“You’re so strong.”

“You’re so strong.”

“You’re so strong.”

“How do you do it? How do you keep a good attitude when your child died?”

“How can you even smile, or laugh, or have hope?”

“You’re so brave. I couldn’t handle losing my child.”

I know these word and questions are meant with love. I know they’re meant to build me up. I know you’re just trying to let me know that you’re proud of me. But friends, sometimes these words crush my heart. These words and these questions, they make me pity myself, they make me feel like a helpless victim. They make me feel like everyone is looking at me thinking, “poor girl, she lost her child. I could never live with losing my child. Wait.. how is she living with it?” I am not strong. I am not brave. In all honesty, these words sting. Not because I think they are meant to be hurtful, but because I don’t want to be looked at as this person who is so powerful and strong; this person who is just breezing right through life without any remnants of hurt or pain from the loss of Ava. I wasn’t given a choice in the matter. The only option I was given is to either survive or not survive. The option to allow Ava’s life and death to kill me, or inspire me to be better. I don’t get up out of bed every day, go to work, smile and laugh, or do anything normal because I am strong. I do it because I have to. I do it because lying in bed all day, crying and being completely miserable won’t bring her back. Trust me, if it would, I would do that in a heart beat. I do these things because I refuse, I absolutely refuse to let anyone believe or come to the conclusion that Ava’s life and death destroyed me. I won’t do that to her memory. This sweet, innocent little baby made me a mom. My dream has always been to be a mom, and even though I’m not a mother in the way I wish I were right now, she still gave me that title. I still get to mother her. The world will only learn of who she was and everything she means through me. It’s my job to get up each day, share about her, and make her proud.

I grieve for Ava every moment of every single day. Sometimes I have to force the smile and the small talk because missing her is overwhelming. Sometimes I barely make it out of my office or into the car before the tears start flowing. You won’t always see the pain because in all honesty, sometimes it’s easier to just fake a smile than to explain, once again, that I just miss my daughter. Sometimes the smiles and laughter are genuine, because while I miss her so incredibly much, I know that she would want me to find joy in my life.

I remember quite some time ago, before Ava was ever even a thought in our heads, I had mentioned that God must do miracles in the hearts of people who lose children. Miracles that allow them to keep living and eventually, find joy again. I’ve seen that first hand now. I never thought that you would ever see a smile on my face again after losing a child. I thought that I would wither away into nothing, until death took hold of me too. But by the grace of God, I am surviving. He is the bravery you see. He walks along my side each day and guides me through this messy, crazy, painful life. And when I fall flat on my face, as I often do, He is the strength that picks me back up and convinces me that one day, I will understand all of this. One day, I’ll see my sweet daughter again. But until then, I’ve got a job to do. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a co-worker..  there are people here who need me. And in the end, I know that His plan for Ava, for me, for Ryan, is bigger than I could ever imagine.

So next time you see me with a smile on my face or laughter in my heart, try to remember — it isn’t that I’m not hurting or that pain isn’t just below the surface, it’s that I want the light from Ava’s life to radiate through me. I want you to see that my love for Ava and her memory is being poured out into the world. That she didn’t destroy me, but brought joy and made me a better person.

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