6 years ago today I lost my daughter Kate.
6 years ago yesterday, I held her all day while she battled a virus – the same one that had caused high fever, fatigue, and normal viral symptoms in her older sister. But it wasn’t cause for alarm. She played some, ate some, drank some, and slept some. I figured she would get a good night’s sleep and feel better in the morning. I figured.
But she had contracted pneumonia in that night’s sleep. Her little lungs couldn’t battle anymore. And in the span of 10 hours, she was gone. Gone.
I have scattered memories of that day. I am pretty certain that I retain the memory of the entire day, but my brain (or perhaps God’s grace) only brings a few memories to the surface at a time.
picking up the phone to dial 911 then throwing it on the counter
answering a policeman’s questions while an emt removed Kate’s pj’s
rushing downstairs to grab clothes for the girls to wear to the e.r.
the drive in our blue Honda Odyssey down Bypass 4 alternately praying, crying, making phone calls asking for prayer acutely aware that one carseat was empty
the calm lady in the e.r. who told me I didn’t “do this” to my daughter
knowing - just knowing even before they confirmed it – that she was gone
holding her little body for an eternity but not long enough
being surrounded by many different family and friends
not being able to walk away until my Mom had arrived
that devastating walk down the hospital corridor knowing I was leaving my baby girl somewhere other than in my arms
There are more, but I am not interested in reliving that day on this blog. I just wanted to visit it a bit to share it with you and to share the other memories that are from that day.
The spiritual memories.
When I walked into Kate’s room – before I even knew anything was amiss – there was a sense of coldness; a sense that something warm had just left. Upon later reflection, I know with certainty that Kate was not alone when she left our family. I do not know what it was; I just know it was.
That evening, after the funeral arrangements had been made, after the dr. appt. to make certain my older 2 daughters were healthy, after the gathering at our in-laws’ house with family and friends…we went home. Home. A place that had been a safe haven was now the place of our greatest tragedy.
Sitting on the floor in the living room that evening, my husband and I were finally faced with the silence of what had happened. The overwhelming, deafening silence of a body with one less arm, a house with one less room. The girls – just 2 of them now – were tucked away in our bed, finally sleeping after a day of confusion and trauma.
I was embraced by the oddest sensation. Joy.
Joy? After this day? Why joy? But I heard myself telling my husband how thankful I was that I had known that little girl as long as I had. That we could parent her in the time we had. How blessed I was to have been her mother even for that short amount of time.
I can’t explain that moment – those feelings – other than being comforted by the holy spirit. There was a confidence in joy, a freedom from guilt, an absence of fear. It was reminiscent of the feelings I had when Kate was born, when I felt very clearly that God used her birth to affirm my calling as a mother. The same joy…the same peace…
My life since then has been filled with an overriding purpose – to make sacred of the profane. How do I honor and remember my beautiful daughter in light of this painful world that encourages me to forget? How can I make certain that others remember her? How can I introduce her to her brothers who never got to meet her? How do I share that gift of the holy spirit with others who are in pain?
I don’t have answers. I am just putting one foot in front of the other as I travel along this new path. New relationships emerge and new traditions evolve. Enlightenment, bitterness, memories, and time wax and wane as the day I lost Kate travels farther into my past and the day I hold her close in my arms comes nearer to me.
One concrete way that my family has chosen to honor and remember Kate is her butterfly tree. I was desperate to make December 22 be more than a day of sadness and loss in our family. So on or around that day, we put up a second Christmas tree – one that family and friends have lovingly filled with butterflies of every shape, size, and color. It has an ethereal beauty that seems to reflect the joy and peace – and light – that Kate must have everyday.
It shines with the love of those who will not let her memory be lost.
I feel the weight of that phrase, “make sacred from the profane.” It weighs heavily when thinking of Kate and her memory. But isn’t that really what we are all trying to accomplish? Aren’t we all trying to seek meaning, fulfillment, joy from our everyday lives? And especially followers of Christ. We are called to see the beauty in the ordinary, the love in the loss, the joy in the suffering.
The Christ in the manger.
Wrap your arms a little tighter when you hug today. Linger a bit longer over that coffee with an old friend. Call that someone you’ve been meaning to. Write that letter instead of that quick email. Invite the lonely neighbor over for dinner. Cook an extra casserole for a busy friend. Turn off the tv and talk to your family.
There are no limits to ways that we can make sacred the profane – to make meaningful the common – to make joyful the ordinary.
To find Christ in one another.
In honor of my beloved Kate, my daughter whose life – and death – have taught and encouraged and challenged and stretched me in ways I still do not fully understand or comprehend, may you have a peaceful, joy-filled December 22nd.