My daughter, Grace, was born in November 1987. She was ten weeks premature and lived for 17 days. Amazingly, she would be older now than I was at the time of her birth. When I look back on those 17 days, and the months that followed, it is like viewing a different person, not the woman I am today. Yes, I know these memories are a part of who I am now, but I look back in sympathy and sadness over what that young woman endured. I was little more than I child, yet I had to face some very adult situations and decisions. It saddens me to remember those terrible days, yet I would go back and relive them in an instant to once more hold my baby, Grace.
Grace was beautiful and precious. She shaped who I became as a person, a woman, and as a mother. Grace laid the groundwork for deep love and appreciation for those things that many people take for granted. Grace taught me how to love selflessly and unselfishly. She taught me a greater appreciation of the miracle of a normal, healthy birth. She taught me grace. She endured so much pain. She was so tiny, and yet her short presence on this earth shaped an entire family.
It became apparent that Grace was losing her battle to live after a successful surgery was soon followed by pneumonia. T and I were called into a room by a team of medical staff. There was nothing left to do. There were no more options. Our daughter was dying. Grace was simply too tiny to battle an infection.
Our home was over an hour away from the hospital. We held her and said our goodbyes. We made the decision not to witness her final moments. We drove home full of pain and fear. Sometime during the night, I panicked. I felt Grace needed me, but I feared it was too late. T and I had been waiting for hours for the phone call telling us that she had passed. We had been told that she would not last more than an hour, and we expected a call waiting for us when we arrived back home. There was no call. It had been hours and hours now, but still there had been no call. We decided to call the hospital to check on her. “Grace needs her mommy,” was all they said, and we jumped back into the car praying that we would not be too late.
When I neared Grace’s bed, her eyes were open, and they were beautiful. Her hair was fine and wispy, standing like strands of silk all over her head. Even now, I can see her perfectly. She was so beautiful that all fear immediately left me. I picked up her tiny body, and snuggled her close to me as I rocked her in a chair. Her eyes met mine and held my gaze for what seemed like an eternity. I knew this little soul in those moments. It was just she and I as it had been so many months during my pregnancy. She was perfect and whole in those moments. She was a little girl who needed her mommy’s reassurance as she struck out on this new journey. Eventually, Grace closed her eyes, and she was gone. I cry as I write these words, but I smile, too, at the miracle I witnessed. Grace taught me not to fear death.
I miss my child. Even after the years, decades, that have passed, I still miss her. She is never far from us. She lives on in our hearts, and she is not forgotten. I am sad that she did not experience the love of her family and of her siblings. I am sad that I didn’t get to see her grow and become an adult. Still, Grace is here. I have felt her presence over the years. She was the shadow running across the yard with the other kids at play. She was the breeze that ruffled their hair. She was brave and wise and heroic. She is our angel.
What made me remember Grace at this time was the memory I cherish of a gift at her funeral. Grace died on December 11, the same day my dad died 22 years later. Her funeral was during Christmastime, and it was a fairly long drive from our hometown. Our closest friends and family made the trip, giving up a day during the holiday season to grieve. Other friends, let us down. They were too busy, or maybe they had plans, or maybe a million things, none of which meant much to us as we buried our daughter. Forgiving and forgetting those who let us down was a huge hurdle for us as we went through the grieving process.
One wonderful gesture shines through from that horrible funeral day. I was sitting in the front pew of my ancestral church. I’ve written about the place before, as it is near and dear to me. The land was donated to the church by my great, great-grandfather. It sits smack dab in the middle of nowhere surrounded by family farm land. As I looked out the window and across the wintry land that day, a man came into view. The site shocked me. It was an old man, George, a family friend, and T’s boss at the time. He had fashioned a cross out of lush pine boughs, and he was carrying it on his back. He was hunched over and moving slowly due to the weight. The wind whipped his black coat open, and his hair was flying all around his head. He carried the cross and a little metal stand out to the cemetery behind the church to mark our daughter’s grave. My appreciation for that gesture of kindness and care has never left me. George came into the church just as the service began and sat in the back pew. I don’t think he said a word to us. He came alone, placed his cross, and left quietly at the end of the service.
George’s act of love is one of the most special memories of my life. I held him dear from that moment on, and while he is no longer with us, my love for him lives on. His gift represents giving in the truest sense of the word. His gift did not cost a dime. It held no card. He received no accolades. He simply gave, and his gift was from the heart.