Today my darling babies have been gone 13 weeks. This upcoming Monday my sister has been gone for 13 years. The balance of numbers is not lost on my heart. I have not moved past counting. In part, because the progression of time carries such shock with it – the clock continues ticking, whether I watch it or not, whether I can feel it or not, whether it should stand still or not.
In all the time that my sister has been gone, we have not forgotten her. We still think about and talk about her in my family. In 13 weeks, I still mention the babies every single day to anyone who will let me.
A few weekends ago we were spending time at my Dad’s lake house. The sun was shining bright, we had all been in the water, and swigged a beer or two. A friend of his pulled a boat up next to ours and tethered to the side. I was not up for socializing with anyone new. It had only been weeks since the twins had died. My heart still sore and achy, my eyes still three seconds away from leaking, I didn’t want to talk to anyone that didn’t know. So I flipped over on my tummy and let the sun stroke my back.
My dad and youngest sister plopped on the seat across from us and talked to the lady on the adjoining boat. She was a friend of a friend so she did not really know my Dad’s story (or ours). I was laying on the seat in between letting their words fly over me.
In the typical small talk way, the woman said, “so you have just the two daughters,” to my Dad. She was about to tell us about her children, her 4 living children and her 3 grandchildren. She wanted to share about her life and all the living people.
“Actually no,” my Dad said without skipping a beat, “that is my oldest daughter, Tiffany, and she has a sister one year younger that died and is in heaven, Rachael, and this is my youngest daughter, Samantha.”
I lifted my head to look at his face. Perfectly calm and with a smile like any father introducing his children.
“Oh,” the woman said with an all too familiar uncomfortabl-ness that strangers tend to wash with when you tell them someone has died, “I am so sorry.” You could tell she wanted to fall through a hole in the boat. She had no idea what to say next.
“It’s okay,” my Dad, said with ease, “I just never want to say I have 2 daughters when I have 3.” Then he smiled and the conversation moved on.
I lifted my head and stared at him behind my sunglasses. My heart stuck in my throat, both in pride and in hope. Hope because in this whole world my biggest fear is that my children will be forgotten. That only I will ever talk about them. That if I mention them people will sink into a hole or run the other direction or I’ll be the quintessential ‘debbie downer.’
But the truth is, Finnian and Maisie are not erasable. They are imprinted on my heart, and their presence, even though brief, was still very real. And it is okay for me to let other’s know that. My parents, both my Mom and my Dad, never let Rachael be erased. She couldn’t be. And they proudly mention her name with the same bravado that they say Sam’s and mine – with never wavering, irreplaceable, un-erasable love.
IF I have more children, I will follow my Dad’s lead and there were always be a +2 to that number, and I will say “it’s okay, I never want to say we have 2 when we have 4.” (or whatever that may end up being). And even if I don’t, if by some twist of fate these are our only children – We will always have 2. And I will never say we have 0, when we really have 2.
If you are a fellow griever I hope you are encouraged too – talk about your loved one, say their name, mention they lived. We can do so with a smile. We can do so in the way we mention our living loved ones. We can change the dialogue around death – so that it isn’t the end; because it isn’t the end in our hearts. They live as long as we do … we know love lasts at least that long, and probably longer.
This is my husband’s first Father’s Day. Of course, we expected my stomach would still be big and round on this day. We thought we would be excitedly preparing for the twins arrival in a few short months. I had a gift planned out for Dan (I’m still going to give it to him) that he could use with the babies. We will still celebrate him because he is still a father.
He is still a Father. Dad. Daddy.
Before the twins died I was talking to a classmate of mine who was working on a qualitative study about how fathers feel after stillbirth. At the time we never thought anything would happen to our own children. But I listened intently as this Dad/fellow classmate explained to me the way society often bypasses fathers after infant loss. He told me about how he had lost a baby and the message he repeatedly received in her wake was that he needed to be strong and take care of his wife. Rarely did someone ask him how he felt about being a Dad.
I remembered thinking about how I wanted to be really intentional in recognizing how much of a Dad my husband already was through our pregnancy. It was important that he knew that his role started before their birth and that I recognized it. So often, we assume a Mom becomes a Mom when she gets pregnant and a Dad becomes a Dad when the baby arrives.
But, Dan did all kinds of fatherly things for them while I was pregnant. He maxxed out their college fund. He bought a Spanish children’s CD so he could learn with them. He checked on me all the time. He carried a soccer ball around the house prepping for Finnian. He imagined what things he would tell Maisie so she felt adored. He talked about where he wanted to take our family during the summers and what kinds of cars he would get the kids. And not just in an imaginary sense, but in a future budgeting preparation. He made sure every craving of jalapeno poppers, strawberries, lemonade, pasta, or burritos was immediately satisfied as though the order came straight from the kids. He attended every single doctors appointment. I will never forget our first ultrasound. D clutched my hand as we waited to find out if we had one or two healthy babies. Then he said, “That’s the heartbeat!” Before me or the nurse saw it. I will never forget the sound of excitement in his voice. That sound rang through my ears through the whole pregnancy – in all our life together I had never heard quite the sound of that fearfully excited wonder from him.
Dan’s only access to the twins was through me until their birth, until he held them gently in his arms. I will never forget the look on his face in the hospital – the way his lips curled in pride as he looked at them before cratering into tears. I remember the way he gently kissed their heads and told them he would always love them. I remember listening to his whisper and hearing the furious rush of love behind his words.
Still, more people reached out to wish him condolences after the loss of our dog than our twins. Rarely does anyone (except other grieving fathers) ask him about the babies, or his experience with it all, or even how he is. And he doesn’t reach out about it. He’s generally quiet anyways. And men grieve differently. D went right into ‘do’ mode after the twins died. He tore up our deck and put it back together. He made over the yard. He threw himself into work and began producing more. He started making plans for trips. He is training for a run. He is doing.
My own Dad has been grieved for 12 Father’s Days this year. He also went into do mode in his grief for many, many years. He will talk to me about memories of Rachael or what happened or how he wished things were different. And hovering under his words, unsaid, is simply “I miss Rachael.” I know he does. He misses her every single day.
In the hospital, my Dad was the last to leave the day I was admitted. On that first day we didn’t know what would happen. The prediction was that we would likely lose Finnian but that I may stay in the hospital 3 months trying to nurture Maisie. At one point the staff did an ultrasound to see how both the babies were. I could only see my Dad and Dan standing side-by-side looking at the screen. Grandfather and Father side-by-side watching the tech check for heartbeats and movement. Finnian had lost all his fluid but had a strong heart beat. Then they panned to Maisie and she too had a strong heart beat. As the tech focused in on her, Maisie wildly bounced (as she often did) and both Dad and Dan jumped and said, “Did you see that!” Patting each other on the back and excitedly talking about our sweet girl …. This is one of the last visuals I have of being pregnant.
My Dad was also the first to arrive the next day when I went into labor. He showed up at 4:30 in the morning to be a support to Dan and me. A few short hours later he was consoling us. He reluctantly and with absolute despair inducted Dan into the grieving father’s club. He hugged him and kissed my forehead. And then he told us how proud he was of both of us as parents. We are both parents.
If you know a man that had a child or infant die, they are grieving this Father’s Day. Please take a moment when you see that Dad to pat him on the back and tell him their child was so lucky to have them.
“Finnian and Maisie were so lucky to have you.”
“Rachael was so lucky to have you.”
And then wait while he clears his throat … he might talk to you about it, he might bring up a sports team, he might swig his beer, nod is head and move on. But you will have told him in a very simple way that you remember his children, that you recognize he is a Dad still, and that he is a damn good one.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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