A few months ago, The Smallest Gift received a note from a woman whose niece had died of SIDS several years ago. In her beautiful letter, she described how she had taken care of her sister and mother through the loss of their precious Adyson. It was an eye opening moment for me. Her letter made me realize what my sister must have endured during that time as well and I wept with remembering. Immersed my own grief these three years, I had not really thought about how deeply my sister must have been affected. Despite this, she found the strength to carry me when I was too weak to walk on my own. This has inspired me to write my 3rd birthday post for Abigail in honor of my sister, Abby’s “Titi” and Godmother.
My sister is an OB nurse at a major hospital; in fact, the same one where we delivered Abigail. She often sees other grieving families in their worst moments and somehow she finds the grace to face her own memories and pain to help make their experience as easy as possible. She called me the other night to tell me of several ideas she has for their current bereavement program. Before losing Abby, she was a thoughtful and kind nurse and an advocate for her patients. After losing Abby, her empathy has taken this to an all new level. She has lived this situation. I am in awe of the strength it takes for her to do her job and to do it so well, in spite of her own memories and pain. I know she doesn’t see a single bereaved mother without seeing me. In heartbroken family members, I imagine she recognizes herself. I have learned that no matter how much time has passed, the intensity and feelings of raw loss do not fade. You can be transported back to those painful moments in an instant. I recognize that it takes a lot of strength to meet that sadness and grief head on in an effort to help other people. So, approaching Abby’s third birthday, I would like to dedicate my blog post this year to my sister.
Thankfully, my sister and I have always shared a very close and strong bond. When my husband and I became pregnant with twins after many years of infertility, I had no idea how much I would need my sister. I don’t know how I would have survived our losses without her. I have some total lapses of memory from that time but there are some things that I vividly recall. When my water broke in the middle of the night at 32 weeks, she immediately left work and came to me. When I eventually arrived at Hershey, where she works in OB, we knew only that they had detected a problem with Abby’s heart. Meg was not working that day but she was there already and quietly took charge. She wasn’t happy with the way the nurse washed me (I was on mag and could barely move, let alone walk) so she washed me herself. As the days stretched into weeks, she brought food and cards and pictures and flowers and she drove over an hour each way to visit almost every day that I was on bedrest. When I knew she was working on the floor I felt so peaceful. I slept so much better when I knew she was near. I was filled with panic and fear and my mind felt so muddled. I needed her to help us make decisions. Her knowledge was invaluable and her support in decision making gave us some much needed confidence at the time.
When I eventually went into labor, I remember her calling our parents and saying, “Guess who’s having a baby today?” She was so excited! She had just worked all night yet she didn’t leave my side for a second. Those moments together (especially when it was just the two of us) are so precious to me. I can remember being in a panic right after Abigail was born and saying, “Meg, is she ok?” and she said, “Yes, she’s ok.” and she was crying too. It didn’t matter that a whole NICU team was there, the only person I trusted to tell me the truth in that moment was my sister. That morning we learned the devastating truth that our little five pound daughter had not one, but two terrible heart defects. We thought our anxiety couldn’t get higher- it did. Our hope was stretched thin. After three anxious weeks on bedrest, this seemed so daunting and overwhelming. The next night, I was awakened by my whole body shaking. I had lived with anxiety and fear every second for the past three weeks so immediately I assumed something was terribly wrong with me. It was dark in my room and I was scared. My shaking woke my husband who called for the doctor. He checked me out and said I was fine but had the good sense to call my sister, who happened to be working that night. She came over and she said calmly, “You are fine. You are having an anxiety attack. I am going to get a wheelchair and we are going to see Abby in the NICU.” We did and she was right; I felt better. When our priest came to baptize Abigail, Meg was there as her Godmother. She brought a blanket and Easter hats and things that you bring for “normal” babies. That comforted us immensely. Those are some of the very few things we have to remember our daughter now.
The day of Abigail’s heart surgery, Meg came early to see Abigail before she was taken to surgery. We didn’t know if we would see her alive again and the hours and hours she was in surgery stretched on forever. Meg brought “Prayer warrior” T-shirts for all of us, food, and a bag of things to try and keep our minds occupied. I remember my feet were swelling out of my shoes and she brought lotion and rubbed and massaged my feet to help the swelling. I laid with my head in her lap for a long time. It was a tenderness that I will never forget.
I don’t know now if Meg ever got to hold her niece but I know that she loved her as fiercely as I loved her. I know this because that is how I love her children. I don’t remember calling her to tell her Abby passed but I do think back now and realize that she had to drive all that way to the hospital by herself. She was the one who helped us bathe and dress her. She was the one who thought to cut a lock of Abby’s hair. She was the one who convinced me to let them make molds of Abby’s hand and foot, keepsakes that I now treasure deeply. I am so grateful that she had the insight to realize how valuable these items would be and made sure we got them.
Meg was there at our home when we met with the funeral director the following day. I know she had to go to the funeral home to take photos or something. If there was something difficult to do and she could take that task on for us, she did it. The days of the viewing and funeral, I remember her physically helping me to dress as I sat in the bathroom saying, “I can’t do this.” I remember walking in to see the tiny casket at the funeral home and holding Rob’s hand on one side and hers on the other. I still feel her hand in mine. I could barely stand and they held me up. I once heard that in times of tragedy the greatest gift we can give someone is to just be there with them, to bear witness to their pain and loss. That’s what she did for us, in spite of the pain and loss she herself was experiencing.
Why do I share these memories? To show others what an amazing sister I have? Well, yes, there is that. But on a deeper level, I am in awe of the fact that in the midst of raw and unspeakable and ugly grief and loss, such beauty and tenderness emerge from the way in which we care for each other. I am thankful God allows me to see this now, three years later. It leads to me to ask– where do we find this strength to care for each other when we are broken and battered too? This strength and Grace, it comes from God. We become His hands and feet. The desire to care for each other despite our own pain is a reflection of God’s love and Grace. This love, this servitude, this selflessness that Meg demonstrated are pure and true. I can’t help but think they please our Father immensely.
I would be remiss if I did not share another beautiful event that occurred not even a year after Abigail’s birth and death. My sister, once again at work on that same floor, brought us the bassinette carrying the baby boy who would join our family through the miracle of adoption, only minutes after his birth. I have often marveled that there are few situations in life that are so beautiful and right and perfect.
This year, I honor my sister, Abigail’s aunt. I can’t help but think this pleases Abby immensely too. Meg, I am so thankful that you are my sister! I love you!