My daughters, Tessa and Sabine, would be five years old today.
I wrote that first sentence several weeks ago and was unable to continue.
It would be an understatement to say that it’s been hard for me to deal with the deaths of my daughters, even now five years later. It’s been the most painful experience I’ve gone through. Rarely do I talk about them with anyone other than my family because I know I’ll get choked up and be unable to speak.
There is one thing, though, I want to share briefly on this anniversary of their deaths: since the loss of our girls, my wife and I have experienced an incredible outpouring of love from others.
When we arrived at the hospital on that evening of September 20, 2011, my wife was thirty-six weeks along in the pregnancy, had been bleeding, and was in labor. The nurse took us into a small room and set up the heart monitor. She struggled to find our daughter’s heartbeats, asking if we’d found a particular spot that was conducive to hearing them. Jessica and I nervously glanced at each other several times and finally realized this was not going to be the ending we had expected.
Later, after the doctor confirmed our worst fears, Jessica was placed in a wheelchair and taken to a delivery room to give birth to our daughters. On the way to the room, a man came up next to me and put his arm around me while we walked. He said simply, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” That man was my son’s pediatrician. He was on duty at the hospital that night.
The girls were delivered quickly, Tessa first, and then Sabine, as if not wanting to be without her sister, followed so quickly that the doctor had to be called back to the room just moments after he left.
We spent the next twenty-four hours weeping and holding our beautiful and perfect, but breathless, daughters.
The nurses gently weighed, measured, and bathed the girls, speaking sweetly to them as they performed these tasks. They made imprints of Tessa and Sabine’s hands and feet, took photos of the girls, and created a lovely photo album for us.
Finally, Tessa and Sabine were placed in a large basket with their arms in an embrace, and I carried them out of the hospital to the hearse that was waiting outside the front entrance, careful to resist eye contact with anyone walking past in order to avoid an awkward congratulations.
A few days later a memorial service was held for our girls.
The small chapel where the funeral was held was filled with family, friends, and kind acquaintances, and somehow, though I don’t remember much, we made it through that day.
For the next several weeks we did not want to get out of bed or see anyone. Fortunately, Logan was nearly eighteen months old and forced us to live a somewhat normal life.
Our family and friends took great care of us in the days immediately after we lost the girls. They arranged for a lawn care service to maintain our lawn for a month or so, they delivered delicious meals to us, taking care to note that I’m a vegetarian. Flowers, many flowers, were sent to our house with letters expressing love and compassion for us.
Some wonderful friends paid tribute to our daughters by purchasing a stone that was placed in the entryway to the main library in our town. Now, whenever we go to the library, we stop by this stone to see the names of our beautiful little girls: Tessa Lucia and Sabine Maria.
Though this is a story of great pain it is also the story of great love.
I returned to work nearly a month after the twins died. That first day a number of colleagues, often men, stopped by my desk, offered me a brief word of sympathy, welcomed me back, gave me a hug, and departed quietly.
One afternoon as I walked down a long hall at work I heard a voice call my name. I wasn’t in the mood to talk and I wanted to just ignore this and get back to the solitude of my desk. But the call came again. I had no choice but turn around.
It was a man I’d worked on a recent project with, a large man—tall and strong, with a generous beard. He was a Pakistani Muslim and was known to do his prayers at the appointed times throughout the day. His wife’s pregnancy had overlapped with Jessica’s and they had happily experienced the birth of their son about a month before we lost Tessa and Sabine.
As I approached M. he opened his arms and embraced me. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated a few times. I stepped back and he said, “I have been praying, asking Allah to bless you with joy and happiness more than a thousand times the pain you are going through right now.”
My eyes filled with tears and I thanked him and went back to my desk.
Looking back it is clear that his prayer was heard. Though the pain never leaves us, and we think about, and miss, Tessa and Sabine daily, our family—now including Savannah (our Peach), born fourteen months after losing the girls—has experienced great joy amid the sadness, and we have been showered with an incredible amount of love from so many people over these five years.
Likely, if you’re reading this, you’re one of those people.
Previously published on STAND Magazine