Nothing can prepare a person for the loss of his or her child. A grieving parent genuinely appreciates comforting sentiments, cards and selfless gestures by friends and extended family, but often the first few weeks are a blur.
Those weeks feel like a slow stop-motion video filming you with the lens cap on, and ends with you having no idea how your freezer collected so many lasagnas.
Fifteen years ago, my husband and I lost a child, a beautiful baby girl. She was our first child but she died 10 days before I gave birth to her. A full-term stillborn they called her. I call her my daughter in heaven.
I rarely mention her or write about her anymore, but am quietly reminded of my love for her every time someone else has to endure the nightmare of losing a child. Sadly, this is one of those times.
Our girl was born on March 30, but we weren’t allowed to leave the hospital until April 1. The morose irony wasn’t lost on us as we drove home with an empty car seat mocking us, fooled into thinking we were new parents.
I remember seeing the first indicators of spring on that excruciating drive home. It was the season of life and new growth, and she was blatantly bragging with cheery trills from the cardinals and robins. The pungent smell of fresh grass clippings attacked our senses adding to our nausea, and the penetrating yellow of the Forsythia bushes, which seemed to have appeared over night, was blinding.
This was the last day I was to claim spring as my favorite season.
Spring recently materialized, and another “birthday” came and went. However, this year, it wasn’t filled with anger, jealousy or tears. The pain was replaced by a warm wash of deep love, with only a hint of distant regret. This feeling didn’t appear overnight. I had too many years of heartache, yearning and ugly crying. But I’ve learned time is the greatest healer of all.
After a few weeks of a picturesque Kansas spring, the forsythia bushes sustained their grandeur. The cardinals continued to flit in pairs through our pine trees, and the sweet smell of a meadow filled the neighborhood. Life was good now that we were focusing on our future with our two daughters, here on earth.
My 13-year old daughter, entered the kitchen beaming, “Mama, I saw a cardinal today. We were driving to class and I saw a cardinal follow us!”
She knew it was was our secret symbol for her sister in heaven to be near and watching. Over the years, seeing a red cardinal had turned into a comforting thing for my daughters and me. Almost every year we see a cardinal on her birthday, at Christmastime, and other times when we are most needing to be reminded of our love for her.
“She’s always looking out for us, isn’t she?” I said as I moved a pot off the burner. She paused then thoughtfully asked, “Do you think she’s here to meet up with the neighbor girl who just died?”
That familiar warmth of love for my daughters washed over me, and I could feel a tear forming in my eye. “It could be,” I smiled. “I know your big sister is just as thoughtful as you. I like to think she’s up there welcoming all children to heaven.”
“Yeah, me too,” she said. I stepped closer to my baby girl who is growing up too fast, and took her into my arms. I kissed her forehead, for I no longer can reach the top of her head. We stood quietly hugging, comfortable in the silence.
“I’m so glad you are here with me though,” I whispered.
“I know, Mama. Me, too.”
Stacey Hatton sends thoughts and prayers of strength and love to all parents who have had their children taken away too soon.