoking words that he had once read. In reference to the main character in his new movie, Kenneth demonstrated to the radio host how moving on from a loss can be less desirable than moving forward. Moving on implies you have forgotten the incident, the loss, the grief. It implies the loss no longer holds an importance to you that it once did, although it probably still should. It implies that your life will go back to “normal” and all will be just as it was. It implies a triviality. Yet when we suffer loss, none of these things truly happen.
The biggest loss of my life–so far–came nearly six years ago when I was 29. Pregnant with my first child, we were elated to be having a baby, starting a family, and carrying on the American ideal of happiness. We did not realize that sometimes it does not work that way. Sometimes a pregnancy has issues. Sometimes instead of the joy and optimism in one’s future, there is instead a dread, a grief, and a dismay so profound it physically hurts. Sometimes pregnancy ends in a loss so tragic, and so unexpected, that the combination hits one’s heart like an ice pick cracking through a glacier.
After Sophia was born at 20 weeks, she lived for an hour-and-a-half. We clung to our moments together as a family. We treasured her tiny face, her fragile fingers, her shallow breaths, her peacefully closed eyes. The second she was born, our pregnancy ended. But we did not move on from it. We moved forward: with Sophia, in the hospital room, as a family of three.
The days following her death we had heavy decisions to make. Finding ourselves at a funeral home, the choices were insurmountable: cremation or burial, wording for the obituary, which urn would be Sophia’s ultimate resting place. Through fighting tears–and at times relenting to downright sobs–we carried the grief with us. We toted the pain. We embraced the love we held for our daughter. We held each other up through the lowest days of our lives, all the while bringing Sophia with us as we moved forward.
As life continued, work waited for us, household chores waited for us, our ever-loving pug waited for us. Returning to our home, the sadness often drowned out the joy. The blissful memories of when we did not know such profound loss were lost amidst our clouded reality. We carried on through the motions of daily life, but struggled to feel. We fought to find ourselves; we battled to find meaning in our lives. Balancing the grief with the gentle optimism moved us forward.
Sophia’s urn found a spot on our bedroom dresser, snuggly protected in a velvet box. From her doll-sized Moses basket, filled out with two stuffed animals to keep her company, she spends each night close by her Mommy and Daddy. The months following her passing, my sister crafted a memory book filled with the only proof we have of a pregnancy gone wrong. On my right ring finger, a silver banded ring bears the birthstone of all four of our babies: Sophia, two others that did not ultimately make it, and one who became our gleeful rainbow baby Evelyn. Every morning, my husband closes the clasp of his silver chain, securing the dog tags that carry the minuscule footprints of both Sophia and Evelyn. Every night he tenderly places it on the nightstand beside him. Our jewelry often catches the watchful eye of our observant toddler. As she touches the shiny stones and tugs at the links with a force that nearly rips the chain off his neck, we speak to her of her big sister. We tell her how she is loved. We tell her how Sophia would have looked out for her little sister. We tell her how she now has a guardian angel.
Life carried on with or without us. We chose to tag along. We continue to go to work. We continue to make dinners, pack diaper bags, tend to the yard work, shovel the snow, celebrate holidays, go on weekend getaways, and visit family. Through it all, we move forward with our grief. While most days my thoughts of Sophia bring a peaceful love to my heart, there are triggers that still bring out the ugly cries. Poignant words, such as those spoken that day on NPR, hit my soul in ways I could not have dreamed of before Sophia. Carrying her through my life, she enlivens my empathy. Moving forward, we find a way to allow both life and Sophia to coexist. Moving forward, we create a world in which both happiness and heartbreak can occur. Moving forward means we get the best of all our human emotions.
I would not have it any other way.