The phone was ringing and it was way too early for the phone to be ringing. I knew what the caller ID said without even looking at it. I knew it was the hospital. With my heart in my throat, I answered the call. I tried to listen carefully as the doctor on the other end explained what was happening to my daughter's swollen and oh-so-tired body. I tried to hear her telling me details about blood gasses and IV access and kidney failure and on and on and on. I tried to hear her, but my heart was breaking too loudly to hear much of anything. I hung up and knew that it was over.
Our fight for her life was over.
For four months we had been waiting for and aching for some resolution, and now we would finally have it. Not the answer that we hoped for, but an answer still.
Our little baby was not coming home to us.
She was going home to Him.
We gathered our other children on our bed to share the news with them. We wept as any family would. Yes, we believe in eternal families. But that doesn't mean that we don't mourn the loss of those we love, and we mourned deeply that morning. I can still see it. I can still feel it. The truth is, I am still mourning her. I think we all are.
Cameron and I left for the hospital and arranged for the kids to meet us later that morning. We asked the older children if they wanted to be with us when we said goodbye. They said yes. My sister came to be with the little ones.
When they arrived, we huddled around Annie in that crib that had been a prison and a home to her for so many long months. We cried. We told her how very much we loved her. We told her that we knew it was time for her to go to heaven and that we would be O.K. Somehow, we would be O.K.
We prepared to do what we never thought we could.
Together, we removed every line and monitor from her bruised and broken body. Together, we held her close while she took her final breaths and passed away.
Together, we let her go.
We held her lifeless body. We dressed her in the blessing dress that would instead now be her burial dress. We took handprints, and footprints and pictures.
After some time, the mortician came. I could not bring myself to hand her over to him just yet. So, I asked if I could carry her to his car. I think my request was unusual, but he said yes, so I wrapped her snug in a blanket, like I did all my babies when we left the hospital. Only this was nothing like leaving the hospital with my other babies. I was led through back hallways and "employee only" elevators and through a parking garage that I had not known existed, to his waiting car. He asked me to lay her on the front passenger seat. I was taken aback that this was where he wanted me to place her, but I could not think of what a better alternative might be, so I obliged, and placed her in his car and finally in his care. This man was so kind and patient with a grieving mom that was not making it easy for him to do his job the way he probably usually does his job.
We walked back to her room where we lingered for hours. I think we didn't know how to leave and not come back tomorrow. I think we were afraid to put every earthly piece of her life into a wagon and haul it to our car. What then? Put it in a box on a shelf? What about tomorrow? How were we going to wake up and not call to see how she did through the night? How were we not going to drive to this hospital and walk through these doors in the morning, knowing that she would be here waiting for us? How were we not going to feel her spirit (her spirit that had lived in this room for so long) every day for the rest of our lives? How?
We did not know how.
The next several days were a blur. I was amazed to see that life was still going on for the rest of the world. People were shopping and vacationing and enjoying the last of summer. I was even more amazed to find that our lives were still going on. We were living and breathing and making plans. Yes, we were planning a funeral and a future without our baby.
But, we were living and breathing and planning.
And, here we are three years later. We are getting really good at living and breathing and planning in her absence, but we have not forgotten her and we never will. We will always miss Annie.
Sometimes I don't just mourn her, I mourn the person that I used to be. That person didn't really know about loss. That person didn't really know about suffering. That person didn't know what it is to be so broken and so helpless to fix it.
I'm a different person for sure.
In my broken state, I have learned something that maybe I could never have learned another way. I have learned how much I really need a Savior. I have learned how much I need and want to be saved from being broken. I need Someone who can heal. I need Someone who can carry. I need Someone who can bind a heart and hold a family together across forever.
I need Him.
We all do.