Monday, June 23, 2014

Amazing Gracie

More than a few times over the past two weeks my contacts have been rendered totally useless by mid-afternoon from excess buildup of salt. More than a few times over the past two weeks my 4-year old has looked at me and said, "Mommy, it looks like you're a little bit sad." Over the past two weeks I've mowed down more than a few trees worth of tissues. You see, the past two weeks have been exceptionally difficult for our family as we had to say goodbye to our sweet baby niece, Grace Adalyn.

Just a short month ago my younger brother, Ben and his wife, Jenna {twenty-somethings and parents to an adorable 2-year old} went for a routine 20-week anatomy sonogram to check on the baby they were expecting in October. That day changed all of our lives forever. The sonogram showed that they were having a baby girl, but also that she had some very serious health problems and physical abnormalities. Further testing would lead to her diagnosis of a condition called triploidy- Gracie had 3 sets of each chromosome instead of two. This meant that she would not be able to survive outside her Mommy's womb. 

The future became uncertain. There was no way to predict how the rest of the pregnancy would go or how long it would last. Many factors were at play including an increased risk for preeclampsia, a condition that can only be remedied by delivery. Ben and Jenna were determined to leave things in God's hands and let Him do the decision making. In the meantime, they would do everything they could think of to cherish their time with their sweet girl and preserve memories of her to hold onto after she went to Heaven. 

Almost two weeks ago the time finally came. Jenna had developed preeclampsia and needed to deliver for her own health and safety. Labor was induced and Grace Adalyn was peacefully born into Heaven in the early morning hours of June 18. Our family gathered at the hospital to meet her, hold her, pray over her, and to support her parents and big brother. She was absolutely beautiful. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

We had done our best to explain the situation to Carsen at the tender age of 4. It wasn't that long ago that she welcomed her own baby sister into the world, and we knew she would be wondering why Gracie wasn't around. We told her that Gracie was a very special girl, and that she was going to live in Heaven with God when she was born. We might as well have said that Gracie won the lottery and a unicorn. Carsen was just thrilled for her baby cousin. All she knew was that Heaven is an amazing place where the likes of God, Jesus, and "don't forget Mary" hang out. To her, this was nothing but wonderful news. So on the morning of June 18 we let her know that it was Gracie's big day and she was going up to Heaven. 

Thursday and Friday were spent making sure every detail of the ceremony, planned for Saturday morning, would be exactly what Ben and Jenna wanted it to be for their baby girl. It was an honor to help in any way. My job was to bring balloons, tags and pens so everyone could write a message to Gracie and send it up to her attached to a balloon. Friday night as Josh was saying prayers with Carsen before bed and talking about what we'd be doing in the morning, she said the most precious thing. She told him that next time it's Christmas, she's going to ask Santa for wings so she can go up and visit Gracie. It ripped my heart out, but I'm so grateful for her innocent little 4-year old perspective. She could only see the beauty and wonder in this situation and absolutely admired her very special baby cousin who gets to live with God.

That Saturday morning we gathered at the cemetery. Ben, Jenna and Eli were surrounded by friends and family. A light rain fell from the gray sky, like millions of tears from Heaven to remind us that God hurts when we hurt. Carefully chosen music played as friends and family gathered, hugged, and cried. Their pastor led a beautiful ceremony. And then it was time to give Gracie her beautiful send-off. Everyone wrote messages on little tags printed with Gracie's name and birth date, tied them to a balloon, and all at once we let them go into the sky. It felt like letting go of my own beating heart and watching it float away. It was the saddest and most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I walked over to Ben and Jenna and my sister as the balloons floated away and we just hugged each other and sobbed. It's just something that no one should ever have to do, and that's all you can say. Ben and Jenna certainly made it as lovely and heartfelt as such a day could possibly be. In a few minutes the balloons were out of sight. Ben was allowed to personally place Gracie down in her grave so he could be the last person to handle her. Everything went beautifully.

Sending all our love up to our precious Gracie

And now we try to put the pieces of our shattered hearts back together. We'll continue to talk about Gracie and honor her memory. We'll go on with our lives forever changed because of loving this amazing baby girl who we haven't even officially met. And we'll comfort ourselves knowing that she is whole and healthy and perfect, and we'll get to see her again when we get to Heaven.

Until that day I'll always marvel at how such a tiny girl, in such a short time, touched so many lives and had such a profound impact on our family. We'll never be the same. We're stronger, closer to each other, and closer to God. And if possible, I think we might even love a little deeper. She'll forever be our little angel who we'll spend our lifetimes dreaming of meeting.

You can read the entirety of Gracie's story beginning with her diagnosis on May 16th herePlease feel free to share this story. We would love for the world to know her and for her story to impact even one other person. 

If you would like to reach out to Ben and Jenna and support them through this extremely difficult journey, you can do so here and here.

The song that played during the balloon release...

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