But Caitlin was born too soon and did not survive; and I lost not just my tiny daughter, but my entire future with her. The future looks different when you lose a child, and especially when you lose a baby with whom you have not even had a chance to make memories. You've started to make plans, you've started to wonder: what will she look like? Will she be a princess or an athlete--or both? Will she inherit math-phobia from mom, or have a knack for numbers, like dad? Will she be a rock star? A poet? An engineer? A mom? Every expectant parent imagines and anticipates the moments of sweetness and connection: sitting in a rocking chair singing lullabies; stretched out on a bed reading books; walking in the door at the end of the day and hearing, "Mommy!" (or "Daddy!").
Getting through those first few months was painful and lonely, but losing Caitlin eventually supplied me with a mission: to walk beside others who are going through the same painful loss of a pregnancy or infant. I don't have anything to offer except empathy and compassion. Sometimes it helps a grieving parent to know that someone else has gone through that dark valley, and come out on the other side, where eventually, hope and laughter return, where we can again be surprised by joy.
The brief lives of Grace, Jonathan and David, John Paul, Abigail, Jeremiah, Luke, Willow, and Jack touched many people besides just their parents and siblings. The continual presence of their absence changes the future, and we may never understand why God allowed these lives to be conceived and then cut short.
And now there's another one. Tomorrow I'm getting together with Matthew's mom, two weeks after his birthday, which was also the day he died. Another mom struggling to put one foot in front of another, watching the rest of the world go about its business while she wants to scream, "I had a baby, and he died!" I'll sit with her, and ask her to tell me Matthew's story if she wants to, and I won't try to cheer her up by telling her, "Don't worry; you can have another baby!" I'll try to help her feel a tiny bit less alone.
Maybe I'll bring her a copy of this poem by William Wordsworth, which my friend Irish read at Caitlin's memorial service:
So I'm not doing normal mother-daughter birthday things with Caitlin--but I'm saying her name a lot today. And maybe tonight we'll have cake in her honor. I'll bet she'd like that.
SURPRISED by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.