I woke up this morning and looked at the clock.
I immediately knew it was June 1st. Ten years ago, Melissa Suzanne and Ann Catherine had just entered the world. Melissa at 6:18 a.m. and Ann Catherine one minute later at 6:19 a.m. As I lay in bed, I thought about how they were probably already in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children by 6:35 that morning. I was under anesthesia after an emergency c-section and was unaware that they were both fighting to live, but Chris was with them every moment after they took their first breaths and accompanied them to the NICU. I wondered what those moments must have been like for him. He had to shoulder it alone while I was in the Operating Room. I hate that I couldn't have been with him - and with the girls.
Then I tried to remember, what time did she die?
My mind began grasping at times. Was it 7:52 a.m.? 8:08? 8:32? For some unknown reason, I couldn't remember.
I lay there wracked with guilt.
Honestly, what kind of mother can't remember the exact time her daughter died??
Those hands on the clock, forever frozen in time for us on that day, would become the catalyst for all we would do in Melissa's name. It would become the catalyst for how we lived from that moment forward. It changed our lives in such a profound way. It led to our "new normal."
And now, ten years later, I couldn't tell you the time she died.
I was in anguish. Why couldn't I remember??
I slowly began to realize why. It wasn't because I had blocked it out. It wasn't because time - ten years to be exact - had made it less meaningful for us.
It was because that time on a clock doesn't define my daughter. Her death doesn't define her.
Her life does.
When Melissa died, our world went black. I felt dead on the inside. I remember telling Chris, "I feel like someone has stolen my joy, and I don't know how to get it back." It was a pain like I had never experienced, and to this day, I haven't again. I didn't want to sleep, because every time I closed my eyes, I saw her. And when I was awake, I thought about her constantly.
I wanted to close my bedroom door and stay there forever. How in the world was I supposed to go out among the living when I felt like I had died, too?
And during that time, the most painful time of my life, God revealed something to me. The best way I could honor Melissa's memory was to live.
I don't mean to just breathe. I don't mean to go about my daily life with a smile on my face while I was an empty shell on the inside.
I mean to really live.
To embrace life. To laugh again. To find my joy. To be the mom and wife I was meant to be. And to do all of the things she never could. What better way to honor Melissa's memory than to live? It's the one thing she couldn't do.
I felt that way last week when I ran my first 10K in memory of her. I feel it every time I watch Chris and Ann Catherine play catch in the backyard. I feel it every time I watch Ann Catherine on the softball field and the volleyball court. And I feel it when Lily Baker dances.
Lily Baker had her recital this weekend. Her ballet dance was to the song, "You'll Be In My Heart" from the movie, Tarzan. You see, God doesn't deal in coincidences.
That has always been the song that makes me think of Melissa. Then a few years later at Ann Catherine's first Swim for Melissa, the DJ played it while she swam her laps. And now, here was Lily Baker on stage dancing gracefully to "our song." The one that Melissa and I share.
For one so small,
You seem so strong
My arms will hold you
Keep you safe and warm
This bond between us
Can't be broken
I will be here
Don't you cry
'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more.
I sat in the audience and sobbed as she danced. My God is so amazing. Over the last ten years, He has allowed me to see "glimpses" of Melissa in our every day lives. And this was just another example. She would never be able to dance on this earth, but her sister can. And on that night, she danced for her.
As I lay in bed this morning thinking of this, the floodgates opened. I began to mourn the child I would never see grow up. And I allowed myself to have those moments as Ann Catherine still slept in her room. Chris walked in and laid on the bed with me as we cried together. When you've shared the loss of a child, you learn to communicate without words. A few moments later, I finally spoke.
"What time did she die?"
Chris was silent for a few seconds and said, "I'm not sure. It was a few hours after she was born."
He knows me well enough to know I would never be satisfied with that answer. He got up and I knew he was going to check her death certificate. Moments later, he came back and said, "8:44."
8:44 a.m. Of course. It was so clear to me now. I wondered how I had ever forgotten it.
And then I forgave myself. Those numbers on the clock don't control me any longer. Yes, they are significant. Yes, they are important. Yes, they were life-changing for us.
But, they are not as important as 6:18 a.m. Because that is the moment my firstborn came into the world. That is when it all began.
Her life is what matters. Her life is what changed us. Her life is what makes me want to be a better person. Her life is what makes me want to live my own life with joy, and grace and full of love.
Her death doesn't define her. And it no longer defines me. And I have no doubt she would want us to live that way.
One of Ann Catherine's favorite songs is "Do Life Big" by Jamie Grace and it truly embodies who she is. Ann Catherine lives life BIG. She loves big. She plays big. She celebrates big. She mourns big. She just lives life so big, and sometimes I wonder if that was born out of how hard she had to fight in those early days just to live.
I want to live that way, too. I want to live life BIG. What better way to honor my sweet Melissa.
Happy birthday, baby girl. Today, we will celebrate your life. And we promise to spend the rest of ours living big.