Late last night I stumbled upon the “memory” of a post I’d made on Facebook around the same time four years prior, December 8th, 2015. It was in reference to an annual visit I’d made to my daughter’s grave to deliver her Christmas flowers, and ironically, take a wild guess what I did yesterday afternoon? I made the annual visit to my daughter’s grave to deliver her Christmas flowers. This was what I’d posted:
“I held an angel in my arms for 4.25 hours, who left my world as swiftly as she entered it, thus bestowing me the privilege of seeing her very first breath and then her very last. When her heart stopped, so did mine, for what seemed like an eternity, and in that moment I just knew all the light from my soul had slipped with hers forever. Quite certainly I was wrong though, because I am still right here, with a shining heart filled with joy and peace that has healed where I never knew it was broken. You see, I am a woman who was blessed in the presence of two “departed” at the moment their mortal shackles were released, not the least of which was my precious daughter’s as my hands gave her right back to Heaven. It took me a minute, plus 20 twisted years, but I’ve since found the words “all is well” to be so much more than endearing. For both of them survive with me in every shadow before and behind as I feel their presences fervently locked in all the deepest chasms of my mind. I never got to hear her voice, yet I recognize it clearly, and his are the chords that fill my heart with memories, joy and laughter. Tthe greatest triumph of my bittersweet Earthly existence was that moment I realized I was speaking of, writing about and taking flowers to their graves without a single shed of tear, reveling in the truth that in their crossing my God had not forsaken me, but had all the while been planting the seeds of my truly blind faith and granting my greatest “freedom”. And while of course I do not delight at the thought of our next inevitable relation, no longer do I fear Him, for He is but an Enigma who in one strange paradox both enlightens AND ceases my need to comprehend. For in all my years both broken and whole I have learned to grieve with hope, and with that, all is truly well. All. Is. Well!”
Meanwhile, here I am, having danced with Death yet again at what seems a lifetime later. Do you know what has changed in my relationship with either God or Death since my husband’s sudden departure? Not a single thing!
As I was driving to the cemetery yesterday, I was concerned as to how I would handle it, especially in that not a year has passed since Zack came into my life that I’ve go there on my own. He stood beside me through everything and never could I have imagined standing at her grave alone. Yet, as I walked towards her resting place, the most beautiful breeze washed over me. I swear to God I felt so at peace! No tears. No trauma. No aching in my heart or knot in my stomach. Just solace. I knelt down, put the flowers in her vase, took the deepest breath I could, and slowly released it back into an atmosphere that I’m certain they were present in – my first born daughter, “my blaze of glory“, and now, THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF MY LIFE!
Their deaths have neither broken, nor stolen from or vanquished me, and everything they were is still every wondrous thing I am! They’ve only “slipped away into the next room” with countless others I’ve lost along the way and they’ll all be waiting for me when I get There. They continue to survive with me in every shadow before and behind with presences forever locked inside what are now the even deeper chasms of my mind and an ensemble of voices perpetually filling my heart with memories, joy and laughter.
As I write this I still marvel at my triumph. Yes I am able to speak of them, write about them and take flowers to their graves without a single shed of tear. And yes I do continue to revel in the truth that in their crossing my God has still not forsaken me, but instead, continues planting and sowing the seeds of my even stronger, truer blind faith. I AM the freest woman I’ve ever known, and while I still do not delight at the thought of our next inevitable relation, never will I fear Him … the Enigma who in one strange paradox continues to enlighten and cease my need to comprehend. It’s been a long fifty years for me living “broken and whole at once”, but I continue to grieve with hope, with my eyes upon The Cross, and all remains truly well.
“The lightning flashed as angels rode fiery chargers through the clouds. That answer scared me into tears and all the grownups laughed out loud. Now the years roll on, tired voices have all gone. Now they ride their thunder through the heavens. There’s a world in every drop of rain.Embracing oceans sweep us home again. Come along with me, come along with me. Seek the truth, you shall not find another lie. They say for every living thing there’s a guide up in the sky that helps you pass from world to world so you never really die. Then with scythe and cloak Death comes waltzing to your side. As the visions pass you ask if there was meaning to your life. As you strain to hear the answer, spirits sing and devils fiddle as he bends to whisper in your hear, he leaves you one more riddle.Oh, the answer lies beyond the pain. All the questions in our minds, we surely ask in vain. Come along with me, come along with me. Seek the truth, and you shall find another life. And now my life is like a storm growing stronger every day. Like the unrelenting wind that comes to blow our lives away. So I live each day like I know it’s my last. If there is no future there must be no past. Now I know the answers never meant a thing and with each instant that I breathe I feel the joy that life can bring. Come along with me, come along with me. Seek the truth, you shall not find another lie. Come along with me, come along with me. Seek the truth, you shall not find another lie.” – Richie Sambora
I didn’t want this day to end without acknowledging my little girl’s “birthday”. Year 14. I tried very hard to keep my head WAY up in 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: GRIEF SUCKS! IT’S UNPREDICTABLE! 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! Good night. ~ Cat
At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to share this because I honestly didn’t want anyone to be saddened by these two pictures or what I had to say. After all, no one likes a Debbie downer and at first glance at these precious treasures of mine may lead some to think, “how sad”. Please allow me to explain …
Two Fridays ago, our daughter had her little besties for a sleepover. Giggles, silliness and the like in full throttle 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 back to the story. That night it was storming terribly. Pouring rains, booms of thunder, cracks of lightening and even some hail. By 9pm Williamson and I were settled down in our room watching a movie while the girls were upstairs engaged in some 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 cinched up as I contemplated exactly what to say for her innocent young mind to 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 EVEN 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?” Ugh.
Then Gia spoke. Again, 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?” Ugh again. “You couldn’t be more right if you tried sister girl.”
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.
“Where’s the Navigator of your destiny? Where is the Dealer of this hand? Who can explain life and its brevity, ’cause there is nothing here that I can understand. You and I have barely met, and I just don’t want to let go of you yet. Noah, hello, good-bye. I’ll see you on the other side. Noah, sweet child of mine. I’ll see you on the other side. And so I hold your tiny hand in mine for the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. Heaven calls for you before it calls for me. When you get there save me a place. A place where I can share your smile and I can hold you for more than just awhile. Noah, I’ll see you on the other side.” – Michael W. Smith
How could I ever have imagined that on this bright, sunny morning I would leave my house blissfully fat and pregnant only to come home two days later once again empty and shattered? At 8am, at a little more than halfway through my pregnancy, I woke up with what I thought were only cramps. I wasn’t too worried though, and in fact had even tried convincing my husband, who wanted to take me to the hospital just to be safe, that I was fine and that I could wait until Monday to see the doctor. We had finally gotten settled into the new house and on this particular Sunday there were NFL playoffs that I didn’t want Him to miss. He was completely exhausted from the move and deserved a day off, and I knew that even a “quick trip” to the emergency room could possibly mean hours and hours of our Sunday which I just didn’t think were necessary.
On the way to the hospital, I thought about calling my parents, but decided I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily. I truly believed that everything was fine, and since it was so early in the morning, I didn’t want to wake anyone up. When we got to the hospital we sat in the lobby and waited for almost an hour, all the while, my pains continued increasing. By then it was 9, and so I decided to go ahead and have Him call my parents since they were probably awake by now, but again, just to keep them in the loop. He never even spoke to my parents, but instead, an aunt who was staying with them at the time. He told her what was happening and asked her to let my parents know, but also tell them that everything was probably fine, not to worry, and we would call them when we got home. Meanwhile, as He was on the phone I had gone to the restroom of the lobby. No sooner did the door shut behind me did I realize that something was drastically wrong. As I began walking towards Him I passed out in the lobby and was soon being rushed into the ER. Meanwhile, my aunt had gone ahead and alerted my parents, and against our instance to the contrary, they had already left their house which was less than 2 miles away from the hospital. Ten minutes later, and not less than 30 seconds before I delivered my daughter, my mother had found her way to my room. There she stood holding my right hand while He was holding my left. Gina Marie, our precious baby girl, was 9 inches long and weighed just over a pound.
The few hours that she lived were the longest of my life and there are no words to describe my anguish. The baby that I had prayed for day after day had been cruelly ripped from my womb and now I held her broken body in my arms. She kept trying to hold on to my finger but her tiny little hand was too small to grasp it. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and helplessly watched her gasping for air and struggling to live and then watched her take her last breath. I struggled for so long to find a single good thing that came from that heartache and trauma, as it is something I will never truly understand, but I can tell you that there in that room, racked with pain, grief and agony and in my very darkest hours, I had never felt so loved! How blessed was I to be surrounded by the people in this world who I loved and cared for the most and who all the while had loved me in all the best ways they knew? My husband, who after all He had gone through to bring that little girl into my life, and who despite my best efforts to push Him away never once until that point in our lifetime together had ever “physically” left my side. My father, who despite his shortcomings did then seem to love me the best that he possibly could, and despite our many battles, I know would have traded his life for my daughter’s in that moment. My sister, my one true and unconditional rock, there at the foot of my bed on her hands and knees sobbing inconsolably for the indescribable pain that I was in, that if she could have, I know she would have taken from me. And, of course, my beautiful, faithful mother who has loved me all the days of my life I have been lucky enough to have stand beside me when each of my children came into this world, and then again when one of them left it. And God? Of course, at the time I couldn’t quite see or feel Him but I know He was there in that room with me – “The Footprints In The Sand”. Every shred of my being knows and that He was weeping as He was holding me in His arms as I was weeping and holding her as she was dying in my arms during this, the most bittersweet moment of my life.