Alone in the doctor’s office, our silence gave way to heart wrenching cries—cries that mingled between that of suffocating grief and one of battle; a battle where our only ammunition was to hope bigger, to hope deeper and longer and wider—and to pray ceaselessly for a miracle, for the doctors to have been wrong, for anything other than this. Defeat bullied its way into our lives and robbed us of life, of dreams, of the future that we had pictured in our mind’s eye; a future we’d fashioned in splashes of vibrant yellows, various hues of orange, violets, hot pinks, and all the colors in between. This dream had fluttered, tickling my daughter’s ribs. This dream’s heart out beat ours and seemed to lead us. And now, that was gone.
The sun’s morning rays filtered through the higher than normal windows, warming the room and highlighting the lilies that were beautifully arranged on its sill. Just the two of us, my daughter and I sat side by side in rare moments of silence dreading the visit with the social worker that had been provided to her through the hospital—standard procedure when a baby passes away in utero late into the second trimester. I looked down and realized that I had been wearing my daughter’s sweatshirt for a week straight. Dribbles of coffee and other unidentifiable substances, frayed hoodie ties, and watermarks of tears and runny nose streaks ran up and down my sleeves. I chose to wear her sweatshirt every day because I wanted to be near her, nearer to her than just proximity. I wanted to smell her, to feel her, to be with her in a way that superseded anything worldly possible. Maybe that sounds weird.
Only two weeks prior had we learned that her baby had been diagnosed with anencephaly. It’s not only a hard to word to pronounce, the diagnosis is equally, if not more so, hard to comprehend. Essentially, it means that her baby’s skull, brain, and/or spine had not developed properly in early pregnancy. It is a death sentence for the child. If, if, if her baby girl were to survive until she reached full term, her life expectancy would be hours, days at the most. My daughter was presented with the choice to terminate then, at 21 weeks or to attempt to carry to term. She wanted a different option, we wanted a different set of choices. Grief set in and in our own way we began to say goodbye to those vibrant dreams.
I talk to my daughter most days—she is, after all, one of my most treasured friends in all the world. She called one night with absolute resolve to carry her baby girl to term. Her words hung like a thick cloud in the air and as I began to wrap my mind around what the next 19 weeks would look like for her, I ached. I would have ached for her either way. “Mom, I heard her heartbeat. I felt her kick. I cannot be the one responsible for ending that.” Her conviction was strong and so well grounded. She was aware of the pain she was certain to encounter every step along the way and yet, she viewed this time as a gift. This was the only time they would have with their daughter.
Though they knew they would never bring their baby girl home from the hospital, they would spend these next months giving her a lifetime of love, read all the books, tell all the stories. They’d share their hopes for her and dreams of what seeing her at heaven’s gate would look like. They’d tell her how her life, though short, had taught them so much about themselves and propelled them to be the best versions of themselves. They would vow to live the life she would not get to live. They would chase ducks in the park and go down the slide. They would fly kites and build sand castles. They would finger paint and pluck flowers from the side of the road. They would sleep with stuffed animals and dream of sugary treats and long talks with friends. Her life mattered and they were going to make every moment count.
She told us then that they had decided to name their daughter Lilly, which means “pure, innocent, and she knows.” It was the perfect name for her. We designed a lily garden, planting a hundred or more bulbs; kissing some, hugging others, whispering “I love you” over others. The symbolism as we did this and then timidly covered each bulb with moistened dirt was beautifully hard. Little did we know that only a week or so later, we would learn that their baby girl’s heart had stopped.
It felt like we lost her twice.
A week later, we found ourselves in that high-rise doctor’s office, filtering through several appointments that would end with my daughter beginning the process to prepare her body to deliver her baby. The lilies on the window sill— a God thing, if I can be so bold, to communicate to my girl that Christ was walking with her each and every step of this journey. Both our eyes rested on those lilies and our tear-filled eyes and toothless smile nodded at the understanding that we were experiencing something sacred, something holy. It wasn’t about the lilies. It was about the peace that we found in that office and in the midst of utter destruction.
For lack of a better analogy, I felt swaddled, wrapped tightly, held, seen—my grief gave way to light and night gave way to song. This place was warm, secure, silent—a cocoon of sorts—safe. I wanted to stay in this place—this place that can’t be manufactured, only graced; this place that can’t be fully comprehended in the light, but fills every part of our mind, body, and souls in the dead of night. I wanted to stay in this sacred place, this sanctuary—with my grief, my loss, this agonizing pain–and this peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s not healthy to stay here forever, of course, but this gift at this time is more than my heart can articulate or dares to fully grasp. It is after all the very Spirit of Christ dwelling in and amongst us. That is Peace and He made Himself seen, felt, and known around each and every turn in that hospital.
An afternoon in Lilly’s Garden revealed God’s promises in more than one way
I’ve known my Jesus a long time so it was easy for me to recognize His presence that day. I wondered if my girl recognized Him as well. I was a little apprehensive to ask her, to share what I was feeling. She’d wrestled with Christ for several years, always begging Him to make Himself known to her and always feeling let down. So I cleared my throat in that sterile room and timidly asked, “Does this feel sacred to you, like something more than this line up of appointments is happening to you, to us today? Does it feel bigger somehow? Intimate?” Her eyes filled with tears as she gulped hard and whispered, “Yes. I think it’s God.” I paused for a moment and said, “Yeah, I think it is too.” The social worker walked in the next moment and the dialogue that proceeded over the following three hours was laced with more peace and grace and a love between mother and daughter and their heavenly Father than either had ever experienced before.
The cocoon is still intact, but I know that when that butterfly emerges she will be more vibrant and more whole than she ever has been.