I wanted to fill you all in on how it went at the celebration of Tori Wilhoit's life on Saturday.
It was beautiful, sad, touching, painful and inspiring. It was all of those things.
Tori was a brave little girl who fought hard to be part of this world. And during the time that she was here, she impacted all of those who knew her, and those of us who didn't know her personally - but felt like we did.
And even in her death, she is still making an impact.
On Saturday, her parents, Josh and Melissa, held a gathering on what would have been Tori's first birthday. It was so nice for me to finally meet them, especially Melissa. I have felt such a connection to her since I first heard about Tori, and we have corresponded often by mail and email. It was so nice to finally hug her and meet her. Of course, we both cried as we hugged each other. I knew exactly what Melissa was feeling on that day, because I have been there. I know how empty your child's birthday can feel when they are no longer here. I know how empty your heart can feel, as well. As she and I hugged one another, I just hurt for her. Until you have been there, you can't possibly understand how it feels.
Melissa and her family did the most beautiful thing to honor Tori. Melissa had read somewhere that a butterfly was symbolic of a mother letting go of her child. So Melissa, Josh and their families went on the back steps of the clubhouse and released butterflies. It was so amazing just watching them flutter their wings and fly. As I stood there and watched them, I thought of my own daughter and how that sweet angel flew away from us one day. Their flight seemed so effortless, much unlike the pain and struggles she went through on this Earth. It was such a contrast to me and a beautiful reminder of how happy and carefree she is now. Of course, as a mother you want to grab that beautiful butterfly and beg her to fly back to you. But you also realize that once she flies away, she can never come back. The good news for me is that I can, and will, fly to her one day.
I also told Melissa about what we do on my Melissa's birthday. We release balloons to Heaven, and I think it's a wonderful visual for Ann Catherine to see those balloons flying up into the air. I encouraged her to do that as Savannah gets older, so she can see those balloons flying up to her sister.
Once I left, I got into my car and started driving home. I started crying. Really hard. The day just brought back so many memories. I cried because I missed my daughter. I cried because I wanted her back. I cried because it still just hurts so bad sometimes.
At the same time, I'm glad I know where my daughter is. I'm glad that she isn't in pain. I'm glad that she is okay. And I'm glad that I will see her again. Actually, "glad" doesn't even do it justice.
Several of the people who came to remember Tori brought something for the NICU - mostly preemie clothes and blankets. Somewhere down the road, a mother will have an emergency c-section or delivery and she'll bring a premature baby into this world. Because the baby was born so early, she won't have any blankets for her. Once she's admitted to the NICU, buying a blanket for her baby will be the last thing on her mind. She's just praying her daughter survives. Then, she'll walk into the NICU one day, and see a beautiful blanket laying over her daughter. She'll ask the nurse where the blanket came from and the nurse will say, "It was donated."
I know, because it happened to me. I still have that blanket. And because of Tori, another child will have a special blanket. And the child's mother will be so grateful.
To read Melissa Wilhoit's blog and to learn her thoughts about the rememberance of Tori, click here.