Today is the last day of the most difficult week of our year. About this time 17 years ago, I was sitting in a fairly full sanctuary, before a tiny casket placed on the church’s communion table (I hate that table, and I’m glad it’s stuck out in the foyer and not used anymore). The table was filled with flowers and one tiny pink teddy bear, and a book of pictures for people to look at.
We listened to songs sung by a dear friend. We chose a lullaby called “O Father of Jesus” by Michael Card, because I had listened to his CD while I was pregnant with Madison. Another friend, in the Christian music business, recommended Twila Paris’s song, “A Visitor From Heaven.” I listened to it in the hospital, and really liked it….if you can like a song about your child dying.
My dear, brave, grieving husband got up and gave a lovely tribute to all of the people who had helped us that week, and to his daughter whose body was in the box on the table in front of him. I’m sure he only could have done that by the grace of God. I sat down in the front row watching him, thinking my collapse was imminent through the whole service. There is no way I could have gotten up there.
Our pastor spoke to us. I tried with all of my heart to listen to his words and believe them. At one point he spoke one sentence that broke my already devastated heart, and I checked out from that point on.
When the service was over, everyone was dismissed. Andy and I sat in our seats staring at that casket, knowing the next few minutes would be the hardest of our lives. When the sanctuary was empty, we rose and walked toward our little girl. Our precious funeral director was there to assist us, and helped us each take a hold of Madison’s casket. We were her pall bearers. We walked slowly down the aisle with our sweet girl, and you could have heard a pin drop when we got to the foyer. All of the chatter stopped, and people just stared at us. I had trouble with the stairs, so Andy held Madison by himself until we got to the bottom. We walked to the limo, and were able to place Madison’s casket between us on the seat for the ride to the cemetery.
It was a private interment service, that was all I could take. We had invited family and a few of our closest friends to go with us. We placed Madison’s tiny casket on top of a very tiny grave, and sat in the two chairs designated for us. Our friends and family gathered around behind us. We heard final words of comfort and hope from our pastor, sang one final lullaby to our sweet girl, and then we sat there as everyone walked back to their cars. I had purposely put copious amounts of lipstick on in the limo so that I could leave one final kiss on that casket before I left. I had to practically get down on the ground to do that, and getting back up was extremely difficult.
As we got ready to walk away, I looked over and saw one of the funeral directors standing there. He stood with his hands folded watching us. I wondered why he stood there after we left. Many years later, my dad (who now works for that funeral home) would tell me that the funeral director is required to stay there until the grave is sealed. For some reason that was a comfort to me. We were not allowed to stay…I think that would have been too much for me. But he stayed with our girl until the deed was done. I did send Andy back to grab the little pink teddy bear before we left, and it remains in my hope chest after all these years. Morgan occasionally will ask to sleep with it.
It was so very hard to walk away from her grave that day. I held my husband’s hand, and I had the distinct feeling that something had changed inside of me, and I was never going to be the person I was before, again.
Later that evening, Andy and I went for a drive. We drove around with the music from the funeral playing, and neither of us spoke a word. We were numb. For some reason we decided to go back to the cemetery, and that was not a good idea. When I got out of the car, I was greeted with a mound of dirt strewn with already wilting flowers, the Mommy banner that had been on top of her casket, and it just looked so final, and like death to me. I fell to my knees in the dirt, and sobbed the loudest and longest I had all week. I had sincerely tried all week to keep it in for those around me, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My daughter was DEAD, and her little body was in that ground. I don’t know how I was able to get up…I sincerely wanted to crawl in with her. I furiously stomped on all of the bugs that were crawling around, and wanted to sit there with my umbrella to protect her from the weather that would inevitably come.
We ended up back at my sister’s hotel room, surrounded by nieces and nephews who wanted to love on us and comfort us…they were so darling. That is the same outfit I wore in the bassinet picture just a week before…only that smile was gone. The happy was gone. My heart was broken, and the baby bump that filled that outfit before was gone too. What I felt in the cemetery that morning, was intensified here. I don’t even know what we were watching on the tv. I was numb and so very very sad.
17 years have gone by. Nine of those years were spent in the worst hell of my life. When we walked out of the cemetery that morning, my husband walked out clinging to the grace of God, and hope. Me…not so much. I lived in a numb sort of state for 3.5 years as God brought two more little ones safely into our lives. Then when Morgan was about 6 months old, I had a breakdown that took me down a very very dark road….one that I would not come back from until the summer of 2005. Nine years of horrible pain, anguish, fear, anxiety, and no trust or faith to speak of. The only link I had to God during those years was my music…which I continued to play in church.
Thankfully God did not leave me there. He brought me out of that time (with the help of a wonderful, dear pastor, and another godly mentor and friend), and little by little has restored my faith, my trust, my belief, and has allowed me to rest in His sovereignty. I have hope that we’ll see our girl again, and that will be a great day! The joy we once had in our marriage (this happened to us just after our first anniversary ) was restored, and God put us all back together as a family. All four of us had gone through very traumatic times. Now we are stronger than we have ever been, we love more deeply, and we have learned to forgive and extend grace beyond anything we ever did before, because it was given to us. God has proven His faithfulness to us, and has given us a peace like we never had before. The days are still painful…there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my girl. But God brings comfort through amazing friends, and brings music and Scripture to mind that is a great help to us. We don’t wallow, we are not in the depths of despair. We cling to the One who has conquered death, and who holds our daughter in His everlasting arms.
If this song had been around when Madison died, I would have loved to have had it sung at her funeral. I have since sung it at a funeral myself. It’s so beautiful, and the words have brought me so much comfort…