Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Could it really be, that an entire year has passed since you took your first breath and began your life with us? Part of me wonders where the time has gone. And then, another part, feels as though I have been missing you for ages. So many things have happened since we said goodbye: our family has taken a much-needed vacation; we have welcomed fall; frosted Halloween cookies; eaten way too much for Thanksgiving dinner; spent Christmas morning un-wrapping gifts in our new pajamas; celebrated the beginning of another New Year; bundled up for fun in the snow, and snuggled up to stay warm by the fire; and now, your birthday is here, and Spring is upon us at last. All of these...without you. These traditions, seasons, and holidays that have long been a part of our family will never be the same because we will always be missing you, always wondering how it might be different if you were here.
When you were just over 2 months old and fighting for your life, I made a request on your blog. I asked those that loved you and were praying for you to write you a letter. I planned to put these letters in a book so that someday you could experience what we were experiencing every day of your newborn life. I desperately wanted you to know that your life mattered to so many people, that you were deeply loved, and that your heart, even your very broken heart, touched countless hearts. I wanted you to feel even a piece of the immense love that we were surrounded with at that time in your life. I hoped this book would lift your spirit on the sad days and bring you courage on the hard ones that you would surely face. I did not know then what I know now. I did not know that ten months later, we would celebrate your first birthday without you here. I did not know that you would never read those letters and that, in spite of my original intentions, they would instead be a gift to lift my spirit and give me courage to face the sad, hard days without you.
I, of course, wrote a letter to you then, but feel to write a new one now- now that I know that you were not meant to stay with us for more than a few short months; now that I know that your fight for this life would end before we realized our dream of bringing you home and watching you grow.
Annie, the four months I shared with you were an incredible time in my life. Most of your life was a sacred and sweet experience for me. Some of it was extremely painful. To watch a child that you love, suffer like you suffered, has to be one of the most agonizing things a parent can endure. During the last month of your life it became increasingly difficult for me to walk through those hospital doors every day. Most days, before getting out of my car, and in the darkness of the parking garage, I cried, and prayed for courage. I wanted to be near you always, but in those final weeks, your dad and I, for the first time in your life, carried the excruciating weight of making life and death decisions for you on our own shoulders. There was no longer a consensus from the medical team and many had lost hope that you could survive all that you were facing. We had to choose every single day if we would continue the fight for your life or end your suffering and let you go. We prayed mightily to know what should be done and struggled to find the answers that we desperately sought. In the end, you, thankfully, made the decision for us, and we knew we had to let you go.
What a strange thing grief has turned out to be. I always wondered how families dealt with something as tragic as losing a child. And now, I am learning first hand, that while life does indeed go on, even the smallest thing can take you right back to a time and place when your loved one was here. A certain song, a particular street, even a wristband from an amusement park, or something as small as raindrops on a windshield can have me re-living a piece of my life with you in vivid detail. Last month, I was in a public restroom that reminded me of one at the University of Utah hospital. In an instant, I was flooded with the memory of locking myself in that bathroom, placing my back against the wall, and sliding to the floor in quiet, uncontrollable sobs. I had just been told that our hopes of taking you home soon would probably not be realized. Instead, you would likely be having open-heart surgery in the coming days. The doctor that broke this difficult news to me also informed me that he did not know if you would live. Desperate for a moment of privacy, I escaped to the nearest bathroom and found solace in that unlikely place. While this memory had been forgotten and came unexpectedly, other memories are with me every day, and I choose to visit them, usually because I want to feel you close. Almost every morning, I lay in bed for at least a few minutes and think of our time together. There is something special about these quiet, waking moments and my thoughts are almost always with you.
Your dad perfectly describes this part of grieving as “unpacking” the memories. It’s almost as if the memories we have of you sit on a shelf while we keep up with the necessities of life and then, either by surprise, or by choice, we pull the box down off the shelf and “unpack” a memory, remembering every tiny detail of a particular moment in our journey with you. I have found that all the memories, even the good ones, carry a piece of pain with them. It just hurts to live without you here.
Annie, as I said previously, your life touched many lives, mine especially. While I have not relished learning the lessons of suffering, loss and grief, I cherish the lessons I have learned of enduring hope, forged faith, tried patience, willing trust, human kindness, and perfect love.
You are so loved. You are forever ours, and for that I am most grateful. Elder Holland once spoke the following words that have helped us through some of our darkest days:
“Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven. But for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
I do trust. And I do believe. I have every hope of good things to come with you. Until then, you will always be in my heart. I love you.