The days between Leah’s death and her memorial service are now a blur in my mind’s eye. Getting through each day was difficult but manageable since there was always a task to get done, a visitor to entertain, or a phone call to return. This busyness prolonged the initial numbness that often jump starts the grieving process, and I was grateful for it. As long as I didn’t have too much time to spend alone with my thoughts, I was able to put my emotions aside and function like something akin to normal.
I spent the days leading up to the memorial service putting together a picture slideshow and writing a eulogy to share. Finally, the day before the service, Leah’s urn was ready to pick up. Its hand painted floral design was almost as beautiful as she was, and it was strangely comforting to bring it home.
At last the day arrived. My husband and I were deeply touched that so many family and friends traveled from near and far to join us for the service and take part in honouring Leah’s life. People kept commenting on how strong we were and how impressive it was that we were able to maintain our composure for the service. For me, however, this was not a challenge. As tragic as my loss was, I was proud to share my daughter’s story with everyone and was determined to do her memory justice. I did not waver or hesitate when I read the eulogy, which was addressed as a letter to Leah from my husband and I:
It’s difficult to explain how a single day can be both the best and worst of our lives. Because of you, we will always remember Tuesday, June 21, 2016 this way. This is the day that you entered the world and we were able to meet you and hold you in our arms. However, on this day we also learned that our time with you would be much, much shorter than we ever could have imagined.
I vividly recall the day that you initially came into our lives. I can still see the shocked expression on your dad’s face when I showed him my positive pregnancy test. You were a surprise, to say the least, but one that was much wanted and instantly loved. I remember walking home from the doctor’s office the next day in the beautiful October sun and feeling overcome with joy that you were going to be a part of my life from here on.
I’m grateful that you took it easy on me for the next nine months. Only one bout of morning sickness and some sporadic cravings. At fifteen weeks I started feeling your little flutters and by nineteen weeks you were kicking every day. I savored every interaction that we had during this time. Unfortunately you seemed a bit shy of your dad, since you would hide away each time I told him to come feel one of your kicks! It made me so happy to feel you growing big and strong, and I prayed every single day that God would keep you healthy and safe.
Needless to say it was quite scary for me when, the day before your birthday, I didn’t feel you kicking quite as much as usual. Dad and I had already been expecting your arrival for a few days, so we decided to head to the hospital rather than take any chances. Things progressed very quickly from there. Within an hour I was being prepared for an emergency caesarean section. Still, despite our fear, we were excited that we would be meeting you very soon. It broke our hearts that they had to take you away immediately and hook you up to so many machines to try to preserve your delicate little life.
Several hours passed before we heard any updates about how you were doing. The news we received was far worse than we could have anticipated—not only were you very sick, but it was also unlikely that you would live through the day. When your dad and I heard this, we knew we wanted to spend as many precious hours with you as possible, so we asked them to bring you to our hospital room so we could spend the day together as a family.
I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hold you against my skin and kiss your head for the first time. I took in every inch of you—your smell, the creases in your legs and arms, the same full crown of dark hair that I had as a newborn, and your dad’s beautiful deep green eyes. We marveled at how strong you were as you grabbed your blanket and raised your head off my chest. I was even able to feed you, and it meant so much to be able to give you every bit of love and care that I could during our short time together. Dad and I stayed up with you all night, rocking you back and forth when you cried and telling you how much we love you.
By Wednesday morning we could sense that our time together was growing short. We could tell that it was becoming more difficult for you to breathe and the seizures you experienced in the first hours of your life were returning. Still, you spent the morning and afternoon in our arms, and I was even able to feed you again. I am so grateful that I was able to hold you and comfort you when you breathed your last breath several hours later.
And so, my darling daughter, your dad and I want to say thank you for coming into our lives. The love we have for you has fundamentally changed us, and it will never fade away. Thank you for being so brave and strong; you fought so hard to stay with us, and the two beautiful days that we spent together far surpassed what any of the doctors had expected. You touched so many lives during your short time on this earth, and you will always be a part of our family. You are God’s gift to us and we love you more than you will ever know.
Hugs and kisses,
Mom and Dad
It meant so much to receive such palpable love and support from our family and friends that day. Strangely enough, I did not want the day to end. For a moment in time, it felt as if the world had stopped to take notice of a precious baby girl whose life came and went in the twinkling of an eye. On that day my grief for Leah was truly shared by the most important people in my life.
However I also knew that, after this moment passed, the world would have to start turning again. I knew that in the coming weeks the visits, messages, and phone calls would dwindle as everyone around me continued on with their lives. As much as people could sympathize and offer their love, only my husband and I would have to return home to a bassinet that still stood silent and empty next to our bed. In many ways, it wasn’t until this shared day of mourning ended that my own grief journey truly began.