Earlier this year, we shared a father’s story of how he and his wife dealt with the knowledge that their unborn daughter had a fatal diagnosis. This is the follow-up to that story:
After Annie was born and she finally lay across her mother’s arms for the first time, I took our tears and baptized our little girl. “Annie Elizabeth Holloway,” I whispered to her, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It was the first time I had ever said her full name. It was a declaration of her as my own and as His.
For months Lynne and I had imagined this moment. We knew that she would not be with us long. She wasn’t promised a single breath, yet she gave us 45 minutes. Watching her tiny chest rise and fall in the dim light of the early morning, we kissed her cheeks and lips, whispering our love to her. And as much as it broke our heart to do so, we told her that it would be OK to leave us. We told her she could go to Jesus, we would miss her and we would see her soon. Then her mommy sang to her:
Jesus loves you this I know
For the Bible tells us so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong
Yes, Jesus loves you
Yes, Jesus loves you
Yes, Jesus loves you
The Bible tells me so
As a nurse checked Lynne, I walked Annie to the window and bathed her in the daylight as it broke through gray clouds. I told her about what was outside, how her big sister loved to go outside and play, even in the cold, and I told her of how much more I wished that she could see. After finishing with Lynne, the nurse came over and gently placed her stethoscope on Annie’s chest. She placed it in three places, filling the quiet time with long pauses as if she was gathering the words she needed to say.
And she whispered, “She’s passed.”
We filled the quiet air with the sound of her song “Annie.”
So hard to see what life without you would be like for me
Would the sky be as blue and the grass as green
Where would I be without you
And then we worshipped the God who grants us beauty for our ashes.
We kept Annie with us, allowing family and a few friends to see her and to hold her. Lynne and I mostly stayed alone with her. After cuddled beneath the warm covers of the hospital bed with her mommy, I again walked her over to the window and showed her the first snow of the season as it fell gently against the glass.
We kept her tiny body warm as long as we could, bathing her with warm tears, wrapping her gently in my long-sleeved T-shirt and holding her closely to our breath. And at the end of the day—after kissing every finger and toe, feeling her soft skin against our tear-stained faces and looking over every inch of her, even that which took her from this world—Lynne and I said goodbye.
Walking her down the echoing corridor of the labor and delivery unit, my heart crushing beneath the deep hurt, I kept my eyes on her. I imagined us in a different world where she was only sleeping as I returned her to the nursery.
I walked into a small holding room and placed her into quilted bedding. Taking one last chance to burn her sweet image into my mind, I straightened her dress that once belonged to her mommy, positioned the bonnet given to her from her Grammy, pulled her hat tightly over her head, and at last marveled at her tiny hands as I positioned them gently over her chest. Looking at her sweet face, I struggled to hold my tears and softly prayed that He would let me see her again.
Only as I left, did I see that I had placed her in her coffin, to be, as I gently left her.
There is no pain like this. Looking into Lynne’s eyes, I see deep into a soul’s ache that I cannot heal. And as I feel my own, the terrible ripping beneath the skin and bones of my chest, I know that we need Jesus. We need Him not to save us from this, but to keep reminding us that heaven is soon and very soon. We long for heaven today unlike we ever have before.
Throughout the pregnancy and our time with Annie, Lynne sustained my courage by her own. She held the Lord’s promises to her like balm to her breaking heart. And now, as we’ve opened our eyes to these mornings without her, we’re falling face down before our only hope of seeing her again—Jesus Christ. We’re remembering her. We’re being entertained by the holy imagination of her laughter and joy in the arms of our Savior and in the arms of our loved ones gone, too. And when the smell of her fades from the knitted blanket that she was wrapped in, and when we no longer find the beautiful little hair caught in the folds of her blanket, it will have to be Jesus alone that sustains our ever broken hearts with the promise that He will restore them again, soon and very soon.
My dear wonderful Annie,
Nothing could have ever prepared us for letting you go. That’s certain. But what’s even more apparent is how nothing could have ever prepared us for how very deeply we love you. It sinks through to the core of our souls. We miss you. O how we miss you.
And thank you, my baby. Thank you for coming to us. For breathing with us and letting our hearts beat together for these many months. Thank you for the 45 most glorious minutes that we looked into your eyes and you looked into ours. We would do everything again – every pain, every push, every aching heartbeat. But we will wait, we will long for heaven’s promise.
Your mommy and I are finding such joy in knowing that when we see you again, when we’re drawn into that holy place, we’ll know you immediately—you’ll look just like your big sister, you beautiful and perfect child.
Merry Christmas, Annie. We love you with these pieces of broken and painful hearts while we remember the One who came to restore them.
Gabe Holloway is a former youth pastor and current student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. You can follow his blog at http://gabeholloway.tumblr.com.