I never expected a typical Sunday to turn my life upside down. But, that’s what happens with grief – it hits you at the most unexpected times, even years later.
My surviving triplet and I were at the grocery store, picking up the necessities as we normally do on our weekly excursion. After checking out, my daughter made a beeline for the horse, a favorite free ride for so many children. As we waited in line, my friendly child struck up a conversation with the family in front of us, asking if the kids were brother and sister.
“Yes,” replied the kind woman. Then came the question I dread the most. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” asked the lady.
As I opened my mouth and began to answer “no,” Peyton’s soft voice trumped mine. Without any hesitation, my daughter answered proudly, “Yes! Parker and Abby.”
How is it possible for a heart to swell with pride, while at the same time ache with so much sadness? My emotions were tossed all over the place as I nodded along with my daughter. Yes, she does have a brother and sister. But, unlike the family in front of us, her brother and sister are in heaven.
There are signs of our triplets throughout our home; pictures of baby Abby and baby Parker next to pictures of our miracle survivor, Peyton. Shadow boxes hang in our daughter’s room, holding footprints and mementos, the few memories of our beautiful children. While our triplets shared a womb, they never had the chance to share life together. Our daughter, Abigail, passed away shortly after birth; brother Parker lived for nearly two months in the NICU, but a series of setbacks proved too difficult for his tiny premature body. Our son passed away after 55 days of life.
Over the years, we’ve wrestled with how to live life with children on both earth and in heaven. It’s a difficult task grieving over the children you’ll never see grow up, while showing strength and joy for the child who survived. And there is no handbook on straddling parenthood when some of your children are no longer living. I often find myself wading through the murky waters of life, wondering how much of my story I should share? If a stranger asks me about my child, it is sometimes easier to omit my children in heaven. I love all three of my triplets, but society is often uncomfortable with the taboo subject of child loss. One mention of Abby and Parker usually brings up a look of sadness and pity, as the stranger tells me they are so sorry for my losses. Many times, my eyes tear up as the stranger awkwardly walks away.
On this typical Sunday, I did what I am used to doing — I made small talk without the mention of my other two children. But on this day, something magical happened. For the first time in my daughter’s 3 ½ years of life, she talked about her brother and sister without my help. Sure, she knows of her siblings and I can tell she has that special triplet connection with Abby and Parker. We talk about how lucky she is to have guardian angels looking after her from heaven, all the while making sure she understands how special she is here on earth. But, I didn’t realize how much she truly understood until that moment at the grocery store.
The sweet lady smiled as Peyton answered her question and then looked to me as she said, “Wonderful! So the other kids must be at home with dad.” I simply nodded and smiled as they walked away. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay silent. I held myself together long enough to reach the car when the tears began forming in the corners of my eyes. I kissed my daughter’s forehead as I buckled her in; her beautiful eyes filled with joy and innocence. The years ahead will get trickier as my daughter grows up and has questions about her siblings and her survival. But in this moment, I felt so much love. Being a parent is the most difficult job you can have, but thanks to the grocery store encounter, I know that I’m doing the best that I can.
A version of this post originally appeared at Perfectly Peyton.