The other night, I found myself crumpled over the sink. The weight of what I’d just seen and how much I’ve missed it weighed on me - literally causing me to fold over myself, balancing my head on the faucet. The water poured out of the faucet drowning the tears coursing down my face.
There have been times since the accident and Rylie’s death where I’ve found myself physically affected by the loss, but I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve let that happen. I’m sure there would have been a lot more times like that, but I put up fences. I like to compartmentalize and everything has its place. I’m learning, through counseling, soul searching, etc. that really FEELING an emotion is not my normal MO. I’m also learning that when I let it happen, it can be painful. It can be breathtaking. It can be bittersweet. But it is always powerful.
That being said, I wasn’t prepared to go there when I stumbled upon some videos of Rylie.
A while back friends of ours, who also lost their daughter, shared video of her. It was beautiful and bittersweet. It brought tears to my eyes to watch this beautiful soul, so vibrant and alive. It made me realize how similar our girls were.
Then, I was struck by the realization that I really didn’t have any video of Rylie (other than when she was maybe two and we were first time parents with a camcorder). Who knows if we could even figure out how to watch that!!! It struck me that I didn’t have any old voicemails from Rylie. I couldn’t even call and listen to her voicemail greeting. We didn’t have her phone to scroll through and see silly things she’d recorded, because it was lost in the accident. At some point, I looked through some things on my phone, Facebook, and her iPad, but there wasn’t much.
Then the other night, I somehow happened upon a few videos that were downloaded to Google Photos. They weren’t much, a birthday serenade and a silly fashion show with her and Tanner. In both clips, Rylie wasn’t the main attraction, but her laughter was clear. Her joy was present. Her voice so real.
I watched. I indulged. I rewatched (maybe more than once)- laughing a little and crying a little.
After that little indulgence, I snapped back to reality and got about the business of getting ready for bed.
Most times, when I begin to reminisce, wonder about what could be different, or just ‘feel’, I batten down the hatches and hide out behind all my to dos. I don’t allow myself to sit in it. I don’t allow myself to think about it. I don’t allow myself to feel the vulnerability of it. I just distract myself with a to do list.
This time wasn’t like that. I don’t think I was trying to avoid feeling, or reminiscing, I just turned the videos off, like I would any quick clip that I’d indulged in, and got back to what I’d been doing.
At least that’s what I thought I’d been doing…
So as I set about to wash my face, I was shocked by the intense feelings that washed over me, through me, around me. I resisted the urge to bury them down below the surface - in all honesty, they were probably too intense to have been buried anyway. Instead, I tried to open myself to the intensity.
It was then that I crumpled. I think it was my natural response to protect my heart that was hurting. It was clenching - I was clenching. My body was responding to the sounds - to the nuances that were only Rylie.
It was remembering the way her voice would lilt on certain words. I was remembering.
It was feeling the love that came through every missed note of Happy Birthday. I was feeling.
It was longing for that joy and laughter. I was longing.
The few times that I’ve let my emotions be felt so deeply that they manifest in bodily sensations, it’s been about feelings of anxiousness, frustration, even anger. Other than the day that Rylie died, I don’t think I’ve really let myself experience moments of longing like that.
I was sad and lost. It was uncomfortable. My body was telling me that it hurt so much that it wanted to crumple into a fetal position and protect itself. But it was also freeing. It was acknowledgement of a truth so real, but one that I often ignore.
The truth is never again, will I hear her missed notes. See her act silly with her brother. See him look at her with adoration. Never again, will I hear that laughter so rich with a tinkle of joy.
I laid my head on the faucet and let the permanence of the situation wash over me. I felt the longing and the loss roll over me in waves. Then I dried my tears and climbed in bed. I climbed into Ziggy’s arms and just lay there. I felt another crumpling. I curled into the fetal position and realized that I’ve become used to not having her here. It’s not that I don’t miss her Every. Single. Day., but it’s become my normal.
That sucks. There’s really no other way to put it. I am thankful that I don’t have to crumple every single day. That I’ve figured out ways to cope, to be constructive with my grief, but it sucks that Rylie’s absence has become the norm.
So I lay there - Ziggy held me - and I let that reality wash over me too. The need to fold into myself gradually lessened and I leaned into my support system some more. I let him carry some of the weight.
Days later, I’ve come to acknowledge yet another freeing fact. I can acknowledge those truths. I can even let that despair that comes with those truths wash over me. I can feel - really feel all that comes with those truths - and I will be okay. Maybe not the same, but okay.
I realized those hurts were slowly replaced by joy. The waves became waves of gratitude. I may never experience those things again, but I was lucky enough to experience them before. I was lucky enough to find two videos that captured her spirit. I can listen and watch them any time I want.
I will hold on to that gratitude. I will allow myself moments to really FEEL, to allow myself to crumple onto the sink or into the arms of someone I love because that emotion needs to be honored. But eventually, I will let those waves of hurt calm and become waves of joyful reminisce.
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.