Every Christmas, my ex and his mom send a fresh wreath with little butterflies on it to our daughter’s grave. It happens every year faithfully since the very first Christmas without her, and their beautiful wreaths are something I always enjoy seeing as “me and mine” make our own treks to dress her spot with a basket befitting an angel.
Their wreaths show up right after Thanksgiving and stay for the entirety of the month, and thereon into January. Gina Marie gets flowers and baskets many times throughout the year, but January 11th was her “one and only day”, as her duties called her elsewhere, and she left just as swiftly as she came, so of course it is never forgotten! After we split for the last time, her dad made his birthday visit apart from mine, and unbeknownst to me, took that year’s wreath home with him. One day when I was picking up Gia, I noticed it in his garage and asked him why it was there. “Umm, I don’t really know. I just took it for some reason. I didn’t want them just throwing it away.” With that, I asked him if I could have it so that I could perhaps use the beautiful red ribbon and the tiny, “feather butterflies” in her upcoming spring basket, which I did, and there began our family tradition of repurposing her Christmas wreath.
But then … THIS year! As par for the course now, after her birthday, her dad brings the old wreaths for me to do my thing. It’s a labor of love that fills my heart with unspeakable joy, because for all she brought to me in a few short hours, taking them apart and piecing them into my own spring baskets just makes me feel so close to her energy. While I was on the phone with her dad this January, this conversation happened …
Hey, guess what I’m doing … I’m taking apart her wreath and getting ready to make the basket.
Oh, good. There’s seventeen, right?
Seventeen? Seventeen WHAT?
Seventeen butterflies. We add one every year, and this year she’d have been seventeen.
My heart hit the floor in the best kind of way. I had no idea that year after year, one by one, as I’d been carefully cutting those delicate butterflies from their wires and setting them on tissue paper until it was time for their final journey, there was yet anotherhidden picture waiting to be revealed in keeping with the sweet mosaic rhythm of my life.
I didn’t want this day to end without acknowledging my little girl’s birthday. Year 14. I did my best to keep my head above the clouds today, but I think the gray and frigid weather at the cemetery late this afternoon threw me for a loop. You know what? Grief sucks! Truly, it does. It’s so unpredictable, and I hate the fact that I just can’t trust it at all. Some say it comes in waves, and nothing could be further from the truth. Days go by, weeks, sometimes even months that I don’t feel that something is just missing from my soul. Yet in that space where her very full life was supposed to be exists a dark, empty void filled with questions, confusion, regrets and “what if’s”. What would she look like today? What would her voice sound like? Would she have had my hair? His eyes? Been short, or tall? Who would she have been and where could she possibly have gone? What if I hadn’t picked up that Godforsaken box of Christmas decorations that I promised him I wouldn’t? And worst of the thoughts never far from the forefront of my mind – was her fate some twisted pay off for the many others of my sins? The questions are infinite and annoying and random and I really just actually hate them!
I waited to post this until it was late tonight because I know that grief can make others feel uncomfortable at times and I didn’t want to make anyone feel sad or sorry for me. Besides, no one seems to really know what to say when it comes to another’s loss which is totally understandable. And I’m so worn out from the last two days of holding back everything I was feeling that I am going to cut this short, which is probably for the best. Every person in the world that I love and care about is more than likely sleeping peacefully right now, except for probably my mom and sister. Mom was literally holding my hand when Gina Marie was born and the both of them were there with me the moment that she left. So they both know how much I struggle on this day every year and are always empathetic and mindful. But alas, these three sobering facts remain:
I CAN’T TRUST IT!
For now I’ll just have to cry it out, which is most often the only thing I can do and hope that tomorrow it will all be over. Sounds like a plan to me!
I wasn’t sure if I was going to share this, because I honestly didn’t want to make anyone sad. After all, no one likes a Debbie downer, and at first glance, this precious treasure of mine may lead some to think, “OMG, how sad”. Let me to explain …
Our daughter had her friends here for a sleepover recently. Giggles and silliness ensued above our bedroom, which we did not mind in the least. Those sounds of silliness are not only music to our ears but even more so a sign that we must be doing something right! We’ve always said that we want our home to be where our daughter and her friends want to be. (Much like those days so very long ago raising my Christian that I fondly recall very similar sounds of boys camped happily at my home. They were “my boys” too, and some still are to this day, but I digress.) When kids cross our threshold they are welcomed, embraced, esteemed, heard, respected, validated, loved and cared for as if they were our own. For us? It’s the highest of honors: “The house full of silly girls”.
But I’ve digressed. That night it was storming terribly. Pouring rain, crashing thunder, cracks of lightening and even some hail. Williamson and I were settled down in our room watching a movie while the girls upstairs were engaged in some pretty serious shenanigans. One hellacious “BAM” of thunder and lightning and our peaceful movie night quickly turned into a slumber party in our room! There we were surrounded by two cats, a trembling dog, then within seconds of hearing eight little feet trampling down the stairway, four 11-year-olds who jumped onto our bed. “Guess what, you’re stuck with us now people, bwa ha ha ha ha!” Of course, this was to be expected and perfectly okay. Soon they were all giggling and wouldn’t shut up, so Williamson hit the pause button and we just let them do their thing!
It was all fun and games, until that is, one of the girls who hadn’t been in our bedroom before noticed a tiny dress I have displayed in a curio along with many other keepsakes and trinkets that were either gifts pending a long-awaited arrival or keepsakes given in remembrance of a brief and bittersweet life . You see, it’s “her shelf” – my daughter Gina Marie, the miniscule human who was given to share her time with me for only a matter of hours. Some day when I’m ready I will share her story in greater expanse, but for now what I can say is this …
Amid the giggles the girl noticing the dress immediately jumped out of the bed and ran to the cabinet. “Miss Cat, what is that little dress for and whose little footprints are those?” Ugh. My heart all but seized as I contemplated what to say so that her innocent young mind could understand. But before I could find the words one of the other girls who had already seen the dress and knew all about our Gina interjected:
That’s an exact copy of the dress Gia’s sister was buried in when she died. It’s a doll dress and it’s so tiny because the baby was only ‘this big’ (as she cupped her hands together). She was born and died before Gia, so even though she was itty bitty, technically she was her big sister. Those are all the gifts Miss Cat was given when she was pregnant with her and then after she died and it’s all very special to her. And those footprints? They were the little baby’s. That’s how itty bitty her real little feet were.
As the girls continued talking amongst themselves my husband quickly grabbed my hand for the quick three squeeze “I love you”. He was certain I was crumbling inside and worried for what may be going on in my mind, but strangely that was not the case. I was intrigued. We listened intently to a heavy conversation between the girls and soon they were sharing stories and memories of not only their own births, but those of their siblings as well. Can I just say that my words alone are not enough to express the amount of love and tenderness in that room on an otherwise dreary night? They were connecting. Bonding. Sharing. Feeling. Listening. Caring. It brought such an intense warmth and peace to my body that my skin was almost tingling.
But that wasn’t the best part of this story. At one point the girl who had noticed the dress and thus sparked the conversation literally burst into sobbing tears. She had connected what happened with my daughter to a sibling her own mother had evidently lost by miscarriage before she was born, which, as you can imagine, troubled her. But then she looked at me and said these unbelievable words:
Miss Cat, I am really, really sorry that happened to you. You must have been so sad. It must have been so hard for you to hold your tiny baby in your arms and watch her go away.
HER little heart was aching for me, I could see it in her eyes. Gia was also becoming emotional and we could all clearly see that she was breaking. One of the girls noticed and gently placed her hand on her back to comfort her, while the other girl was comforting the sobbing one.
Gia, we are so sorry for you too. But your sister is like an angel now and we wouldn’t have you if that horrible thing didn’t happen to your family. Right Miss Cat?
Then Gia spoke these unbelievable words …
Don’t be sad for my mom you guys, she is the strongest and bravest woman I know. She believes that every single thing, person and moment in this life happens for a reason, even when my sister died, but instead of letting it destroy her it made her even stronger. My mother trusts God a lot and my sister’s tiny dress and footprints make her smile, not cry, because they remind her that she was here. Right mom?
And with that, I was stunned and speechless in all the best ways possible, because in that moment I realized that through “the dress” not only is my baby’s tiny little life remembered to have existed, but more than that, it DID mean something significant to someone other than myself. To those girls who have seen it, Gina Marie’s dress is a lesson in faith and “life, no matter how small”, and of course an example of how grownups can survive after loss. And by the way, how blessed am I to know that my daughter has instinctively surrounded herself with friends who are loving, kind, protective, empathetic and able to display true compassion and nurturing for others at such an early stage in life. These are character traits that I believe cannot be taught. They are learned by example (their parents are ALL doing something very right!) Silly they may surely be, ALL OF THEM! Silly, crazy, carefree 11-year old’s with innocent hearts that are kind. I’ve always believed that I am a lucky girl, truly, I have despite the many things that seem to contradict that. But after that night in our bedroom with those girls? I am even luckier all the more! That is all.