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Born in September of 1997, at 7 lbs and 5 oz, Crystal was a black-haired, blue-eyed perfection! She had sweet little cheeks, and at just a few days old, was already focusing on things around her, showing an interest in the world around her. She was also strong, both in her grip and in the ability to hold her head steady for a few seconds at a time. She learned to walk before she was 10 months old, and she was able to recite the alphabet, basic colors, shapes, and count to 20 by the time she was a year and a half old. At the age of two, she could tell you what was in a picture, no matter what you pointed at. She did have trouble with certain letter combination pronunciation, but honestly, what two year old didn't? To say that Crystal was the apple of my eye, my life, my whole world... that would be an understatement. She was my EVERYTHING! And in one selfish moment, one moment of cruelty, jealousy and for all I know, hatred, she was taken away from me. Her light was snuffed out, her life ripped away from her. She was declared legally braindead nine days before her third birthday. That was the day the old me, the happy and trusting me, died.
I always tell new parents, and even preexisting parents with new babies, to cherish them—and my experience with the loss of Crystal is why. I had already lived a life filled with trauma. I thought I knew what emotional pain was. I had no idea! I thought I knew what betrayal was... boy was I clueless!
I began dating someone when Crystal was almost a year old. I seriously should have run the other way! That relationship was the worst one of my life!! I fell in love with a chameleon! He was a manipulative, controlling, selfish man, and I couldn't see it through the love. He was also jealous. Not of me or any other man, he had managed to alienate me from all of my friends. He was jealous of my relationship with my daughter, and that was the worst thing I was blind to. I didn't know it, but he had been abusing her, right under my nose. When the state stepped in and removed her from my care, I fought with everything I had in me to get her back. I also believed him when he told me that he was not hurting her. I realize now how stupid I had been. When they say hindsight is 20/20, it really is, and I am a living example of that! I managed to get Crystal back from the state, by doing everything they wanted me to do. My world was complete again, though it wouldn't last longer than two and a half months before it was shredded to pieces.
One night, Crystal refused to go to sleep. I had done everything I could think of to get her to go to sleep. I rocked her, sang to her, and gave her a warm bath. I took her for a walk, let her watch television, tried a completely dark room. Nothing worked! By 7 AM the next day, she finally passed out. By then, I had a gut feeling I needed to stay awake and watch over her. My body had other ideas. I crashed, and crashed hard! I couldn't hear anything. It was like I had died, without actually dying. Around one in the afternoon I was ripped out of sleep by the scariest words any mother could hear, "Wake up, something is wrong with Crystal!"
The next two days were spent at the hospital, with my baby on life support in the NICU. Nine days before her third birthday, I was told the most horrific news any mother can receive. There was no brain activity. My baby was legally brain dead. The earth fell away. My heart shattered into a million pieces. And anger flooded in, both at the man I had been dating, and at myself. It hit me in that instant that he was responsible for her death. He called the hospital from the police department and confirmed it. He admitted that he had shaken her. The coroners report cited her death as blunt force trauma to the head due to shaken baby syndrome. Now, I'm not stupid. I know what blunt force trauma means. He had banged her head against something as he was shaking her. Before she was removed from life support, the hospital approached me about organ donation. After talking it over with my grandma (I needed advice), I decided to go ahead with the donation. The death of my daughter saved two lives, but even that knowledge didn't lessen the pain of her loss.
My whole life, I had believed I could never feel that kind of pain. The loss of my sweet angel left me feeling like my soul had been torn in two. My heart was in a million pieces. I couldn't breath. I couldn't think. Every day was filled with unbelievable agony. I didn't want to go on. I didn't want to live in a world where so much horror could exist. How could someone look at that sweet face and not feel filled with love? How could someone look at that angelic face and decide that the world no longer needed to see it? How could her life have been snuffed out like she didn't matter?
No one can ever understand that kind of grief, not unless you have been through it yourself. The loss of a child, no matter what the age, whether they lived or not, is a pain no parent should ever have to suffer. And you do suffer. It takes years and years before you learn how to breathe again, before you feel like you can smile again. You suffer from survivors guilt, question your own life and constantly ask, "Why not me?" You want the universe to take you instead of your child. You go through the five stages of grief, and then some, over and over again.
Eventually, you reach a point where you begin to focus on the positive memories more, and the negative memories less. The guilt lessens, and the pain eases just a little with each passing day, week, month, year. It has been 18 years since my angel was ripped away from me, and I still feel the grief, just not as acutely as I used to. Instead of it incapacitating me, it leaves me with a dull ache. I choose to focus on her smile, the way she talked and walked, the way her little arms would wrap around my neck and squeeze to give me a hug. The way she smelled, always so clean and fresh. I focus on those things and I find myself smiling, just a little, and I know that everything will be alright. I know that the world keeps turning, that it is ok for me to continue to live, that I am able to heal. The grief doesn't have to overtake you. You don't have to drown in it.
The loss of a child is a grief I would never wish on my worst enemy. It is a pain no parent should ever have to suffer through. If you have suffered from this pain, know that you are not alone. This is the face of my angel. I will never stop missing her or loving her, but I know she is still with me, in my memories and always in my heart. Hold onto your memories, all of them, as they are a part of you. I hope you choose to focus on the positive, happy memories, and allow them to help you through your grief! Take care and allow yourself to grieve, but don't wallow in it!
My love to you all!!