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Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Birthday Ann Catherine and Melissa




I was going to blog about this last night, but to be honest with you, I was emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. June 1st is a day of incredible highs and lows for us. By the time it was over, I was just emotionally wiped out.

Yesterday was Ann Catherine and Melissa's birthday. And honestly, I think it might have been the hardest one yet. You think that when your child dies, it gets easier with time. I'm not so sure. Yes, "every day life" may not be as hard, because you don't think about it all of the time. But, special occasions may actually be harder because you've gone so long without crying that it really hits you.

Don't get me wrong. We spent a wonderful day with our kids. When Ann Catherine woke up, we went into her room singing "Happy Birthday." After she ate breakfast, she opened her presents (see pictures above). I got such a kick out of watching her open her gifts. Just the very fact that Ann Catherine is alive and with us makes June 1st such a special day. Then, we went to church. On the way to church, I looked at the clock and realized that we were just minutes away from the time that Melissa died. That part was so hard. Just thinking about where we were three years ago at that very moment was like a dagger.

Once we came home, we did something that made the day so special. I've blogged before about my friend Lesli who delivered triplets nine years ago. Her two sons passed away and her daughter Smith survived. Lesli and her husband have done a wonderful job of helping Smith deal with their deaths. And she gave me this idea. We went to Publix and I let Ann Catherine pick out a balloon for Melissa. We went into the front yard and all four of us kissed it. Then, we let it go. I'm telling you, that balloon sailed straight up in the air. Chris and I held onto each other through the tears as watched that balloon sail straight to Heaven. It was so amazing.

I felt like this was a way that our family could remember Melissa - together. It gave Ann Catherine a visual explanation of where Melissa is. And even though she and Lily are too young to truly understand, as they grow older this is something we'll be able to do as a family to honor Melissa's memory. I'm so glad we did it.

What made this birthday harder is that Ann Catherine is asking questions. Another piece of advice that Lesli gave me is to talk about Melissa. Keep her name out there. That way, when Ann Catherine is old enough to understand that Melissa is her sister, it won't be such a shock.

We are doing that. If you ask Ann Catherine who Melissa is, she'll say, "She's my angel." We have told Ann Catherine that she has her very own angel in Heaven and her name is Melissa. But, her little mind can't understand yet that Melissa is her sister.

This weekend, Ann Catherine started asking questions. I told her one night that Melissa also had a birthday on June 1st. "How old will she be?" she asked me. "She'll be three, too," I answered. "Will she have a party?" she asked next. "Oh, I think she'll have a big party in Heaven," I said. The next question is always the hardest. "Can I go?" Ann Catherine doesn't understand yet that you can't just visit Heaven.

Then on Sunday, as I was putting on her sandals so we could go outside and release the balloon, she asked, "Mommy, does Melissa have a house in Heaven?" I said, "I think she does, baby." "Does she have a playground?" "Oh, yes," I answered as I began to cry, "I think she has a really big one." Then again, the question that is so hard. "Can we go?" "No, baby not yet," I said.

I've always said there is no instructional manual when your child dies. There is no set of directions that you can follow. You simply learn to navigate waters that you never dreamed you would have to step foot into.

It's the same with explaining the death of a sibling to the child who is left behind. There is no instruction manual. I can truly say this is one of the hardest journeys I've ever been on.

It's so important to me that we are truthful to Ann Catherine. After all, she lost the most on June 1st. She lost her twin. She literally lost a part of herself. And somehow, Chris and I have to learn how to explain that to her one day.

Please keep us in your prayers as we find our way. I prayed so hard last night asking God for guidance. I don't ever want to say the wrong thing, or say anything that might scare her. We also know that one day we have to explain everything to Lily, too.

For three years, Chris and I have been able to keep Ann Catherine in a sort of bubble. Yes, we could cry and grieve, but we could protect Ann Catherine from those feelings of loss and grief. It's so instinctive as a parent to want to protect your child from sadness. Now, we realize that the time is approaching where we'll have to explain some very tough things to her.

There is no question that God will guide us and give us the words. After all, he got us this far.

And to answer Ann Catherine's questions from this weekend, yes, I do believe Melissa had a wonderful birthday party this weekend. As I prayed last night, I thanked God for that. I thanked him that he is taking such good care of her. I mean, just think of the people who came to her party!

And although I miss that little girl with every fiber in my being, I take comfort in knowing that her life was celebrated yesterday - here on Earth - and in Heaven.

7 comments:

Vikki said...

Amy, Your Lily and my Nathan were born on the same day. My husband found your blog and told me about it. I think you are doing great by Melissa, Ann Catherine and Lily. Your posts are so touching and so inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story.

sherrill said...

As always, your post is both heartwrenching and inspirational. If you could measure the hope you give by the pain you feel, perhaps only then would you know how much help and comfort you are, to your family and to those of us who also have to walk this hard road. Abby has always looked to the sky to find Olivia in the stars. We recently saw a quote that said "Perhaps they are not stars at all, but rather openings in the sky where our loved ones look down to let us know they are happy." God is so gracious to send us the comfort and help that we need, each day as we need it. Never ahead of time, but never too late. What precious promises we have. Promises that our loved ones are indeed happy and have a big playground! God bless.

Heather said...

Amy,
Thanks so much for sharing your heart! All three of your girls are lucky to have parents like you and Chris. My son was in NICU toward the end of Ann Catherine's stay. I couldn't believe how well you guys carried yourselves. I can't count how many times Chris let me go in front of him to wash my hands, so I could see my son sooner! Little things like that mean a lot. Sorry for rambling, I mostly wanted to let you know you're in my prayers!

Jaded Mama said...

Amy; you ar still such an insipiration to me! I love the way you look at things. Your children are so lucky to have you.

Diana

Amy George said...

Thanks to all of you for your very kind posts. You don't know how much I appreciate them. And Sherrill, I love your quote about the stars. I will keep that in mind as I look at the sky at night. What a beautiful thought.

God bless!
Amy

The Hull Munchkins said...

I just linked to your blog from another preemie mom's blog. Your post about the girls' birthday was so honest, so sweet and hopeful.
I also had a micro preemie 4 yrs ago, and although we didn't lose her like we had prepared to, life is not what we had imagined it to be. Abby's birthday is one of the hardest days for me, although I'm so thankful to have her here with us. The memories of all the intensely difficult things that happened that day flood my mind, and make the day very bitter-sweet.

Your daughters are gorgeous!! Ann Catherine looks so healthy and happy. It must be so hard watching her grow as you miss Melissa. I'm sure she is a constant comfort and joy too!!

Just wanted to jot a note here. I met you several months ago at the NICU support meeting. Keep up the good work!

Blessings to your family.
-Patty

Anonymous said...

Amy,

You have such amazing strength! You are an inspiration to me and many other moms. I love your blog updates, and your girls are just beautiful. It's hard to believe how quickly they grow up!!

Claire