This past week marks sixteen years since our daughter died of SIDS. In some ways, it seems like it has only been yesterday – in other ways, I lived every single day of those sixteen years remembering someone so dear to my heart. Someone I miss and think about and long to see again. In that way, it seems like a long time.
The day she died I remember thinking how sad it was that it was so close to Christmas. Twelve days before Christmas. I remember wondering out loud if this would make Christmas’ from there on out hard. Someone listening assured me it would not. He was wrong. Every single Christmas since that cold December day sixteen years ago has been affected by her death.
The unfortunate thing about losing a loved one so close around the holidays is that there are so many more trigger points that affect the memories. I have gone from loving Christmas and feeling like it is “the most wonderful time of the year” to a sense of dread because of how many memories it brings to my mind.
I see the Christmas lights go up around town and I am brought back to the memory of seeing the Christmas lights on the way to the funeral home for the visitation that night before her funeral. We put up the Christmas tree and I think about how we took the girls’ picture by the our decorated tree, never knowing less than twelve hours later she would be dead. The photos a cherished memory of our last night together as a family.
Perhaps the hardest part for me as the holidays approach is the festivities at church. Our lives have revolved around church. Before Ally died and since Ally died. I have found that church festivities are the same no matter the church you attend. There are the carols that are sung for services. There is the auditorium decorations that are so similar. Green garland, white lights, poinsettias…. And, of all the trigger points that take me back sixteen years the ones at church seem to be the hardest.
The annual Christmas cantata has become a source of unbearable sadness. For in the music, I remember the hours and hours of practice I had done that year to get ready for our church cantata. Ally would sit in her seat next to the piano and I would practice the pieces that our choir would be singing. The sound of the Christmas music had been a part of my life for weeks and weeks before she died. She was always there with me while I played – and her absence from the cantata brought more pain that I can put into words.
The Christmas music was playing on the radio the moment I walked into her room and found her not breathing. The look of death is haunting and cruel. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. The 911 call and watching my husband do mouth to mouth as I begged the emergency operator to get help to us as fast as she could. The Christmas wreath on the door shook as the first police officer arrived and walked through our front door. I took him to her room – and he took over the CPR as I grabbed his arm and begged him to make her breath again.
The house was soon filled with firefighters, police officers and detectives. The phone was ringing and I did not hear it. I was only brought out of my state of shock by the sound of someone crying – uncontrollably.
The sound was one I could not make out and I remember wondering what the sound was – only to realize that it was my husband on the phone with someone. I later found out it was one of my closest friends calling to see what time the cantata practice was that afternoon. Suddenly, I was brought back to the present and realized that I was not even supposed to be at the house that morning. I was supposed to be at a cookie exchange. I had called and canceled the night before because something had to be taken out of my schedule. Life had gotten too busy. The cookie exchange was the chosen activity.
I remember them taking Ally out on a stretcher and I begged for them to put on another blanket. It was cold outside and I could not believe that they did not have her covered up better. I ran in and got her blanket while they waited at the door. The already knew something I did not know. She did not need her blanket. I stayed home to make arrangements for someone to watch Rachel and Abbey. Rob went ahead in the ambulance. I would be following behind shortly. The detective had more questions for me as did the other detective that went with Rob. As I look back, I wish I could change that. I don’t know why I stayed. I knew I was coming along right behind them; but I wish I would have left with them.
I remember the phone call that came as I was heading out the door to the hospital. It was Rob – and Pastor answered the phone. He said he could not tell me and wanted Pastor to let me know. Pastor’s voice was quiet as he hung up the phone and looked over at me and told me that Rob had called to let us know that they had done everything they could but that she was gone. I will never forget the next moment, I sunk to the floor weeping. Deep weeping from the depths of my heart. Like I had never cried before. But just as strong as the tears came from the depths within me I felt someone right there next to me. It was God – I knew it. I could not see Him; but He was right there beside me as sure as if I could see Him face to face. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that He was weeping with me and was with me right there as my heart shattered into a million pieces.
I remember hearing “Oh Holy Night” playing on the radio as we went to the hospital. I do not remember who I was with – or how I got into the car – only the song – and an incredible sadness that I had never experienced before.
When we got to the hospital emergency room I remember holding her body and realizing how true it was that our body is just a shell. I remember talking about the funeral arrangements and what day it would be best to have the funeral. I remember thinking of all the people we needed to call, all the plans that needed to be made for her funeral in four days.
That was Saturday.
I remember crying the entire night. I have never cried that long and that hard in my life before that day. I grieved through every hour of that night. That would be the longest night of my life. I begged God to make this be a dream; then my prayers went to begging God to forgive me for whatever sin I had committed that would make Him punish me so severally. My chest hurt as I cried from the depths of my heart and I did my best to wrap the pillow around my face as I cried – fearing I would awaken the girls asleep in their beds.
The next day was Sunday. I remember getting the girls buckled in the car to go to church. The infant car seat base was left bucked in the seat; but it remained empty. My five year old daughter said in surprise, “We forgot Ally – then she looked up at my eyes and remembered. I closed the door and tears spilled down my cheeks. It was going to be a long day. I played the piano for church and Rob led the singing. It was something I wanted to do for God. I wanted Him to know that no matter what I would serve Him – even if my heart was breaking. It was the only part of that day that felt normal – in an odd sort of way.
Our Sunday afternoon was spent at the funeral home. We had an obituary to write, flowers to choose, and a casket to pick out. More tears. We left the funeral home to drive through the area cemeteries to pick out where we wanted her buried. We found a beautiful cemetery close to the church and then headed back to church for the conclusion of choir practice. The Christmas Cantata that had been scheduled for that Sunday night had been postponed to the following week. The choir practice that had been reserved to go over a few rough spots of a Christmas cantata was now being used to practice the music for our daughter’s funeral in three days.
I could go on and on about how Christmas triggers memories of our daughter’s death. Year after year it happens and year after year I hope and pray that it is better than the last year. Time heals all wounds – right? That has yet to happen. Each year I am paralyzed by the memories that come along with the holidays. This year was no exception. Each year I hope that it will be easier. Each year it is not.
The absolute hardest thing for me each and every Christmas is the church Christmas party. It usually falls on the same weekend that Ally died. Just like it did that year. Each year I am begged to go and each year I find that I just can’t. Too many memories. Too many confusing feelings . It does not feel right to go to a Christmas Party on the weekend your daughter died – even if it was sixteen years ago. It’s the weekend that my heart shattered into a million pieces. The weekend my life changed forever. How can I go to a party on a weekend like that?
This year was no different. The little kids begged for me to go. I told Rob I just couldn’t. Too hard. Too many memories. How would it look? I was pulled. The sadness and hurt I felt cut deep. While I did want to go – I found it to be something that would be inappropriate for me to attend. Yet, it did not seem right for me to stay home either. It *has* been sixteen years.
Rob urged me to make a phone call. He felt I needed to talk about these feelings with someone. I was unsure of making the call. After all, it *has* been sixteen years. I should be over this by now. I should not be still crying this hard over the memories that come with this weekend. Finally I made the call.
I told her about the feelings. I cried. I told her how much this week brought back the memories of that weekend sixteen years ago. The trauma of finding her and then the days that followed in preparing to bury her. I wept as I remembered.
Then she said something that pinpointed the problem. This week I remember her dying. Within this week I remember all the horrors of her death. Death is a horrible thing. Death brings trauma. I understand that!
Then she reminded me of HOPE. Christ brought HOPE when he rose from the dead and conquered death. Because of Him I do not have to fear death - even the death of Ally sixteen years ago. She reminded me that Ally is not dead – she is alive. She is just not here. She is “Waiting in Heaven”. As she talked, I realized I was remembering her dead – not alive. As she talked I saw it! She is not dead! She is alive. The horrors of that weekend – have been conquered. She is alive. She is in Heaven. Her days are filled with happiness. Remembering her dead is paralyzing. Realizing she is alive fills me with HOPE.
She then encouraged me to go on. This is the hard part. To go to the party and to have a good time. How? Is that even appropriate? The questions came through tears and I told her I did not see how I could do this. She encouraged me to think of what Ally’s days are like in Heaven. Complete happiness. Complete peace. Total joy. I need to think of her days now not of that day back then. She then encouraged me to ask God to give me a verse from His word to allow me to see that it was time for my life to go on.
I got off the phone and the clock was ticking. I needed to get going. The family needed to leave soon for the Christmas Party. I knew I needed to go. It was time. I quickly got around and then headed out to the van. I prayed as we drove that God would give me a verse, time had not allowed me to pull out my Bible. “God, I know your word. Surly you can bring a verse to mind that I have memorized. I need something from your Word!” Just then the phrase came to my mind, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment…” I knew God had given me the verse, though I could not quote the verse in it’s entirety I had enough to hang onto through the party.
I stepped into the house and started talking with people. I quoted the phrase several times when I thought about Ally. I chose not to look back at the weekend sixteen years ago – I chose to look ahead to the future. All the heartaches of earth cannot come close to comparing to the things that wait for me in Heaven. This light affliction is but for a moment compared to eternity. I participated in the games – and had fun. Lots of fun. For the first time in sixteen years I did not feel guilty. It’s time to go on.
I came home and tucked the little ones in bed and then pulled out my Bible. I wanted to read the verse God had given me in its entirety and context. What I found was breathtaking.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair… For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
I just sat there amazed at His goodness to me. He gave me these verses! I don’t need to look back and remember the trauma of that day and the days that followed Ally’s death. Those are things which are seen – or have been seen by me - and praise the Lord, they are temporary! They don’t last. I need to look to the things which I have not yet seen; but are just as real as those memories. Heaven is waiting. She is waiting in Heaven. Eternity with Christ will never end. It is eternal.
I closed my Bible and thanked God for HOPE. I am on a mission this year. To keep an eternal focus during the holidays and build memories with the children God has given me. So thankful for a God that is living and offers me HOPE even in difficult situations.