The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind as we have said goodbye to our sweet daughter and worked to catch up on the "normal" lives we left behind when she was born. In general, we are doing as well as one could hope. Mostly, we are at peace, but it does feel like there will always be a hole in our hearts; a piece that we will never get back, at least not in this life. I suspect that the hole will become a part of our new normal without Annie, but, that in time, the pain will subside and it won't always hurt like it does now.
A few nights ago, I was looking through some of my old blog entries and realized that I didn't really finish the story of Annie's life very well. For those that have only followed her life through this blog, the end probably seemed abrupt. In some ways, it was, as we held onto our hope that she would turn a corner and get better until her very last day with us. The last month of Annie's life was filled with suffering for all of us. It was by far, the most painful thing I have ever endured, and I pray that I will never be called to pass through this kind of suffering again. However, there were so many sweet moments along the way and it is not hard to see that Annie's life was a remarkable gift to me and many others. I am deeply grateful for the four months I was given to know Annie and for the sweet that was mixed in with the bitter all along the way.
For those that did not attend Annie's funeral, I just want to share an excerpt from my talk as I feel it completes the story of her journey with us on this earth and gives you some idea of how we are coping with her death.
"Last winter, I read an article written by Elaine S. Dalton in which she related the true story of a young girl named Agnes. Agnes was a pioneer, and at nine years of age, she crossed the plains with the Willie Handcart Company in 1856. Agnes later recounted her own journey as follows:
Although only tender years of age, I can yet close my eyes and see everything in panoramic precision before me – the ceaseless walking, walking, ever to remain in my memory. Many times I would become so tired and, childlike, would hang on the cart, only to be gently pushed away. Then I would throw myself by the side of the road and cry. Then realizing they were all passing me by, I would jump to my feet and make an extra run to catch up.
Just before we crossed the mountains, relief wagons reached us, and it certainly was a relief. The infirm and aged were allowed to ride, all able-bodied continuing to walk. When the wagons started out, a number of us children decided to see how long we could keep up with the wagons, in hopes of being asked to ride. At least that is what my hope was. One by one they all fell out, until I was the last one remaining, so determined was I that I should get a ride. After what seemed the longest run I ever made before or since, the driver…called to me, “Say, sissy would you like a ride?” I answered in my very best manner, “Yes sir.” At this he reached over, taking my hand, clucking to his horses to make me run with legs that seemed to me could run no farther. On we went, for what to me seemed miles. What went through my head at that time was that he was the meanest man that ever lived…Just at what seemed the breaking point, he stopped. Taking a blanket, he wrapped me up and lay me in the bottom of the wagon, warm and comfortable. Here I had time to change my mind, as I surely did, knowing full well by doing this he saved me from freezing when taken into the wagon.
My journey with Annie has been very different from Agnes’ journey across the plains, but it is not hard for me to relate to her story. In the beginning of her journey, even walking was difficult. She described throwing herself by the side of the road and crying, only to get up and keep going. I am sure she wished, at times, that she did not have to make the journey. At the start of my journey with Annie, I too cried and wished that I would not be required to make this journey. I cried about simply being pregnant, and cried even more when we learned about Annie’s heart. Like Agnes, I knew I had no choice but to get up and keep going. I know we both grew stronger as the journey progressed; muscles that had previously been dormant were stretched and exercised daily. Growth was happening every single day. And yet, the trail grew increasingly difficult for both of us. I would guess that she, like I, had days so dark that she wondered if she would ever see the sun again. The journey for each of us became almost unbearable. Agnes described running along the side of the wagon, holding to the driver’s hand, desperate for relief. She said that she felt she could run no farther and yet, he required her to run for what seemed like miles. There were so many days with Annie where I felt sure I could run no farther. Many times, I told my Heavenly Father in prayer that I could not endure even one more day and yet the days stretched on and on. Towards the end I felt my hand continually outstretched, seeking God’s. I knew that He was with me, but I could not always feel Him there. I was desperate for relief and ached for the Comforter to be with me. Agnes questioned the motives of the wagon driver and there were days when I wondered what a loving Heavenly Father was seeking to accomplish by allowing such extreme suffering. Agnes said that in the end, the wagon driver stopped, scooped her up, wrapped her in a blanket and laid her in the bottom of the wagon where she could rest. It was then that she knew that what she thought was cruelty on his part was actually mercy- an act that saved her very life. In the last moments of Annie’s life and after she had passed, I too felt as though I was lifted from my suffering, wrapped in the comfort of the Holy Ghost and carried in the arms of my Savior. At last, I could see that all was well, and in every way: physically, emotionally and spiritually, I finally found rest in Him. I was able to trust that these experiences, even the great suffering that we endured, will be for our eternal good.
I have been blessed to know that Annie accomplished all that she needed to on this earth. I feel deep gratitude to have the honor of being her mother. I know that she will stand as a beacon to our family, guiding us home to her. I count the time I had with her as one of the greatest blessings I will ever receive. She taught me more in her short life than I could have learned in a lifetime otherwise. I learned that a hospital can be sacred in many of the same ways that the temple is sacred; I learned the goodness of humanity- that the world is full of really good people, people that care about the suffering of others and are moved to help lift another’s burden; I learned what it feels like to have the Savior so close that His presence is almost palpable; I learned, as David A. Bednar once said, that 'the tender mercies of the Lord are real and they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence;' I learned that a loving Heavenly Father does not leave us alone in our trials and if we can’t feel Him we just need to hold on- in time, He will lift us from our suffering and we will feel the sun again; I learned a new appreciation for the gift our Savior gave to each of us when He was resurrected and made sure the promise that not only will Annie live again, but with a perfect heart- a beautiful gift that I will never take for granted."
I know that Annie is in a better place. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when I will be with her again. Until then, I hope the hole in my own heart will serve as a constant reminder to me of ALL that she taught me along the way- a reminder of how her life impacted mine for the better. I know that my heart will never forget those bright blue eyes and her even brighter spirit. I will never forget this beautiful angel daughter that graced my life with hers. Never.