The only “birthday” we celebrated with my daughter, Quinn, was in our arms on the day of her actual birth. She passed away two days short of 8 months of life.
And, as we approached Quinn’s 5th birthday I thought: What would life be like with Quinn here? Would she be happy? Would she be healthy? How pretty would she look with curly hair and bows as she blew out her candles?
Grief is a part of me. In some ways, my grief has drastically changed. Yet, sometimes it feels brand new. As a family, we made an effort to learn how to deal with grief. That’s all you really can do—figure out how to deal with it, because it’s not going to go away.
Throughout the years, we’ve discovered many things that trigger grief. Like when we reflect on past birthdays and we know now we did too much and didn’t focus on self-care. On Quinn’s 2nd birthday we were honored to host a concert to raise money for a Chapel in Quinn’s honor. It was a beautiful night and how fitting that the musician had chosen Quinn’s second birthday. Surrounded by 750 friends, doing something for a great cause – what could go wrong? It turns out, nothing went wrong that night. The part we did not expect came a few days later; the deep depression that consumed us as we came down off the high. We were physically and emotionally exhausted. We were so busy running an event for 750 people that we never took care of ourselves. We needed the silence that day, we needed to spend it alone with our thoughts and we needed to visit her grave.
This year, we had a plan and what was part of that plan is something important: an out.
We have not used the “out” very many times, but it sure is important to have it planned. This year we spent the day giving back, by serving a meal to families in the hospital. The team we are a part of knew that I may have come in that day and told them we couldn’t do it. Beyond that, my wife and I prepared a sign for each other that says – “I need to get out of here.”
It’s the way we have insulated ourselves from the pain, the escape plan we create to provide those moments of self-care that have become essential to dealing with our grief.
One time we used the out when we visited the hospital. We were invited by a family to visit them and their daughter – who was going through the same thing Quinn had. I wanted to meet them but my wife did not and that was perfectly ok. I met the family and their daughter that day, my wife went for a break in the chapel to pray.
We deal with grief very differently. We know now we need to communicate in advance and that it works for us to split up sometimes. We need different things on this journey. What is uncomfortable or painful for her is therapy for me. This wisdom came through our participation in a parent grief group. We spent several months going once a week to talk about solutions for dealing with grief.
Another important part of the “out” is to make sure others are aware it might happen, that way they can understand and give you the needed space. Grief is real and sometimes the most joy filled days for others are what triggers our grief. It’s hard to share joy over a meaningful birthday (like a child’s 1st) when you are consumed with the pain that your daughter never had one. We know we have hurt the feelings of our loved ones with this one specifically and we feel terrible about it. Deep down, I know they understand.
Birthdays are an especially challenging time in grief. They are days when we celebrate life, which goes against everything we are feeling. This year we said “Happy Birthday Quinn” and honored her legacy by giving back to others and it went well because we had a plan and an out.
Written by Marc Seymour
Marc is a dad to two kids and happily married. He loves to golf and spend time with his wife and family. His daughter, Quinn, was born with Junctional EB – Herlitz and participated in the Bone Marrow Transplant trial at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. She passed away April 7, 2012.