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after loss: why my daughter’s birthday is the hardest day February 26, 2016

Posted by guinever in christianity, death, grief, moving on.
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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 🙂




i didn’t get to say goodbye to my mom December 19, 2013

Posted by guinever in death.
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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 February 26, 2011

Posted by guinever in christianity, death, grief, heaven, life, loss, moving on.

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.

come sunday: a book review October 14, 2010

Posted by guinever in book review, death, grief, loss.
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I buried myself in this novel on a road trip this summer. A heart wrenching story about a child who dies and a mother’s grief and journey to her homeland to find healing, this book isn’t for everyone.   When my husband asked me what the book was about and I told him, he replied, “How can you read that stuff?”

Morley describes grief in such a genuine way that I doubt she is a stranger to loss.  I found Come Sunday well-written and at times, poetic. For example, in the hospital scene after Cleo’s death, Morley pens,

Cleo’s lower lip is crooked, weighted to the right as it always was when she was asleep or when she was scared.  Exactly how it was when she was born.

“Cleo!” I cry, calling into the abyss, calling her back from the void; a loud clear call. “Wake up, Cleo, open your eyes, darling; it’s time to go home.”

But she has gone to the burial grounds of drowned boys and crucified Lords.

A child dies. A mother mourns. What else can I say? That’s my life story.

But that’s where my path diverges with the grieving mother in the book. She lets her grief overshadow the rest of her life for a time. She places blame for her daughter’s death where it doesn’t belong. She shuts out some of her closest friends. She leaves her husband.

The main character remembers a conversation she had with her daughter Cleo about a statue of the virgin Mary:

“What’s her name?” she asked.

“That’s Mary, Jesus’ mommy,” I answered.

“Is she sad?” she wanted to know, glancing up at the Holy Mother with her downcast eyes.

“I’m not sure,” I said after a pause.

But I know now. I know that Mary’s grief is a thousand fathoms deep, where blue is so dense it becomes black. So vast is her sorrow that she cannot speak but only part her robe and reveal the crimson heart that in its stubbornness will not cease its beat.

It’s passages like this that made the book a page turner for me.  I found myself holding my breath, feeling nauseous, laughing, wiping a tear from my cheek, and wanting to get to the last page to see how it ends and then wanting more of the story.  I recommend the book to those who don’t mind being a little sad or mad…

In a conversational video, Morley says about the book, “I want people to feel that redemption always triumphs tragedy and loss and  hope trumps sorrow. I want them to feel assured about holding onto hope, that although life is hard and sometimes there are seemingly insurmountable tragedies that there is a new day, a Sunday coming.”

Grandpa, a man of many hats July 23, 2009

Posted by guinever in christianity, death, everyday life, heaven.

I’m cleaning today, digging through a drawer that is stacked with papers and photos. I found a piece of notebook paper folded in sixths. On it was the memoir that I wrote for my Grandpa Herrick’s funeral, who died February 3, 1996.

When I think of Grandpa, I see a man with many hats. I think a lot of us here gave him at least one over the years. I see a man with many plaid shirts, suspenders, belt buckles and tools.

When I think of Grandpa, I see a man in a chair. Reading, doing crossword puzzles, winning at Scrabble, and snoring.

I remember one time he accused us grandkids of eating the toilet paper because it seemed to disappear whenever we visited.

When I think of Grandpa, I see a man who was always building and making things for the people he loved. He and my dad built the house on Beecher road. He built the cabin in the woods. The bunk beds. A see-saw and swing for us grandkids. A fort in a tree so he could hunt for deer. When he wasn’t falling off ladders, he was climbing them, to  erect a bigger than life satellite dish on the roof.

I’ll always remember the love and care he showed Grandma. The last thing he made …only minutes before he collapsed, was a sandwich for her.

For me, the most special thing he built is the simple wooden chest that still sits in the corner of my room. What once was filled with toys is now filled with linens and blankets. Even after 20 years, my name that he carved in the bottom of the toy box has not faded. Neither will these memories. The assurance that Grandpa is in Heaven makes the pain a little less and the memories even greater.

Grandma and Grandpa H

Isn’t it lovely that I have this old photo to go along with this memoir? Based on how old my brother and I look, I’m guessing this was taken around 1977.

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