By: Ashley Loehr
Everyone grieves differently — Woman, Men, Doctors, Nurses, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. Everyone has a different way to grieve. As we complete the second year and second Holiday Season without our daughter Ava here on earth, we reflect on the things we did differently and the same. Since the day that our daughter has died, we have had a healthy baby boy that has entered our family. He will celebrate six months here with us very soon. Our daughter will celebrate her fourth birthday without her sister here. There are so many moments that make me sad. There are so many things we will miss about Ava not being here with us. The daughter we had to say hello and goodbye to all in the same day.
Like every day we wake up, she isn’t here, and we try to honor her and preserve her memory in the best way possible. Some days that includes speaking about her, grieving her, but also some days that means keeping it all too ourselves and not sharing about her. Every day is different. Grief means we loved someone. To love someone so deeply makes you want to honor them. Honoring your dead child is so personal and so sacred — it is unique to us and unique to anyone else that has lost.
This past year brings many memories and first and seconds for us. Ava was born in the spring of 2021. This past year we had her first birthday. That day we anticipated would be very hard, and it was. A month prior to her birthday we all talked as a family and decided that we wanted to honor her by donating to the hospital that we had her at. We thought about small things that helped us along this journey and still continue too. We had planted flowers to honor her birth month. We donated flower seeds for the birth month, we donated books about grief and honoring our time with our child. We had old friends, new friends, colleagues, and family all help us donate a large quantity of books to the hospital. It didn’t bring her back, but we placed a sticker in each book in honor of Ava. That way all the good that we could do or small comfort we could bring would be in her name. I have heard of other families doing this. Other baby loss families I know, donate time, items, medical supplies, etc. to hospitals or places that can help families like us. We all know it doesn’t bring back our child, but we all know the help and good that can come of it.
The past year we included Ava where we could. We bought a white pumpkin during October, so she could have her own pumpkin. We have continued to bring Ava Bear to all the pictures that we take as a family. We hold Ava bear, we keep her in the living room to snuggle her. We have Ava’s stocking hung by the fireplace along with our other children that are here on earth. She has special ornaments hung on the tree. I recently flipped through a book that I made the month after she died. It was a book I made with all the pictures of before, during and after her birth. It was her story in picture form. Those pictures are a huge keepsake to us. It allows me to see her when she was alive, remember her the way we want to remember her. Alive, breathing and surrounded by love. I can see that she was alive. I know that I held her — because somedays it feels like she wasn’t. Somedays it feels like the memories are fading or slipping away. Which is a parent’s worst fear. Memories change over time. We reshape them in our heads. So, when I revisit the book, I can remember that day the way it was.
We have so many things we cherish in our home that remind us of Ava. We have her hospital blanket she was wrapped in with the outfit we chose for her. I bought a duplicate of what she was laid to rest in. We have a wooden box that plays music from her memorial mass. We have cards, donations, ribbons and anything that has to do with our daughter saved. I have notebooks of information prior to delivery I will hold forever. I have a funeral tag still in a bag that I can’t let go of. There are so many things that will just be too hard to let go of. But what I have learned is we don’t have too.
There isn’t a specific way to grieve.
So, what we want to do is right.
It is right for us.
We have pictures hung on the wall. We have a wall of all the names of our family on the wall in scrabble and Ava is there. My husband created our scrabble wall. He made Ava’s three squares. It was a project during our grief that he completed. He got to cut the wood that made the square and then paint the letters for us and hang these on the wall. Her picture is hung on the wall, and you can see it at almost every angle of the house. That way I can look at her every day.
It is so very hard to preserve every scent and feeling and every touch from that day. We hold on to it for dear life. It brings so much sadness but so much joy. Joy that we held and spent time with our second daughter Ava. Joy that I got to meet my daughter alive and not dead, because it was not a guarantee she would make it here alive. She is our second daughter, our middle child, our second girl, a niece, a great niece, a great granddaughter and granddaughter, sister. She has so many names other than as our daughter calls her “our Ava”. This year we haven’t decided what we will do for her birthday. Likely something similar to last year. But I do know whatever we do – we will celebrate her. We will visit her at her grave – make her a cake – sing her happy birthday and remember her.
About Ashley Loehr
Ashley resides in St Louis, Missouri with her husband of six years, and is mom to three human children and a brown lab mix. Their daughter Ava, watches over her 4-year-old sister, her new baby brother and their family in heaven. Ava passed away shortly after her birth on April 17th, 2021, due to a rare skeletal Dysplasia called Thanatophoric Dysplasia.
Everyday is different as Ashley tries to move forward in the seasons of grief, while honoring and keeping her daughter Ava’s memory alive. Every day presents a new challenge of being a mother to two children on earth while longing for my child that is in heaven. Sharing bits and pieces of their story throughout this process has been healing but has also brought comfort to others, as they continue to say Ava’s name.