Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

When my daughter died, I made myself start living

Tre Harrington

There was a time in my life that I was that Type A, helicopter parent who hung on every opinion that other moms spoke in my direction. You know the type — the nervous, backward mommy who has no self-confidence and figures her only role in life is to be a homemaker.

More: How I learned to face my grief and love more openly

I would wake each morning blindly navigating through life, through my marriage, through everything. My husband was having an affair, and I knew it. I was one of those women who decided to stay for my son. I didn’t want him to grow up in a broken home, so I stayed and got pregnant with my daughter. She was planned on my part. I very much wanted another child to fill the ever-widening hole that my marriage was creating. So she became a part of our lives.

We found out early on that she had major issues. She was still in my belly when we were told that her little heart was very sick. I still kept the pregnancy, knowing that she would need surgery when she was born. A few months later, Sabrina came into our lives.

For the first week, she was alive and beautiful. They did the first surgery and she was doing wonderfully. I held her and she nursed. I would sit in the hospital with her day and night, rocking her to sleep and singing her songs I used to sing to my son.

My husband didn’t come to the hospital much; he said he would see her when she came home. I don’t know where he was, but it didn’t matter to me. I was where I needed to be. My son, who was three, would sit there with me, and we never left her side. Then came the day the doctors told us she was coming home.

The day before Sabrina was to come home to us, I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I took my son to the zoo. I wanted us to have one last “mommy and son” day together. Then, I spent the evening putting her crib and nursery together. I hadn’t done so until then because we were so unsure of how things would turn out. I went to sleep that night knowing the next day my girl would be home where she belonged.

The next morning, I went to the hospital to pick her up, but instead of seeing her, I was met by her doctor. They had found another abnormality in her heart. He told me it was an easy fix. The surgery would be the following day and she would be home a week later — a routine operation.

That moment changed everything.

More: How yoga helped me grieve and begin healing after losing a child

Some instinct in me told me it was wrong. I shouldn’t have let them do it, but I did. They were all saying it was the right thing to do. It was done every day; it was so normal and routine. For Sabrina, it wasn’t. She did come out of the surgery, but she was on ECMO, which is life support. Things had gone horribly wrong. She lasted three weeks after the second surgery. We could not get her a heart transplant and I had to let her go. I never held my daughter again after that morning. I never fed her again. Her little brother never saw her again. That day, she left us.

For a while after the funeral, things were hard. I went through the motions each day and would just collapse after my son went to bed. I realized I needed to make a major change. My life was slipping away, day by day, and I was wasting it. I decided to make some adjustments. I wanted to be happy and I knew that I wasn’t. I hadn’t been for a long time.

When you watch someone die, you make a lot of promises. Sometimes the promises are to God, to yourself, to them. When I was there all those hours with Sabrina, I told her about the amazing life I would make her and Dylan. We would be so happy if she got better. I decided to create that life that I had promised her, even though I knew that she wasn’t going to be part of it.

I left my husband. My family didn’t speak to me for a long time because of that decision. I didn’t have a plan. I had no job. I still had my son, and we had nowhere to go.

In the end, I did it on my own. There were many nights I cried, had no answers and was lonely. The oddest part? I was still happier on my own than I was when I was married. I knew it was the right choice.

I got sole custody of my son, and much later, I met my current husband. Ironically, he was my high school prom date, so I ended up coming full circle. He and I are inseparable and happy. We have three children, one being my son from the previous marriage. I now work full time at home, so I still enjoy being a mommy to my kids.

Sabrina left me 13 years ago, and I will never forget her. Each day, I remember her, and the wound is still as fresh as it was when she took those final breaths. She is always going to be my baby girl. Her death taught me that I was taking life far too seriously and I needed to slow down. Without her, I never would have realized what I was missing. Sometimes answers come in the most painful of lessons. We just have to be willing to listen through all the tears.

More: I lost a boob to breast cancer and never replaced it

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

rainbow baby
Image: Cathérine/Moment Open/Getty Images

Leave a Comment