It’s been two weeks since I last kissed your cheek and held your hand. This week I missed seeing your little tongue move back and forth inside your mouth, sucking on your feeding tube. Your brain was so smart and told your body how to suck—I’m just so sorry that your physical anatomy didn’t allow you to.
For your memorial service we bought pale pink roses. I wanted a flower that was simple, soft, and innocent—just like you were. We picked up the roses on Friday, and your service was on Saturday. As soon as your service was over, I noticed the roses were starting to wilt. Then, four days after we picked them up, they started to die.
I couldn’t help but think that those roses are just like you. The day I gave birth to you you were pink, fresh, and so delicate. And just like those roses, your life was all too short. I wanted to keep you so much longer than I was able to.
On Thursday I got an email from Dr. Chen telling me there was a baby who needed my breast milk.
When you were born I starting pumping milk for you, knowing it was the best thing I could offer you. But, because of your digestive problems, you were only able to use about 1 1/2 weeks worth of milk. I pumped for you your entire life, and so I had a freezer full of milk that I had no more use for. I had tried to offer it to the hospital before, but their own freezers were full. I hoped that I would be able to use that milk to help other babies, but I wasn’t sure how.
She told me that baby’s mother had died shortly after he was born, and the baby boy himself was in poor condition. I packed up all the milk from our freezer, and grandma’s freezer, into a large green cooler and took it to the hospital. Grandma waited in the car while I took the milk inside. This was the second time I’d been in the hospital since you left us; the first time being when we went to pick up your ashes. As soon as I walked in the door, my legs immediately got heavy, and the world started moving in slow motion. I stopped for a minute, wanting to turn back, but I knew I had a very important job to do. I wheeled the cooler to the elevators and had to wait for several minutes before one arrived. It was a wait that we had done oh so many times in the last two months. I kept my eyes low to the ground, not wanting to see any familiar faces that would wonder why I was back.
I got into the elevator and pushed “5”—the floor that had held your life and your death.
When I got off the elevator my body stopped again. I didn’t want to turn the corner and see the colorful door of the PICU. The cartoons on the door are supposed to be happy and encouraging to all the children who enter. But now, to me, they are just a sad memory of all the smiles and tears that happened just inside of them.
I finally mustered up the courage to turn the corner and when I did I saw a couple sitting on the brightly colored plastic chairs. They had the same look on their faces that daddy and I had so many times—Is my baby ok? I knew immediately that their loved one had just been brought to the PICU and they were waiting to hear from the doctors whether or not they would have hope for that day, or sorrow. Oh, how fresh those memories were for me. I knew exactly what they were going through, and I wished I had the language to communicate that to them, but all I could do was offer a small smile. I called Dr. Chen and she came out to get the cooler from me.
Sophia, I’ll be honest. For a split second, when I heard the familiar squeaking of the PICU door, I thought “I’m so happy I get to see Sophia now.” For a split second I forgot that you were gone, and I was ready to quickly walk in, put on my gown, and take the first right into your room. Those things were automatic to me for 47 days, and they were that day too. But then Dr. Chen walked out with a half smile/half knowing look that showed she was aware this was hard for me, and she gave me a hug. While we were hugging I was reminded that you weren’t there anymore, and I was here to give away a gift that I had intended for you.
I gave her the cooler, she wheeled it into the PICU, and just like that all my hours of “work” were gone. It wasn’t easy getting up three times a night to pump, toting around my “backpack” in public places so I could not miss a pumping session, having to plan my daily schedule around getting that precious milk for you. But I did it for you, because you were worth it. I did it until the end, even when logic said that I should stop, because I NEVER gave up hope that God would heal you. I see now that even though I thought I was saving all that milk for you, God knew that I was saving it for him. For that little boy whose mother had died. And although it hurts so much that I can’t take care of you anymore, in a small way I am now taking care of him.
Because of my love for you, Sophia, another precious baby has a better chance for life, and in that way I feel like your life goes on.
I learned later in the day that some of the milk went to the little boy, and some went to another family who also was in need of it. That’s 2 more lives that were made better because of you, Super Girl.
For the brief minutes I was in the hospital, I became keenly aware of something—life goes on just as it always has, despite our own losses. The same nurses were briskly walking down corridors pushing IV poles. The same janitor was pushing his cart with garbage cans and brooms. The same interns were walking side by side, in their white coats, quietly whispering. And if I had been there during visiting hours, the same families would have been there to visit their children and babies that are still alive.
For anyone who is grieving, this fact—that life around you goes on despite your loss—is a painful one. In some ways you want the whole world to stop and acknowledge your grief. I want everyone to mourn you, baby girl. But that’s not the way things work. Us mommy’s and daddy’s, who are part of this secret society, have to deal with our sadness in the midst of a world that is unaware of it. And some days it seems so crazy and unbelievable that although my world is in a shambles, the world around me is exactly the same.
The fact is, roses die every day. Florists and rose farmers don’t sit and grieve just because their roses die, because they know that new roses will grow again. And although you, dear baby girl, and your memories, are so much more precious than a rose, I think I can learn from that. Right now it seems like all I have to look at are the dead roses. It seems all that I can smell is rotting petals. But I know that one day God will give me new roses again. One day I will smell the sweet scent again of a freshly made bud. One day the vibrant colors of the petals will once again fill our house, and life will get a little easier.
The precious baby boy in the PICU is just one example of a new rose that God has already given me. The notes and emails that so many have sent regarding your impact on their lives is a new small bouquet.
I will never have you back, my precious Sophia rose, but I press on clinging to the hope that God will one day show me the beautiful garden that was cultivated and grown all because of your life.