On February 17, 2010, as the sun broke through the darkness of night outside of Cook Children's Hospital, Justin and I held the lifeless body of our precious baby girl. After Charlotte Jane's week-long fight for life, her little body had done all it could to survive, and she surrendered her last breath in our arms as we wept and cried out to God in worship.
While we'd known that Charlotte's life would be full of challenges, telling her goodbye just after we'd met was overwhelming. I still remember walking out of the doors of the NICU that morning to see my dearest friend, Taber, sitting and waiting to embrace me and cry with me. She had no words to say that I remember, but she was there. She held me close. She knew that's what I needed. Justin is incredible, and he was such a rock for me in that season, but there was something unique about having a fellow mom there by my side. She truly grieved with me.
In the days that followed, there was a lot to be done: a funeral home to choose and meet with, a cemetery to choose, a memorial service to plan, two big sisters to tell that Charlotte was not coming home to our house, an obituary to write, clothes to pick out, pictures to print, balloons to order, music to choose, a grave to be dug, people to feed, and the list goes on. All the while I was still healing from giving birth just seven days prior.
There were obviously things that had to be done by Justin and me, but everything else was put on a list, and a team of women from our church banded together and conquered all of it. I am not typically one to ask for help, but in this case, it felt very natural to just let those around me take care of me. These women were not pushy, but they were assertive in asking how they could serve us. I never felt that asking them to do something was a burden. Taber was my point of contact and everyone knew to go through her when seeking out how to serve our family. This was incredibly helpful, so I didn't feel obligated to return a million text messages.
Following the memorial service, food kept coming for at least two weeks. This gave us a good opportunity to just "be" as a family and begin to grieve and heal. We didn't just get dinner every night. Ladies brought some of our favorite breakfast foods and things that were easy to reheat. This blessed me greatly, because it was especially hard to get going in the mornings, food was the last thing on my mind, yet I had little loves who were hungry. One friend brought a huge bag of Costco snacks for us. I still remind her what a treasure that was. Absolutely nothing in me wanted to be standing in a grocery store with a million snack options and trying to make a reasonable decision; the Costco bag served us well!
Some other wise friends brought a Chick-fil-a party tray that lasted us several days for lunch. Others simply left coffee or special treats on the doorstep. These are just a few of the practical ways I felt incredibly loved and equipped to keep putting one foot in front of the other in those early weeks.
Another HUGE gift was ladies whisking away my big girls for a few hours here and there to allow me the chance to cry, sleep, write, read, pray, or do absolutely nothing. Often they would just say, "I'm coming to get the girls at 10:00," so I didn't have to make any decisions or wonder if they were just offering to be nice. I don't remember who it was, but one friend told me very clearly, "Please don't write us thank you notes." As much as I wanted to put into words my thanks, that was incredibly freeing! I had permission to just take care of me and to love my family. I needed that spelled out for me.
One of the most precious gifts I received was at least one note from a friend every week for the entire first year after Charlotte's death. A sweet friend compiled a list of those who had been especially invested in our journey, and she scheduled out who would write me each week. This was AMAZING for several reasons. First, it said to our family that our friends had NOT forgotten. It also provided me with encouragement and truth when sometimes I was not able to seek it out on my own. Lastly, these women shared how God was using Charlottes' life in their own lives. This gave me such JOY in the midst of my grief to be reminded that nothing is wasted in God's economy; He works all things for good.
On Charlotte's first birthday, those friends gathered with me and celebrated her life. They gave me notes, encouraged me, and again they said with their actions that, "We have not forgotten! You are loved! Charlotte's life is worthy of celebration!" This year was Charlotte's 4th birthday. Friends still gathered. A meal was shared. Cake was eaten. My girl was celebrated, and I was able to talk about what God has been teaching me recently through Charlotte Jane.
The love that God has poured out on me through friends has been nothing short of incredible. They have not forgotten. They have walked this road shoulder to shoulder with me, only letting me go alone when there was a narrow opening that I have had to face myself. Even then, they were there to greet me on the other side and to continue the journey as a visible reminder that Jesus never leaves my side, and He alone brings true freedom.
Ways You Can Minister to the Grieving
While I hope you never have to walk this road with a member of your community, the reality is, in our broken world, it's likely that you will. I encourage you to pursue these women and rally the troops to care for them as much as possible. This is a prime opportunity for the Body of Christ to come together and function as God intended. It can be a beautiful example of the love of Christ on display for both those who follow Christ and those who don't! I can give you multiple examples of people who were drawn to Christ because of the way the Body served our family through Charlotte's life and death.
Here are a few tangible ways to serve women who have experienced the loss of a child:
- Think practically. Take any weight that you possibly can.
- Grieve with her. Allow yourself to go to those hard places with her and to feel the depths of her pain.
- Encourage her with Truth. Remind her frequently that she is loved and lifted up, well beyond the first weeks.
- Give her the opportunity to talk about her little one by asking questions, while always asking the Holy Spirit to guide your conversation so you know when to back off.
- Celebrate the life of the child!
By this, all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35
Thank you, Angela, for your faithful testimony of hope in Christ alone and for sharing with us today.
Read other "In Her Shoes" posts about ministering to:
Those who are hurting