Three Years Later

This was just four days before we lost this sweet face forever. We never did get to hear that laugh.

A lot has happened since we lost Anna three years ago today. We were still reeling from one failed heart when we had to start working really hard to save another. In many ways, our grief for Anna flowed uninterrupted into saving Ethan — all of it buffeted by raising Henry and Nora.

Only hours after we lost her, I curled up with my lap top in my bed and tried to figure out what it all meant. In those very dark hours, I realized that Anna taught us to love without limitation, cherish each moment and lean on our friends. I still believe those things are true, but it doesn’t mean they are easy to turn into reality. I’m still working on them. But in the three years of grieving and growing since then, I’ve learned some new lessons from that sweet soul, and the others that surround me.

Grief does not go away. It does not get smaller, it does not dissipate. The only way through it is to grow your life around it. We had to make our lives bigger, we had to love more, to make the grief fit. There are times when losing Anna still buckles my knees and sucks my breath away. But there are also times when it makes me stronger. I am better at my job now than I was before, because workplace drama is nothing compared real life. I am more balanced, more patient, and more empathetic. Trauma can break you down or build you up — you choose.

Life is full of hurricanes, and rainbows – and the only difference between the two is how you experience them. Although she didn’t know it at the time, Nora sang Firework at Anna’s concert last month because in December of 2010, when Ethan was still in the NICU, I was driving home in the small hours of the morning after a long, harrowing day not knowing whether or not Ethan would survive. And there was Katy Perry, pop diva, singing that song on PLJ. And it was just right.

If you only knew what the future holds,
After the hurricane, comes a rainbow.
Maybe the reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you down the perfect road.

So I thought, “OK. We had a hurricane and Ethan is our rainbow.” And then I thought, “Maybe Anna was the rainbow and Ethan is the hurricane.” And then I realized: Life is stormy. And it will never stop being that way. I pictured the sky over the Hudson the day Anna died. We had a panoramic view from the ninth floor at Columbia. It was sunny, it was stormy, it was cloudy, it was still – in random order throughout the day. So that’s it. Life is stormy. There will be hurricanes and rainbows and the only thing that makes one different from the other is how we experience them.

Just one more thing. I have so many happy memories from our spring and summer with Anna. No school, no work, abundant sunshine (even in the rainiest June I can remember) and lots of friends. There was something magic about that time. But it wasn’t magic. It was a miracle. This is the last thing, and I know it’s a little clichéd: I learned to believe in miracles. It started with the rainbow that Nora and Henry saw the moment Anna left us … then there was the row of white flowers in which one turned pink in the days after she was gone. There are butterflies and bunnies that show up at just the right time.

But here’s the biggest one: when Anna died, I immediately felt like our family needed one more baby. Not to replace Anna, but to complete the Podoll Super Six. But even in the fog of our grief, we had enough sense not to make any major life decisions. So we decided to wait six months before deciding about baby number four. Then, exactly six months after Anna entered heaven, Ethan was conceived. So Anna’s biggest miracle is Ethan. She was the baby we were meant to have, and Ethan is the baby we were meant to have. And Nora and Henry? We couldn’t have started this party without them.

So here we are three years later. We are living the life we were meant to live – storms and all.

Today, we are celebrating an “I’m a Fan ‘a Anna” day — trying to turn our grief into something joyful, so that Anna’s lasting gift is not grief … but joy. We are posting flyers and papering cars (hmm … I guess this particular celebration is not Earth-friendly) and slipping notes into library books and menus. Check out if you want to download flyers and help with the effort. Or just spread a little love today: give someone a compliment, say something kind, pick up some garbage. Do something to make the world — and yourself — a little better. Do it because of Anna.


  1. Beautiful Jenn, just beautiful.

  2. Oh Jen, you’re so special. All your family members are…
    Life is stormy, I agree. But you and Steve have all it takes to weather those storms. LOVE is the answer, and you have abundant love in your lives. More is being sent your way right now – from us. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE – feel it – from Suzanne and Bill.

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