Sitting in a local restaurant on a beautiful, sunny Saturday having lunch with my friend, I looked down at my phone to see my brother was texting me. I casually read his message. “Are you coming over today?” I quickly responded I was out with a friend, but I’d probably swing by our parent’s house later.
He responded, “okay,” so I went back to eating my salad, chatting with my friend about how my father, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, was looking so much healthier and happy this past week.
I visited my father nearly every day on my lunch break; though he’d had a bit of a rough time since he’d been diagnosed five months ago, when I saw him the day before I had seen a light in him I hadn’t seen in a little while. Before I left I said, “I’m so happy you feel better, Dad. We have so much to look forward to. Your granddaughter will be here soon so just keep on getting better!” Dad raised his arms in a stretch above his head and smiled, saying, “I certainly hope so”.
It was a great feeling to see my father so improved. Just in time for the upcoming holidays and my due date. Two hours later my friend and I walked out of the movie theater laughing hysterically, my hands gripping my five month pregnant stomach as it tightened with each giggle. As I reached my car I noticed my husband standing nearby. He was ghostly pale.
I walked over with a smile on my face, calling him “stalker” before he took my hands and said something I didn’t quite comprehend. “I’m sorry, what?” There were tears in his eyes as he repeated the words, “Your father is dead.” I shook my head, not comprehending. I looked at him and said, “Whose father?” Suddenly, it all sunk in. “But he was fine. He looked great yesterday. No, no it’s not true. It’s not my dad.” I looked behind me, and saw my friend standing there, beginning to tear up, I realized this was happening. My father, my dad, the one who always called me names like “Pumpkin”, and “Kid” was gone.
As my husband hugged me in the movie theater parking lot I was struck with another miserable realization.
He was never going to meet her.
Only a week before I’d arrived at my parent’s house to celebrate my birthday with a disk containing photos from my 3D ultrasound. My father looked with wonder at the incredible 3 dimensional images of his first grandchild. As he studied her little face he said, “You know, I’m getting really excited that I’m going to be a grandfather!” I remember smiling at him, thinking about how I’d told him that the only grandchildren he’d ever had would be my cats. How could he miss meeting her? The due date was so very close, only four months away. It didn’t seem real. Our family couldn’t take another loss. I couldn’t take another loss. I hugged my stomach tight, vowing I’d never let anything happen to my daughter, my father’s granddaughter.
I put on a brave face, and penned a speech I gave to honor my father at his service. I said I knew my father was watching over his unborn grandchild, even though I didn’t feel him near at all. I saw the look in people’s as they came to give their condolences after viewing my father’s casket. I watched their eyes look down at my small, pregnant stomach before looking at me with pity. I gave each one a small encouraging smile as a way of telling them, “Don’t you worry about me.” I knew what they were thinking. I felt every emotion I saw in their eyes, but I masked it behind a fortress of determination; determination to not let the grief overpower me.
I began to stop by my parents’ empty house on my lunch break when I knew my mother was at work. I’d let myself stand quietly in the doorway to the family room, starring at my father’s empty recliner, trying to imagine him sitting there. I’d look at the photos on the refrigerator of my father smiling on vacation, with his arms around his siblings at my wedding, and it was then I’d let myself cry, only for a moment, releasing all of the pain of loss that I kept buried most of my days. I’d look down at my rounded tummy and say out loud as though he were present, “Don’t worry. She’s fine. She will be here soon;” before exiting through the kitchen door and locking the door behind me.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went with all of us doing our best to be cheerful, and trying not to think too much about the missing person in the family photo. It wasn’t easy. His absence cast a cold, dark shadow over our holidays. My mother put on a smile, and hosted Christmas Eve, but I could see the hurt behind her eyes, and in the weight she’d lost. I felt her pain. There were moments where I’d rather have passed on eating anything at all, and not just because my morning sickness had never subsided. I ached inside. I wanted to hurt, but at all times I was aware of the baby growing inside me. I could never risk hurting her.
Though I’ve never been particularly religious I hoped that somewhere my father was watching, protecting, and making sure she was safe. Her arrival was the new beginning we were all waiting for, our light at the end of our tunnel of sorrow; our life after death.
On a frozen evening in February I went into labor. My mother arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night, and my mother-in-law followed in the early morning hours. Though I was very grateful to have their support it wasn’t the labor I’d pictured. I’d envisioned my mom and dad together, taking turns visiting me as I sat in bed, both excitedly waiting for their granddaughter to arrive along with my mother-in-law. I pictured my husband and father laughing, complaining, and joking in an animated manner, bonding over the experience. Through the haze of my epidural I wished my father to be there more than anything, knowing it was not possible.
When it came time to push, my baby’s heart rate kept dropping, and there was a sudden scare that an emergency C-section would need to take place. I didn’t care about having a C-section. I cared about my daughter’s life, and I was terrified for it. In my head I asked my father over and over to protect her, to make sure she was safe, while I looked at the many concerned faces surrounding me. The words, “Please, help her arrive safely. If you are here, please help her. She is everything,” swirled in my head. Suddenly her heart rate stopped dropping, and in less than ten minutes she was with us.
She was beautiful, healthy, and more perfect than I’d ever dreamed. The hospital doula took a photo of my husband and me with our daughter as soon as I had her in my arms. My mother left the room for a moment, and then returned shortly to hold her grandchild. She told me later she had to leave, because for a split second when the doula was taking the photo of my new family, she saw my father standing with us, smiling. I don’t know if he was there for sure, but I want to believe he was; making sure she had a healthy, happy start in this world. And I want to believe is here protecting, and smiling down on the grandchild he’d looked so forward to meeting in life; her guardian angel from the beginning, and always.
Marisa Svalstedt is a stay-at-home mom living in her hometown of Bethel, Connecticut, with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. She has an MA in English literature from Western Connecticut State University where she worked as an adjunct professor. She’s worked in the corporate world and has also worked as a freelance model for ten years before leaving it behind to raise her daughter. In addition to the adventure of being a mother and homemaker she enjoys writing photography and crocheting.
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