my dream of a 14 year old girl

abby-laughing.jpgSometimes, I imagine who you would be if you were still here, if you hadn’t died when you were two, if you’d been with us these past 12 years. You’d be here to blow out your 14 birthday candles and open presents. You were number three of five, with two siblings on each side. Would you get lost in the middle somehow because you’re so sweet, quiet, and contemplative?

You would paint beside Jackson and build villages of Minecraft with him . You’d fight with Mary and dance with her and love her and paint her nails and do her hair, and let her do yours. You’d get mad at her because she’s so messy and I imagine you’d be neat. You’d roll your eyes at Caleb because he does silly things, but you’d do silly things beside him. Caleb’s friends would think you’re pretty, but Caleb would chase them away and say to each one, “Dude, that’s my sister. Stay away from her.”  You would sip coffee with Alex and contemplate the world’s problems and talk politics and history.

Sometimes I remember the day of the accident. It’s rare that I do, and the dark images invade my thoughts when my head is on my pillow and I’m nearly asleep.

the sound of a small thud
a life-stealing noise
your blood flowed unhindered
your heart slowed until it could push no more
i was there when you met Jesus
when your breaths no longer came
you were dead with us
you became alive elsewhere

I bought purple tulips for your birthday. When I put them in the vase, they stood straight and stiff; it was hard to arrange them, but today they droop gracefully.

In daylight, occasionally  I imagine you’re still here, that we never had to bury you and walk away, that there isn’t a grave bearing your name. If you were here, your hair would be the color of the sun and glow beneath the moonlight. You’d love Jesus.

but you’re not here
so i take a deep breath and go forward
and do the stuff i need to do.
and somewhere across the veil
that separates heaven and earth,
you move and breathe and live
and love and sing and dance and worship.
the wind carries your hair far away.
i feel the whisper of a touch on my cheek
and i smile,
knowing you’re living elsewhere

after loss: why my daughter’s birthday is the hardest day

I’ve been mulling this post over since summer, waiting to write it on the occasion of my daughter Abby’s 13th birthday.

This post is my answer to the question that has been voiced more than once:

It’s been 10 years; when are you going to get over it?

The 10 years is in reference to the 10th anniversary of my daughter’s death which occurred last March.

To put it simply, I will never get over it. I will never forget my daughter. Not her birth. Not her death. Not her life. Her birthday is the hardest for me, even harder than her death day, her heaven day, the day that she stopped dancing with me and started dancing with the angels. For those of you new to my story, she died suddenly. No warning. An accident.

Abby grew in me. Thrived in me. Moved in me: just like her siblings Alex, Caleb, Mary, and Jackson lived in me.

On the eve of all my children’s birthdays each year, I remember these things and I bake a cake. Judging from facebook and talk at baby showers, I am not the only woman who does this. It seems that every woman whether the baby is still in her arms or in high school or her baby is a 50 year old neurosurgeon, the mother remembers how hard the labor was, or how short, or how horrendous, or how he came out butt first, or how the labor went on for 48 hours or how it was so fast,they barely made it to the hospital or the midwife almost didn’t make it in time to the house. Oh happiest of days is the day that a new baby is born into a family! Every single year, we women, remember those moments of labor and birth on our children’s birthdays.

Abby dying doesn’t erase the memories of her pregnancy, labor and birth, and 2 short years.

Just because Abby is dead, doesn’t mean that my mind stops going to my last hours of pregnancy, when I labored to bring her into the world so I could finally hold her in my arms.

I do this with all my kids. But with my other children, there is joyous celebration, and an anticipation that comes with a present or two, and a special birthday lunch followed by a birthday box or envelope from Grandma and Grandpa VC. Alex, Caleb, Mary and Jackson are right there in front of me and can smile at their cake and blow out their candles as I take photos. I can think about how small they once were, and revel in how much they’ve grown. My 8 pound babies are now tall, one is over 6 feet tall.

But with Abb12742685_10153930579642801_6103281711424171089_ny? She is not in front of me laughing at her cake and presents. There is nothing. Only 2 years of memories. Only flowers to take to a cemetery. And sometimes it just gets to me. The absence of her overwhelms me and I weep. I cry hard. I need a hug and a little understanding.  Is that bad? Is that wrong? To borrow a friend’s line, I just want to be extended the “grace to grieve.”

Remember my first sentence? My daughter Abby’s 13 birthday? Oh. My. Word. 13 years old she would be.  13 years old she is in heaven at the feet of Jesus.

Happy birthday baby girl. I know that I’ll see you again someday.

These are the flowers your sister picked out for you 🙂



dropping petals in march

i walk upon this barren land; it’s cold
the season that has no color
the ground and trees are dark and gray and brown

scattered around me are the stones
etched with names and dates and poems
symbols, the markers of death, of no more life

buried here are the children
who never lived outside the womb
who were born and breathed, but died
and some like mine who lived longer, but not so long at all

this place beckons me every march
nine years ago death came and grabbed her
and took her breath away
it took my breath too, but left me living

buried far away from here and not too long ago
are the bones of her grandmother
she would walk this place with me
with love and tears, but she never will again

and now this march i grieve
for both my mother and my daughter
but I know that they’re together

i bring flowers to this grave
that are dead and nine years old
white roses dried and kept
the same ones that had been draped on a little casket

they’ve been sitting on my dresser
dropping petals into their vase
gathering dust, lots of dust
i’ve held onto them,  cherishing them

but I scatter them now, releasing the dust
these petals, the color of earth
some will blow away
some will cling to ground or stone

the crumpled petals unleash the tears
i try to let go of this burden
will I be lighter?

soon this landscape will come alive with spring,
the colors will chase the brown away
daffodils and forsythia and tulips
cherry trees will drip with pink blossoms

i’ll come back to see the spring
and smell the sweetness
and drive these tears away
and think of those i’ll  see again

i didn’t get to say goodbye to my mom

Not too long ago, my dad and I sat in the tiny hospital room facing my mother. Behind me, the discharge plans were written on the dry-erase board; we were waiting for a room at a local rehab center. My mom was being treated for pneumonia and she had been hospitalized for eight days. She was looking forward to going to a step-down facility so she could get moving and go home soon.  

Two doctors had visited earlier in the day, and both had said she was breathing better. One of them said he’d be back in the morning and they’d draw labs again–there were a couple numbers that didn’t look that great.

The physical therapist came after lunch. It was time for some leg lifts. With great exertion, my mom lifted her legs one at a time. I sat across from her, lifting my own to match her rhythm and counted the lifts. It was time to stand up from the chair and lie down on the bed so she could extend her legs; she had been sitting for so long.

That was it. She stood with the aid of a walker. She turned and backed up a couple steps. She sat on the bed. She went stiff and collapsed.

As the therapist guided her body so she’d stay on the bed, I went to the other side and leaned over my mother to press the call button. If I had looked at her face just then, I would have known she was gone and maybe the next 20 minutes would have been different.

But I didn’t look at her face. I just reacted. I ran into the hall; I knew this was a situation beyond the physical therapist, and we needed help.  (She thanked me later, by the way, for my quick response.) Soon, there was a  crash cart in the hallway and medical personnel filled my mom’s half of the small curtained-off room. They were working on her. I was not with my dad when the doctor asked him if he wanted them to continue the resuscitation. I was coming and going, in and out of the waiting room. Pacing. Breathing. Praying. Inhaling essential oil. Calling my husband.

I asked if I could see her. A nurse let me in. I looked at my mother’s face, her open eyes, and saw emptiness. Death.  I had stared death in the face before and this was it: life and soul and breath are no longer. Only a body is left, the person is gone.

I shouted, “Give Abby a kiss for me.” And then I left the room.  Yes, I shouted. Not that she could hear me if I shouted. But the room was so loud, loud with beeping machines and men giving orders. So I shouted.

I didn’t believe it. I went in the hallway and told my dad that on my drive the day before to visit them, I had imagined her dying peacefully, but this wasn’t how I had imagined it. This wasn’t peaceful. His response was that it was peaceful for her; it just wasn’t peaceful for us. I realized he was right and expressed my agreement.

Also, I didn’t believe she was gone yet because I thought I’d get to say goodbye. No one had told us she was going to die.  The doctor said he’d see her tomorrow. I just thought that sometime in the years to come, we would know her time would be short, and all the family would be there, singing and reading psalms and then we’d all say goodbye and have sweet words and then with a great Hallelujah, she’d enter heaven. Others have recounted stories like this. Why would ours be any different?

I didn’t get to say goodbye. No one did.

When my dad told me that the doctor had called it, that she was gone, peace flooded me. Might seem weird. But I knew her earthly struggles were over and she had been released from the pains of this earth. This peace continued for a couple weeks until I went back home and crashed. I stayed in bed for a few days and read Pride and Prejudice, only getting up to fix meals for my family and to start another load of laundry.

I thought of all the things that my mom was going to miss–the important events in my children’s lives: Alex’s graduation followed by that of his 3 siblings. Mary dancing the lead in a ballet someday. Soccer games. Debates. Weddings. Births of  her great-grandchildren. Holidays.

But most of all, she is going to miss our every days.

And I thought of my dad. alone. He didn’t get to say goodbye either.

I miss you mom. I know I’d miss you even if I did get to say goodbye…

happy birthday, beautiful

A lot of my friends have been asking me how I’m doing…I haven’t been writing except little snippets on facebook. Blogging is virtually non-existent and has been replaced with one liners.

I’m good. Most of the time, I’m great. I really am. God has blessed me and given me peace and joy. I am living my life and enjoying it. Tonight I’m thinking back eight years ago waking up in labor with a certain baby girl.

I want to go kiss that baby girl right now.

But she’s getting all her kisses in heaven from her great grandparents right now. And from the angels.  And from all the other little girls who have slipped from their parents’ arms into Jesus’ arms.

About a month ago on facebook, a friend asked for inexpensive ideas for her daughter’s 8th birthday party. We had been pregnant together. A few minutes later, another friend posted pictures of her daughter’s 8th birthday cake.  Another blonde girl. BAM BAM. I hadn’t really had any moments of grief for a long time.  Tears. But that’s not all. Then another friend whose baby was stillborn just a short month before Abby’s life ended was writing about her grief too. More tears.

I want MY birthday girl where I can see her and touch her and watch her eat cake.

Today is Abby’s 8th birthday. Where has the time gone? We only had 2 birthdays with her. Then she was gone. Now she has been gone nearly six years.

As I was thinking of my labor, I decided to look through her photo album. When I got it out of the cabinet, my tears fell. Then I opened it.  On the first page is her name:

“father rejoices”

“the bright one, the shining one.”

Then on the next page is this picture.

Do you see her praying hands? I remember her folding her hands quite a bit her first few days.

So sweet!

It’s almost as if she was born to worship, born for heaven right out of the womb. With this thought and looking at this picture and the others on the page, Forget a couple quiet tears, my body was racked with sobbing.

I miss my Abby girl!

It’s been a long time since I’ve cried like that, and I want people to know! This has been the EASIEST February ever. I can’t even believe it. My growth is phenomenal since last year and the previous ones. Part of the reason is I haven’t had time to have a personal pity party because my heart has been heavy, so heavy for others in recent weeks. I was reminded of something I wrote a month after Abby died:

A month. 4 weeks ago tomorrow, our journey of death began. When we were driving home yesterday, Todd asked me if I was doing a lot of crying that he didn’t know about, and I told him not really. I asked him if he cried when Rachel died. The answer was no. I asked him if he cried when Petros died. No. I asked him if he cried when Corrie died. No. And I asked him if he cried when baby Anna was stillborn. No. And I asked him if he’s been broken and weeping and praying for Beth’s recovery. No.

I have spent 9 months, many nights sleepless, just crying and praying for other people. Now, there’s a million people crying and weeping for ME and God is answering their prayers and God has brought me peace and grace.

I don’t think I’m holding it in (so to speak). I asked Todd if he remembered that Thursday morning. How could he forget? I screamed at the top of my lungs and relived every detail of those almost 2 hours of agony where Abby was hurt and dying. I scared him, he said. He kept telling me to relax. He said he reverted into his Bradley mode because it reminded him of labor (before I wrote about it in that way in the funeral memoir) My release was in every way physical, emotional and spiritual. And now I have peace. And my tears are much less than his.

Happy birthday, beautiful. My pretty dancing, singing girl in heaven. I miss you.

I never got past those first 2 pages of the photo album. I’m saving those for the morning when I go to the cemetery with whoever wants to go with me. Not sure which of the kids, if any will want to come. I have some tulips from church that I’ve been enjoying all week that I’ll toss on Abby’s grave.


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