I have not written about the day Aria died. Many people do not even know what happened to her, or how she died. I talk a lot about grief, PTSD, and dealing with the aftermath of death. Most of the time, I don’t share much about the day she died. It’s not because I don’t want to share. I think the details and the events surrounding her death and what happened are so traumatic for me, and they might be hard for others to read.
So you have been warned. I am going to write about it- because this is my story. This is Aria’s story. This is the day I’ve replayed in my head a thousand times, and wondered how it could have gone differently, or wished it would have gone differently.
We were planning on going camping Memorial Day Weekend at my family’s farm, and so I was going to spend the day getting food prepped and everything ready to go. My two boys had gotten up early that day, and so I snuggled with them for a while. Then I got breakfast going and started preparing food. I looked at the time, and it was after 9. I thought, “Wow, it’s late, Aria never sleeps this late” so I went to check on her.
I cracked the door to her room open, and peeked at her. I stared at her and I could not see her breathing. So I walked over to her, and as I went to pick her up, I looked at her feet and they were white. I think I knew something was wrong before I picked her up and flipped her over. She was gone. In that moment, I lost my mind. That’s the only way I can describe it. I feel like every wire in my brain and head snapped and I went crazy. I have had to work hard through therapy and EMDR to deal with those memories. Seeing her over and over again in my head has sometimes caused me to not sleep, and sometimes given me extreme anxiety.
I had to run with her to the kitchen to get my phone so I could call 911. When I was on the phone with them, I couldn’t get my address out to them, and they kept asking me to calm down. It was the most out of body experience I ever had. I was running completely on adrenaline and in fight-or-flight mode. I had no control over what I was doing, and I was not thinking straight at all. It took me a long time to even think to try doing CPR to her. I think I knew deep down that she was gone and there was nothing I could do, so I didn’t even try right away.
I remember sitting there, looking at my dead daughter, and hearing sirens drive past my house again and again. My little boys, staring down at her and they had a little smile on their faces like they thought I was being funny. They had no idea what was going on. My neighbor took the boys into our bedroom, and so when the ambulance got there and started working on her I went in the bedroom with them. The things I remember saying over and over were, “Not my princess, No! She’s dead!”, and “Justin! You need to answer your phone!”. I had tried calling Justin many times, and he was not answering.
Justin finally answered after I called him many times. I think back on the way I told him, it’s the way I told everyone that I called. “Aria is dead, you need to come home”. I’ve often thought of those words. I was not on the receiving end of those calls, but for the ones that got that phone call, that’s their moment of learning the news and it’s terrible.
We had to stay in our bedroom until they were done doing an investigation, and then we had to walk through what had happened. I’m so thankful the people who asked us questions were kind. They were so gentle and kept telling us that this is what they have to do in a case of child death in a home. I had to show them how I put Aria down to bed for the night, and how I found her in the morning. I think often of those police, ambulance, and firemen who came to our house that day. Their job is not an easy job, and I’m so thankful they do it.
We were very blessed to be able to hold Aria again before they took her for an autopsy. It’s up to the medical examiner, and sometimes they don’t let you in child death of unknown cause because you might put some bacteria on them that wasn’t there previously. Holding her with Justin was so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Before they took her away, I saw her bracelet that was on her wrist from the time of her baptism, and I took it off. Eventually I had it made into a necklace for me. We are both so glad we got those moments. It was difficult to watch them zip Aria up in a body bag and take her out of our house. The next time we would see her would be in a casket.
The rest of the day is a complete blur. We went to Justin’s brothers house, and lots of family and friends came there. I know I kept saying what happened over and over again. I needed to get it out of my head. I was so worn out and exhausted, but every time I closed my eyes for a moment, the way I found Aria came right to my mind. I don’t know if the people around me wanted to hear the details, but I needed to get it out.
We went to my brothers house after that to be with more family and friends to sing songs and remember Aria. I can hardly remember that evening, except that I couldn’t eat and I was so exhausted. All the questions: what happened to her? How am I going to continue? How am I supposed to have a baby in 4 weeks? Why our daughter? Why us? How do we even begin to plan a funeral? How do we explain to the boys? So many questions.
I think back on this day and it still brings sadness, anxiety, and the trauma is still there. I have spent so many hours going through this day over and over again in therapy, that it has lessened the severity of it. But this will be something that will stay with me the rest of my life. It has shaped me in ways I don’t like, and in other ways I’m thankful for today.