We didn't call it a baby shower. We called it a "Celebration of Life"
We celebrated life..... as we waited for death.
Instead of little pink outfits and cute soft toys, we asked for and received donations towards a memorial playground. A playground I hoped we'd never have to build.
85 people came. $1600 that day went into an account for Rachel.... my sweet baby girl. It was a really cold, windy day in NH... but my heart was warm. It was hard, but I did it... for her. Because I had to celebrate her life while she was alive. And I insisted everybody else did too. I knew I'd have plenty of time for her to be dead later. And I was still hoping on a miracle.
How do you do it? Celebrate life that won't live... Not fear death that is destined to come much too soon.... store up funds for a playground and headstone and burial items instead of a crib and a swing and stroller... and feel like that's a blessing? How do you smile when you want to cry? Stand when you want to fall? Go and tell when you want to curl up and silently die?
How do you carry a baby to the grave instead of the cradle... How do you pack your bags and drive to the hospital for a delivery of death? How do you explain that to the little hearts you are responsible for.... give them a reason that you can't grasp yourself? Their sister won't live.
How do you cuddle with a lifeless baby... try to keep her limbs warm so they wouldn't grow stiff in your time together.... take photos that can hide what the lack of oxygen does to a little baby's face?
How do you make memories to last a lifetime in such a short...few...minutes?
How does it become that a baby joins your family when all you have for proof is a belly? And that belly becomes "her" in the family photos... and on the family outings... and at the family birthday parties... and at bedtime and in the shower and during worship at church? How do you tell your belly everything you ever would want your child to know, not knowing if she can even hear you... and with so little time....and have that be good enough?
How do you answer the questions... When are you due? What are you having?.... and listen to everyone talk about what a curse being a "Christmas baby" will be for your child that is due on Christmas day, but will be in the ground before it arrives? How do you show grace in the face of such ignorance... while feeling so protective and maternally bonded of the little baby that is being talked of as either an inconvenience... an accident.... a sad story.... or worse, a subject to be completely avoided?
How do you plan a funeral, pick out a grave, and write her name on a stone while she is still dancing around in your belly? How do you put her in a hole and walk away?
When you have no other choice.
I went to her grave today. The flowers I had bought her were all dead and I didn't really have time to care for them. I threw in some water and drove off. My heart was... I don't know what it was...
It was much warmer than it was 3 years ago on this day. But my heart feels so much colder.... or maybe I don't remember what I really felt back then... I struggle to celebrate her life because I have grown to hate her death. I know it too well. And I don't like it. I don't like it and I don't like what it's brought. I hate what I've lost. I hate how misunderstood and abandoned I have been by so many. I don't have the energy or desire to find a 'new normal' and I actually don't even want to be my 'old normal'.
Everyone said time would make it easier. They were wrong. It's different. But never easy.
Today my mom brought Matt a birthday cake (his bday was a few days ago) and so tonight when the kids got home from Awana, we each had a little piece. I told them we were celebrating Daddy's life, Rachel's life and the fact that Jailyn talked today.... they all looked at me, surprised when I said it was the day we had Rachel's shower.... Des said "awe" and that was it.
How do you fit a dead baby into a family where only you seem to ever even remember her? Carrying around a little 3lb 7oz bear on vacation without feeling like a freak? Calling the bear "Rachel" and now the bear is her instead of my belly...
How do you listen to every. single. person who comments on our family size (and they ALL do) count us... and then correct them... watch them do the count again... and then explain... one is dead.... I'm so tired of living this hell alone. In a place where everyone else would be just as happy to let the count be less - but my heart can't. I can't. I have to say it. And then I hate that I said it. I hate that now the conversation is strange and uncomfortable. But I can't not. She is my daughter and she counts. And I hate when I hear them not include her... and watch how the conversation flows just fine when she is left out... and nobody cares or notices or will even think about it again....
But I am tortured in my sleep... nightmares and waking up afraid that I've missed one of their last moments... checking on them and watching for their chest to rise so I can return to sleep, only to be woken again...
Someone once told me I "just must feel more deeply" than she did.... and I think for a while that worked out for my good. Those deep feelings made me move... made me build a big playground and put on large scale events to benefit others in her name... and for God's glory. They made me write and help people... they made me love deeper... they made me get up off my couch and DO something.
But these days, two babies later, DOING anything is harder... I need more help, but everyone is past this... everyone but me. I have this constant nagging that I NEED to get to her grave, knowing her flowers are dying... but I can't make it happen. I try to keep taking baby steps with her nonprofit, but seem to get nowhere.... I try to keep her included, but it feels more and more awkward and lonely....
and I can't not do any of this....
but how am I supposed to? How do I keep smiling... keep loving... keep living without her?
I don't know, but I have no other choice.
I have to celebrate her life or the hate that I have for her death will consume me. And if I spend the rest of my life faking it so that the mention of her name brings a smile to the faces of those who have known of her.... I will. I'll be uncomfortable... I'll make other people uncomfortable... I'll be lonely... I'll be judged and criticized... I'll smile each and every single time I tell some stranger on the street that my daughter is dead.... for the chance to say her name with pride.... and to tell them that I will see her again because she is with Jesus and one day I will be too.... even if that doesn't actually make me feel better right now.
Does that sound like the plan I had for my life as a little girl? Nope. And these days I have grown to hate the loss of that innocence...
The Lord gives and He takes away. I don't have to like it. I don't have to even pretend I do. Trusting Him means believing that when He takes my dreams and shatters them... when He allows my baby to be ripped from my life.... when He doesn't stop tragedy that He totally could... that He hasn't forgotten me... still loves me... and that He has a purpose that I don't need to know, I just need to surrender to.
So tonight, I once again turn my hands up in surrender.. I have been devastated the past few weeks with all of the loss and heartache surrounding me, my family, my friends.... it's almost too much to bear... but I know God is still here. I know He is still in this. I know He hasn't forgotten me - or them - and I know that even if I never know the reasons.... or if the reasons are never good enough for me... they are in His control and He is still worthy of praise. I bring all my heartache and pain to the foot of the cross and I surrender it to the only One who is strong enough to handle it and I trust Him with it.
I have no other choice.
A couple of photos from her Celebration of Life. Miss you my sweet girl....
|Jailyn, Isaiah, Caleb, Desirae (sam in her lap) at Rachel's shower.|
|Rachel's first ornament on "her"|
|Due a week apart... this other little baby girl came to my house last week after dance class....|
I watched her in her leotard playing with the kids and wondered how Rachel would have fit in here.
|I still have this bottle of lotion sitting on the dresser in the nursery... I use it on Asa every once in a while and think of Rachel - side note... why did I cut my hair?!?! :/|
|the 3 Aube girls opening Desirae's first Willow Tree Angel... the Angel of Hope.|
If you've never seen the rest of these - I have a few slideshows of photos on the right side of my blog further down if you want to see just how beautiful Rachel was - both in my belly and out.