They say you never get over bad things that happen to you: you just get better at living with them. When you are in the midst of a real sadness, this statement seems a little hard to swallow.
I know it did to me when I watched them place my little girl's ashes in the grave at her funeral. I remember sitting there feeling empty. That may sound like a cliche, but it's the only way to describe it. I was drowning in emptiness. Surviving the pain seemed impossible, living with it was unthinkable.
Her story is a complicated mix of a rare genetic disorder, numerous medical personnel errors, and a lot of uncertainties. So I won't tell it here. It would fill an article just in itself, and, to be honest, I don't like introducing her with her death. We are not how we die, but how we affect people when we live. So I will sum it up to this; hers was not the surprise ending in movies, it was how the doctors predicted.
When the one-year anniversary of her death approached, I was not handling it well. After she passed away I tried everything to not feel the pain. I traveled to another country and drank until I couldn't walk, I cried until I pulled muscles in my chest, and pushed people away. I hated the world, but more importantly I hated myself. After all, it was my family genetics that had made her sick. Nothing worked, and eventually I was just left with facing my broken soul.
Today, four years later, the pieces are put back together, but very very bruised. I may feel like that today, but the days approaching Annabelle's first death anniversary I was not even close.
When the day finally arrived I was at work. It was a Friday and I had spent the day crying. Luckily I had been alone in the office so I didn't have to answer any coworkers' questions. I desperately needed to escape.
I normally don't believe in running from your problems, but everything reminded me of her. The first time I felt her kick I was sitting at that desk. I panicked because I thought something was wrong. I remember calling my mom saying I think something was wrong with the baby. She asked me to calm down and explain what I was feeling. I told her it was a strong pushing feeling from within, and she laughed at me. I was furious with her because she didn't understand how serious it was. Once she stopped laughing, she explained I was just feeling the baby. I felt embarrassed and excited at the same time.
It was memories like that that kept rushing back to me.
As I sat at my desk I knew I needed to go. I knew I needed to be near someone who I felt safe with, but I didn't want to be with anyone who was there when she died. People mean well, but they have endless questions. Questions you don't know how to answer. Questions that can easily suffocate you.
I knew who I needed to be near; my boyfriend. The problem was he was in Florida, and I was in Ontario, Canada. I needed him not because we were romantically linked, but because I knew he would understand what I needed without my having to explain it. He had lost his mother and stepfather the previous year. He would know how to handle me when I could barely handle myself.
I am not an impulsive person, but what I did next surprises me to this day.
I don't know why, but I looked in my purse and saw my passport. I had had it on me because that morning I needed it for some legal paperwork. As soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to see him. I hopped online and saw there was a 5:30 pm flight. It was 3:30 pm at the time. I wouldn't have time to go home and get anything, and I would have to be back by Monday morning for a work obligation. Could I really fly down for less than 48 hours with him?
The answer was a deep yes. I booked the flight and hurried to the airport. I remember thinking it was crazy, but I didn't care. I had been holding so many feelings in that I knew I was running out of strength to hold them anymore. Even with the tears flowing all day, it was nothing compared to what I knew I was holding back.
On the way to the airport, I receive an automated phone call saying my flight was changed by a few minutes. I was happy because it gave me a tiny bit more time. In my city, you go through American Customs before you get on your flight in Canada. The border patrol gentlemen had a hard time with my story. I later learned to book a flight the same day, with no luggage and coming back two days later, makes you look suspicious. But, he left me through.
This is where things started to go wrong.
As I sat for my flight I was doing my best not to cry in public. I might not have known about the customs suspicious activity, but I knew looking unstable would get you banned from a flight easily. So I held it together with minimal tears.
That was until my flight was delayed, and then delayed again. I knew I had a connecting flight, and I was concerned I was going to miss it. In the end, I did. Not by a couple minutes, but by hours. The airline said it was due to weather.
When we touched down in Newark I knew my flight was long gone. We were so late my connecting flight had already landed at its destination before we arrived. I had no choice but to get in the long line for customer service to rebook my flight. At this point, I'm thinking there will be another flight. I fly a lot and know there is usually another flight within a few hours.
Not this time.
I stepped up to the counter and the CSR took my ticket. She typed things into the computer and said I'm booked on the next flight at 9 am Saturday morning. What?! It was about 10 pm by this point. She explains that due to weather they are not responsible for providing hotel or food vouchers.
I feel the tears burst out of me, I grab my ticket and literally run away from the counter. Not a quick walk, but a run. I am usually someone who can take care of things, but in this situation I was so stressed out that I just didn't know what to do with myself.
I tried to call my boyfriend for help, but my phone couldn't pick up an American cellular service. I had never felt so lost. All I had wanted to do was be with someone who understood me, and I had somehow ended up totally alone in a foreign country. I could feel myself completely coming apart, and it wasn't going to be a tidy breakdown. I roamed the airport until I found some computers I could pay to use. It was a pre-set iPad and only had a few things you could do on it. One of them was Facebook. I prayed he was online.
He wasn't of course. I messaged an old friend to call him and have him come online. I can still feel that desperation four years later. So so alone.
When I finally got to type with him, he explained I need to go back to the counter and be firm about needing a room. I knew he was right, and I had to be strong. The flight had been ridiculously expensive since it was booked at the last moment, so I didn't have the funds on me to pay for a hotel myself.
The problem was I was using any strength I had left in me not to completely give up. I tried to gather myself, and approached the now empty counter. I stood there for a second staring at the two airline employees behind the counter. One lady looked at me and ask if she could help me, and this is where I lost it. When I say I lost control of myself, I don't mean I had a big cry, but I had a full out breakdown. I dropped to the ground and cried every tear I had cried for the last year. I couldn't even form a complete sentence.
The ladies rushed around the counter, and all I could manage to do was hand them my ticket, and barely get the words "Help me," out of my mouth. I didn't know what else to do.
It was the first time I felt defeated. When Annabelle died I felt depressed, hatred, loneliness... but never defeated. I tried my best not to let the depression beat me, but at that moment, kneeling on the floor of the airport, I couldn't do it anymore. Pure, utter helplessness. I just kept repeating, "Please help me." I may have been trying to get help with a flight, but I now know I was asking for a lot more serious help than that.
Then the lady from the airport did something that I didn't expect. In an airport full of people rushing by with little care of what was happening to me, she asked if she could hug me. I tried to say yes with my words, but all I could manage to do when nod. So she wrapped her arms around me and held me. She held me tight and let me cry with my whole body. She didn't know my story at this point. She just knew I was in pain.
People love to talk about how awful people can be to each other, but there are some real good people in this world. On that awful day, I meet two of them.
The other lady asked what was wrong, and it took me a while to be able to answer. Once I got myself together enough to breathe, my words started flowing out of my mouth at a rapid speed. I told them everything. Everything I had held in for a year came rushing out.
At home, I tried not to talk about the sadness because I knew it made people uncomfortable. Even to this day, the topic of Annabelle makes people uncomfortable. It's because they don't know what to say. I understand that. With that being said, these two ladies listened to me. Not because they were being paid to, but because they were good people. They told me they were mothers too, and couldn't imagine something happening to their babies. Then they cried.
Even though we were strangers, from different backgrounds and countries, at that moment we just a bunch of mothers. A shared understanding of what that meant. I felt a little less alone.
If I'm being completely honest, they saved my life that night. I know that phrase is thrown around, but I mean it. I was in such despair that I don't know what I would have done. That thought terrifies me to this day.
They ended up getting me a hotel room, and I made my flight the next day. I was grateful for the room, but I will eternally love them for their hearts. I know it's weird to say you love strangers, but I do. I don't know their names, but I did send a letter to the company. I hope that they got it and understand that they made a difference in my life. Their kindness is not unnoticed and helped me survive one of the hardest days in my life.
As for my Annabelle: When she passed away I thought all our hopes and dreams were crushed. I now know she may not be beside me holding my hand, but she is always with me, growing and adventuring.
Image credit: Flickr/CC