...but words can never hurt you. Not true!
"They. Can't. Find. The. Baby's. Heartbeat."
These six words pummeled my brain, my gut, like rapidly fired bullets. My knees felt weak and uninvited emotions were spreading through my chest like flames of fire as my daughter's distress spoke from the cell phone I held to my ear.
What?! It can't be! You are only 11 days away from your due date and you've been nothing but a picture of health. Thirty-seven weeks you've been interacting with this little body and longing to see and hold the awesome delight of baby number four. You and hubby enjoyed the baby's movements just last night, you tell me. No God!
"Are they sure there is no life?"
My daughter's voice is tearful, but resolute. "I will be induced and deliver the baby this afternoon." I long to go to her, to be another face and hand of support, but the miles between us make it impossible I leave work, not able to concentrate. Phone calls are made to family and friends, repeating the stinging words and asking for prayer. A friend comes over to sit with me.
I wait. I hear nothing. At bedtime I text for an update. Six centimeters. I pray again for a miracle. That somehow they are wrong and a healthy, alive baby will be born. I go to bed knowing sleep won't be restful and making sure the cell phone is close by with sound turned up. The call comes in at 12:30 am. My daughter is holding the baby. A girl! There are three brothers in the family, and we so wanted this one to be a girl. My daughter tells me what the newborn looks like and grief is put on hold while she takes pride in what her body has created. There is relief in her voice, too, to now know what happened. A tight knot in the umbilical cord, close to the placenta. There was nothing this mama did to cause or could have done to prevent this tragedy. They text a picture. The baby is beautiful! Her name is Paisley Noelle.
The sorrow is too intense. My daughter is holding our granddaughter who will never take a breath of this earth's air, whose soul never made it into this world. My heart is broken for her, for us; I cry. It's almost impossible to finish the night in bed. I wake Kevin. We cry together.
Morning comes. I move in a fog of grief and shock. Phone calls, tears, and a two hour wait on the phone with Delta to change flight plans. Each time the details are retold, I withstand the listener's shock and sympathy. At the end of the day I am drained, exhausted.
In two days we are scheduled to go to them, the family who bear the loss. I pack, go into work for a half day to prepare for my absence. The sweetness of friends who care shows up in bouquets at the door, in texts with soothing words and even in presence to touch me, pray with me.
I'm in touch with the brave ones in Florida who are trying to do normal, while the world is upside down. I am assured they will be ok, as my daughter describes the mobilization of support their life group from church is quickly putting into place. Someone opens up "Take Them A Meal" online and soon suppers are scheduled to be dropped off every day for the next two weeks. Emmanuel's family are first responders, staying with the grand kids overnight, dropping off the first food, giving hugs and holding hands. Jodi describes the flowers that keep appearing at the front door and who they are from.
I want to be there, but our plans are delayed another day when the airline cancels our flights. I call Delta once again. Hours later we are booked for a flight the next morning. Another delay is announced after we arrive at the airport. The desk attendant quickly gets us rerouted and we scurry into a line already boarding, hoping the connections will get us to our final destination. When we finally touchdown in FL, we are still 90 minutes away from the family we long to be with. Uber finishes the last leg of the trip, delivering us into the driveway of Jodi and her family.
We have come to offer help and comfort. Words are inadequate; we say little, but feel strength in being together.
The first week is busy with household tasks and driving boys to and from school. Keeping the kitchen counter by the sink uncluttered is like wiping out a peephole in a foggy bathroom mirror while someone is showering. Whether getting Noah , the two year old, diapered and dressed, or folding laundry, the work is constant. As any postpartum mama, Jodi is needing to lay low, even though her arms hold no baby.
Wednesday night is chosen for Paisley's memorial service. Family and close friends arrive with food and settle into the living room. There is friendly banter until Emmanuel and Jodi stand up. Emmanuel reads the thoughts he has written. We watch through teary eyes and feel the sadness of the tender words in our bellies. He ponders whether Paisley would have been a Daddy's girl and been spoiled by her brothers. He expresses his thanks to the Loving Creator who allowed them to be her parents for 37 weeks and declares that even though we don't know why this happened, God is in control. "I appreciate a Loving Savior who provides us comfort when we need it most." We carry Chinese lanterns to the backyard and watch the ascending lights that symbolize our love and goodbyes to this little one who we will someday get to know and enjoy.
Back in the house we eat and visit, temporarily soothing the ache inside. Just before the group disperses we surround Paisley's family and pray for them to have strength, comfort and peace. We acknowledge that our God is still good and we will keep trusting in His love to make all things work out for our good.
Two days later, Good Friday, Kevin leaves for Indiana. I will miss his support.
At church service Easter Eve, we soak in the hugs and love of friends who care. Songs focused on Christ's death and resurrection and victory over the grave have fresh new meaning. I cry the words from a heart touched by the Savior's presence, the One who has made our hope for eternal life possible. Paisley's closeness is magnified here in this setting.
Days pass quickly as Jodi and I do some outings together. She takes me to the beach because she knows I enjoy the chance to be there. In the resale shop I hear an infant cry and wonder how our schedule would be different if Paisley was with us. At the restaurant there are infant twins in the booth beside us. Our eyes turn away; we can't watch them today.
Jodi is pensive and restless; she misses the object of her planning and preparation for the last eight months. Her body is prepared for a suckling infant. She needs the rest and precautions of a postpartum mother. But there are no sweet rewards of newborn snuggles, smells and sounds.
Into that emptiness, now nine days after Paisley's birth, slides the news that her cousin Wesley is born in Ohio. We rejoice in our sorrow and Jodi longs to hold this new family member. To feel the form of new life in her arms would be comforting. As the day wears on the reality of loss increases and I know my daughter is hurting. She is able to share tender texts with her brother, the Daddy of the new baby. He is sensitive and sympathetic. Why God?! This seems so unfair!
Paisley's brothers demand our attention. I find distraction in playing hide-n-seek with Noah, concocting science experiments with Dominic and throwing Frisbee with Ian. While the younger two can't fully comprehend the loss, Ian who is 8 feels our pain. He understands more and we remember to include him in some of our processing of the grief.
Emmanuel does the brave work of making a video to let social media friends know what has happened. He offers it as a tribute to Paisley and to his "loving Savior". He posted it on Facebook with a warning that the viewer will cry. You may see it here. (Emmanuel's video)
My departure is near. I have a husband who longs for my return and friends who love me in Indiana. But it is hard to leave. I cry hard when the family drops me off at the airport. I hug Jodi and whisper, "I don't know why this had to happen to you." Later we text about this moment.
Jodi: It's almost like it had to happen, for some reason I'll never understand. All of this doesn't make any sense but again I have to trust in Jesus. Because I've heard it said so many times and am believing it with all my heart that all things work together for good to those that love the Lord. And that his ways and his thoughts are higher than mine. And that he is a good, good Father. He has the best for me. He is our hope.
Me: Amen. I am encouraged because I know Jesus is always faithful and that your faith and hope rests on him. It was just so sad for me to leave you Sunday. I cried for your loss, for our loss and the reality of not being able to be close by to help you. Even though I believe that God is good and has some kind of purpose in all this, I still ask him why and feel grief for what you are experiencing. When people ask how you are doing I say, "It's tough and sad, but she is surrounded with good support and her faith is strong." We'll all just cling to Jesus together and be amazed at his love for us through it all...God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in time of trouble. Always there always available for each moment. Like you said, the little things mean a lot. God's gifts of love in the sadness.
Two months have passed. Jodi is busy being mom to two out-of-school-for-the-summer boys and one busy two year old. She is enjoying new friendships that have developed through this tragedy. She and Emmanuel were included in a video their church produced about weathering hard times.
Though life for all of us continues in its normal rhythms, there is a silent member of our family whose footsteps still tiptoe through our hearts. We will never hear her voice or receive her hugs. We'll celebrate her birthdays, wonder what would have been her favorite things, and imagine the color of her eyes. We'll think about her when the class of 2034 graduates and wonder who she might have met and married. Our hearts will flutter when Sorrow whispers her memory and each time we'll feel heaven tugging us closer. Yet, we will always rejoice in knowing she is indescribably happy and making heaven fuller with her presence.
One of Jodi's friends sent her a text soon after Paisley's short, silent debut into this world. It beautifully expressed comfort to Jodi and continues to breathe hope and encouragement as a word from God's heart to ours. I share it with you.
"Oh, I bet she was beautiful! I was telling someone about it [Paisley's death] to pray for you because you lost your baby; but I didn't like saying lost...because she's not lost. She's right where God wants her, which seems unfair to you because of all the joys of having a daughter you'll miss, I had thought. Then as I was crying for you, God seemed to tell me, she will have an eternity of all the joys and more to be mother and daughter and they will be perfect! No messing up, no missing the moment or saying the wrong thing, no failure or dashed hopes...in perfectness she will have her daughter. She just had a glimpse of things to come and must just wait to take part in this gift for longer than she had hoped. Hope deferred makes the heart sick the Bible says, but when desire comes it is a tree of life! Your precious Paisley has been born to you! All the joys you must wait for are going to still be had, just later than we thought. The verse that says we are born for such a time as this..she was born in the season where we celebrate the gift of eternity and new life with our Father by his sacrifice. She's already tasted of this gift! She is safe! And with all the hard work and sacrifice you had in bearing her all these months was not in vain or lost, her soul is forever and you've accomplished a beautiful thing to bring such a precious little one into eternity! I will love to meet her someday! You did a beautiful job, Jodi. Your heart will always hurt but that will end someday as you hold her in your arms again!"
We will all love to meet you someday, Paisley Noelle!
Thank you Father, for life here and for greater life beyond this one because of Jesus' death and resurrection. We worship you. Help us in the times of sorrow to reach out for your ever present help.
Your ways are higher than ours, and we will forever trust and love you.
Though I can't see Your holy face
And Your throne in heaven above
It seems so far away
Though I can't touch your nail scarred hands
I have a deep and unspeakable joy
That makes my faith to stand
Lord, I believe in You
I'll always believe in You
Though I can't see you with my eyes
Deep in my heart
Your presence I find
Lord, I believe in You
And I'll keep my trust in You
Let the whole world say what they may
No one can take this joy away
Lord, I believe.
-Lord I Believe in You, Crystal Lewis