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Jill Villanueva Palarca

MY dearest Lyanna,

Tomorrow, you turn 2 years old but your party will be up there with angels, as usual. You never got to celebrate your birthday with us. And mommy would just have to wonder what it could’ve been like. It would be a Unicorn-themed party for sure because you were everything a unicorn is – magical and pure. So rare that a sighting of you moves hearts; stirs spirits. Such was your short-lived life. I call it my seven months of heaven here on earth.

September will always be special because it’s both our month. Our birthdays fall on the same week. When the doctor said that it would be optimal to deliver you at 38 weeks which would fall close to my birthday, I took it as the best gift ever. Since it was safer to bring you out via C-Section, I could have requested for us to share birthdays but I thought that would be unfair to you.  After all, our bundle of joy deserves to have her own special date.

I will never forget the day when I found out you were already growing inside me. It was The Battle of Winterfell. Episode 8 of the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. You were named after two Lyannas in the epic saga. Lyanna Stark, the mystery mother of Jon Snow, who  was known as the She-Wolf, in the novel, because of her wild spirit. And Lyanna Mormont, the smallest soldier in the Battle of Winterfell. Lyanna also means “God has answered”. And in Persian, it means “the girl with the beautiful face.”

You were named after these two brave ladies because we knew right from the beginning that you would be facing a battle just like them. And though these characters met their tragic fate, they didn’t go down without putting up a fight. Lyanna Stark left behind a son who will continue the battle. And Lyanna Mormont, slayed the biggest giant.

When the doctor could not find your stomach and other abdominal organs in the right place during the first ultrasound, she drew a face quite familiar to me. It was the same forlorn look that the doctor gave me six years ago when he couldn’t find your older sister Meryl’s heartbeat in my womb. You were not yet born and yet you were already given a death sentence.

But of course, you know this story. And I’m sure you’ve already told everyone up there.

Everybody’s afraid of the Big C but yours were two different Cs – CDH (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia) and CLP (Cleft Lip and Palate). But unlike cancer, CDH does not have a cure. Your left lung did not grow because it was crushed by all the organs that went up your chest through that hole in your diaphragm. When you were born, you could not let out a big cry. A tube had to be inserted to your lungs and another to your stomach – one for breathing and one for feeding.

The NICU was your first home. Your crib was the incubator. The nurses were like your surrogate mommies. And you probably wondered why I couldn’t be with you all the time; why my time with you was always limited. We made the most of our short bonding moments in the hospital. And we definitely cherished every second when we finally had our brief life at home.

It wasn’t easy. Having a special needs child like you challenged our marriage, drained our bank accounts, derailed our careers, beat our bodies, broke our hearts, but the joy of seeing your smile outweighs the pain every single time.

As I read through my journal last night, I could not even imagine how your daddy and I survived all that exhaustion. But the answer is right there in your photos. I looked at them closer and I am reminded that though you had a broken smile, your eyes were always so radiant and inquisitive. You had a misshapen head but God gave you the most luscious locks as a crowning glory. You were severely underweight but God in His wisdom knew that this is how I could carry you with ease. You were thin but your fingers were delicately slender and graceful. You were not able to speak nor utter any sound but your eyes could communicate like an old soul.

I’m sorry, anak, that you had to be born in this time where disease, wars, calamities, pollution, prejudice, hate have overcome the world. I’m sorry that you were born with a defect that made you the most vulnerable in this situation. I’m sorry that there were times that I got tired taking care of you; that my extreme exhaustion and frustration sometimes pushed me to the brink of resenting you. I’m sorry that mommy was too physically drained, mentally ill, and spiritually dry to be singing praises. I’m sorry for all these things but know that despite the darkness inside me, you were the only flicker of light.

Your mommy also died with you that night in the hospital, my dear Lyanna. But you went up to heaven. And I remained here on earth… an empty shell; doing my best to refill my love tank for your baby sister Andy. To love dearly is to grieve deeply. They say, you know you are still alive when you are in pain. Then let my grief be my way of keeping you alive in my heart.

I miss you. I love you. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Love, Mommy


(Virgilind “Jill” Palarca graduated with honors at UP Diliman in 1999 and worked as an associate producer for MTV Asia and a writer for television and events before becoming an educator. She teaches Media and Information Literacy at the ADDU Senior High School. She is also a filmmaker and has won Best Screenplay at the 2014 Mindanao Film Festival.)



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