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What I've Learned About My Long-Term Relationship With Grief After Losing My Daughter to Cancer

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I have been in a long-term relationship with grief for as long as I can remember. You would think it began after my daughter passed away, but in reality it began long before that horrible moment in life.

I began to grieve the moment my daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with brain cancer at 4 months old. As soon as I heard the words, “Your daughter has cancer,” my life as I knew it changed. The future I had hoped and planned for was shattered, and I knew nothing would ever be the same.

That reality sat heavy on my chest as I tried to sleep in the hospital room on July 16, 2012, just hours after her diagnosis. I slept in short bursts, before suddenly waking in a fit of hysteria and sobs. I kept waiting to wake up from this awful dream, but I never did.

I had so many plans for my life and for my daughter. I could see something so special and mighty in my little princess. Even as a 3-pound, 9-ounce  premature baby I could see her undeniable strength, and I knew without a doubt she would do great things in life.

I never imagined the great things she would do would come after cancer stole her life and her future.

Since the moment cancer entered my life, I have been living daily with grief. At first I tried to ignore it. I slapped a smile on my face and willed myself to be strong. I refused to let cancer steal my joy in life.

Over time I have come to realize that denying my grief didn’t make it any less real. If anything, denial made it worse. My grief became like a dark shadow just waiting to consume me. It took a few years, but I have learned I can only keep my grief from consuming me when I spend time with it.

When I accept that grief and my relationship as part of who I am, I am able to live with it and not allow it to steal my joy.

On the days when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and the loss of my daughter feels so fresh and unbearable, I know it is time to stop and spend time with my grief. I put on my pajamas, make a cup of coffee and dive in. I cry, I journal, I talk about my girl, I pray and I allow myself to feel every feeling that pops up.

Sometimes my grief is mostly about sadness, but there are times when I am just angry I don’t have Olivia with me anymore. I’ve learned that all of those feelings are normal. And when I let myself feel them as they come, I can get through it and come out on the other side with my joy intact.

My relationship with grief will never end. It’s been 3.5 years since I buried my 20-month-old girl and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. But over time I have learned to embrace it.

mother and baby daughter with brain cancer smiling

As they say great grief comes from great love, and my love for Olivia will never cease.

The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in November 2013. Since then we have given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting

This post was originally published on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation blog.

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Thinkstock photo by disqis

Originally published: July 29, 2017
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