Thirty-Eight years ago, I buried my youngest daughter, and I had no input in that decision. She was snatched from me at a very young age by a heart condition that today is quickly fixed with surgery right after they are born. Sadly, back in 1981, the technology had not been developed yet to help my baby.
After spending the first two months of her young life in and out of Children’s Hospital, the doctor decided my Lindsay needed that open-heart surgery she had told us about at the end of week one. The doctor’s original prognosis was that she needed to weigh about 20 pounds to withstand the stress of that difficult surgery.
Lindsay was not born prematurely. She was not a preemie. She had a normal delivery and entered this world weighing a healthy 7 pounds, 4 ounces. She looked normal. She cried normal. She nursed normal. She pooped normal!! But the doctor heard a slight heart murmur and wanted us to have it checked out.
We quickly and nervously left one hospital only to find another. Columbus Children’s Hospital was a short trip away, but once inside, it scared the crap out of me! The ward they put us in, Cardiology, was terrifying. When they let us take her home after six days, we were elated and terrified at the same time. So when the heart surgeon told us, “You can her home and treat as a normal baby, but she has a congenital heart defect and will go into congestive heart failure within a couple of months.”
My wife and I were not certain how to process that, but we drove away from that hospital as quickly as we could trying to outrun our fears. But sure enough, she did go into congestive heart failure about a month later and we found ourselves back in that same hospital ward at Children’s Hospital.
We never took her home again. After her surgery, she held on for another two months hooked up to every type of machine you could imagine. Finally, on a cold and snowy Monday afternoon, she left us. Three days later, I buried my little girl.
Standing over her gravesite that morning as snow fell all around me, I helped the cemetery crew shovel some surrounding dirt over her tiny casket. It was beginning to sink in that I would never bring her home with me.
I only have some memories left behind and not all good ones. Memories of a noisy hospital ward. Memories of a ventilator that had been put down her throat after the surgery and never removed. Memories of two nurses constantly by her side. Memories of breathing treatments that were impossible to witness. Memories of watching my young wife hold her baby tightly as she passed away in her arms.
But I also have memories of being at home with all my children gathered around our Christmas tree. I have memories of my wife nursing our newborn in a room where we found some solace from a horrible place just past a simple door at Children’s Hospital. I have a few pictures of my baby girl to hold onto, well, seven is all we have. She wasn’t home long, and camera phones hadn’t been invented yet.
I know everyone says there is a grieving process that everyone must go through to keep moving on with their lives. But I believe we are given memories as a gift, even the sad ones. I believe part of God’s plan is to not simply to move past the grieving cycle. I think we are supposed to always reside in a part of that process. A place where we can linger a while and hold onto all those moments. Memories are not always pleasant, but they should be cherished just the same. We always have those precious memories to hold on to. Hold tight to them. Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad every now and again. I have learned to take the bad and the good ones close to my heart.
We don’t always get to take them home with us.