I have been in the chapel at our church countless times since Olivia’s funeral 3.5 years ago. But each time I’m in there all I can see is her casket sitting up on the altar surrounded by flowers. I can still feel the tightness in my chest as I walked out the door behind her casket sobbing into my hands.
I look at other little girls and I see her. I have so many friends with daughters but I don’t interact with them in the same way that I can with their sons. I look through those little girls and see the little girl I am missing. And that hurts like hell.
Everywhere I go, in each moment of each day, I see her. I remember her. Not because I can’t move on, but because she is my baby and even separated between heaven and earth I continue to love her eternally.
So how do you go on in life with this kind of grief? Isn’t it all consuming? Yes it is. However you eventually have to learn to own the grief and not to swallow it down. The first 3 years after I lost Olivia I tried to swallow my grief. I would talk about her and the loss of her, but I pretended I was fine. I didn’t want to cry. Even in private. I would choke those tears down and push the grief back down in my soul and act like losing my daughter wasn’t killing me from the inside out. But it was.
Over the past 8 months more tragedy has occurred in my life. My marriage has ended and I had to grieve the loss of that relationship. Working through that grief forced me to realize (with the help of a wonderful counselor) that I had to stop pretending that everything was okay. I had to own my grief and feel it if it was ever going to become truly manageable.
So now when I feel the grief creep up I no longer shove it back down. I stop. I take the time I need to let the tears flow, pray, journal, rest, spend time with a friend, or just remember her. When I live in that grief for a little while I come out of it stronger, and better then before I went into it. When I own the grief rather than try and push it to the side, the grief no longer owns me.
The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. The foundation has given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research teams at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and $8,500 in gift cards to pediatric oncology patients since then. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.