It was the night of December 17, 2001, and we were signing our Christmas cards – getting ready to mail them out the following day. On the front was a picture of my husband, our son, and myself – with a bulging belly. The inside of the card was signed from all of us, including “Baby sister to-be.” Then I felt it. Something I had felt three and a half years earlier, when I went into labor ten weeks early with my son. It was a contraction. I knew it. But this was not a moment of joyful anticipation. It was a moment of terrible fear. I was not quite 25 weeks along. My daughter was not due until the week of Easter.
Hours later I was in the hospital being told that she would not wait she was coming and there was no stopping her. We were scared, but hopeful. Our son was early, and he was just fine. Sure, she was much earlier, but that just meant she’d have a longer hospital stay. Kaylee Sandra was born the morning of December 18, weighing 1 lb, 10 oz. She was beautiful. We were back in the surreal, yet familiar setting of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Doctors and nurses told
us of her various complications and her odds did not sound good. Despite all that, we were optimistic. Good things happen in our family.
Then came the day we learned she would not survive. It was December 23 – exactly two days before Christmas. I held her in my arms, and her Daddy felt the embrace of her tiny hand around his finger. This was a moment so bittersweet, so conflicted. The first time I could hold my baby girl. The last time I would hold my baby girl. Waves of love and adoration crashing upon jagged boulders of sorrow and disbelief. I told myself this was our moment. I had to squeeze a
lifetime of love into the time we had left. We had about three hours together.
After she died, we had to deal with some of the pragmatics of death. The next day was Christmas Eve, and we spent it making funeral arrangements. We had to tell our son his baby sister would not be coming home. I also needed to find a way to dry up the milk supply I no longer needed. So many businesses and support people were closed, on vacation, enjoying their holiday. We had to find a way to make Christmas happen for our son. We refused to have him forever associate Christmas with the death of his sister. We went to the grocery store to buy cookies for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and acabbage. I had been told that putting cabbage leaves in my bra would help alleviate the soreness from my aching breasts.
Before I went into labor we had planned to spend the week of Christmas with the grandparents in Southern California, so we had no tree up, no decorations. While I was in the hospital the grandparents had rallied together and bought and trimmed a small tree, and put up stockings. We had wrapped all the presents before our nightmare began,
so all we had to do was set them beneath the tree. We realized as we were going to bed that we had not filled the stockings, so we somehow managed to find a few things to place inside Evan’s.
Christmas Day was a fog. Thank God for Evan and his sweet, excited face waking up on Christmas morning to open presents! I don’t think I would have gotten out of bed without him. I watched him with renewed appreciation for the miracle of his life. What a blessing we had. There were still many tears, and I did spend a good deal of the day in bed. I had a profound sense that things would never be right again. No matter how wonderful our lives together might be in the future, we could never look at each other and say, “This moment is perfect!” No. There would always be someone missing.
The new year came and we lived our lives. Before I knew it, it was December 17, 2002. I asked Evan what he wanted to do the next day to celebrate his sister’s first birthday. He wanted to know if there was any birthday cake in Heaven. I told him that if Heaven is at all the way I picture it, there certainly would be! We released a balloon as a present to her, and bought cupcakes for the occasion and put one candle in each. He also thought we should celebrate at Chuck E. Cheese that night. So we did.
As time has passed, we have found that elusive “new normal” that we always heard would someday come. Christmas will never be the same as it was. Nothing will. We will hang stockings, trim the tree, visit Santa – and one week before Christmas, we will celebrate Kaylee’s birthday. .
By Lori Miller
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