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Dear Parent of the Blue-Eyed, Dirty-Blonde, Curly-Haired Girl Who Reminds Me of My Late Daughter


I wrote this early this year while in my regular coffee shop, as a little girl was running around giggling in a pink tutu.

I apologize for my staring. I apologize for my crying. I sometimes forget. Well, no, I never forget. You see, I lost my daughter in the most unimaginable way possible. Her father’s mind broke into a million pieces, and he shot her, then himself. I found them. I thought, maybe I can save her. The images I have vary from when she is alive, to when I found them, to when I was holding her cleaned up body at the funeral home. Now all I have is some of her hair and her ashes. And memories.

Let me tell you about this child of mine. We were having a home birth. She took a week to come out. My water broke on a Sunday. I went in and out of labor during the week, doing everything imaginable to get this little being out. I should have known she would be stubborn after! Thursday evening, my water broke again (yes, you can apparently have two). On Saturday morning, we went for an ultrasound to make sure everything was OK.  By that evening, with the threat of having to go to the hospital the next day, I started labor. For the longest time, I did not believe it to be true. Finally, our midwife said, “Maybe it’s time to go into the tub?” It was then I realized I would meet her soon.

She was born on June 21, 2009, at 1 a.m. She made the cusp from Gemini to Cancer, was born on the solstice, and to top it off, Father’s Day. And her father was proud, never a man so much so. It was love at first sight. Maribella Rose Maitri Willard. Maitri is Sanskrit and means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, friendship, good will, kindness, and active interest in others. And she was, dear parent, she was.

She has a sister, who adored her. At the memorial, I said I was the luckiest mom — my kids got along about 75 percent of the time, which for kids four years apart was pretty good. Soon after her birth, postpartum depression hit me hard. I did not get help until six months later. I lost those months. But after, I did everything to make up that time, and I did.

Bells had a special relationship with everyone she ever came in contact with. You’d have no choice. There was a glow, a vibrancy not of this world. She engaged you, she was smart as a whip, stubborn, loving, funny, and loved to laugh. She had this twinkle in her eye, and like her father, was so expressive with her little eyebrows. You had no doubt about how she felt about anything.

little girl with dirty blonde curly hair

You see, I lost my sunshine, my light. She truly was the sun breaking through the clouds, the smell after it has not rained in a while, lightness on a dark day, fun when you are bored, inspiring, a love bug, inquisitive, tenacious, my sweet firecracker.

Seeing your daughter caused me to pause. I have this time stopped image of mine, stopped at 4 years, 10 months, 17 days old. I often wonder, what would she be like today?  How many teeth would she have lost? Would she still be playing soccer? Would she have learned to ride her bike and read by five like she wanted to? How long would her hair be? Would she have loved school as much as we all thought she would? Would she be taller than her sister?

I watch your daughter, and all these thoughts go through my mind at once. All these images. All these emotions. I want to talk to her, touch her, see what she is like, imagine for a moment I have this window. Then the pain hits. It’s a painful reminder of what I have lost, that I will never hold mine again, the things she never got to do, the things we never got to experience with her. An innocent life, too young, with too much potential, cut short. Horrifically.

So please don’t be harsh, please accept my apologies. I cannot help staring and crying.  My heart is broken, only trying to weave these pieces coarsely together again, trying to show up to this thing called life, painful reminders constantly in motion. There are many quotes of this sort, but you truly do not know what another has experienced. And in my case, you can’t even imagine. I don’t want you to. But next time you see a parent staring, a far off look, one of longing, one of sadness, maybe eyes brimming with tears, send a good thought, a prayer their way. You never do know their journey.

Follow this journey on Life’s New Normal.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255