Friday, July 26, 2013

Remembering Clairisa....5 years later

Last year, my mother in law encouraged me to enter an essay contest for a magazine. The topic was "The Moment or Day that Changed Everything". Although nothing came of it, I am grateful that it is written down because it is one of those times that is really hard to write about it, but needs to be recorded. I thought today would be the perfect day to post it on my blog.

There are hundreds of thousands of moments in one’s life. Some come and go and may seem as inconsequential as the ticking sound of a clock. But then there are others-the ones that can alter the course of a life. I believe that each of the moments in our lives-the mundane and the monumental-are significant. The combination of these moments defines who we are, and ultimately, who we will become. Some of the most powerful and important lessons I have learned in my life have come from moments that seemed terrible and inescapable. But today, they stand as pillars of strength and beacons of light as they have defined my character and refined my spirit.

One of those moments took place years ago on a humid July morning. Although this moment took place within about two hours, in retrospect, it seems as if it was the longest, yet shortest, moment of my life. I remember the exact dress I was wearing. In fact it still hangs in my closet today, although it has never been washed or worn again. I remember the silver beaded earrings and matching necklace that I was wearing. I remember that I had to force myself to wear make-up, put jewelry on, and put mousse in my hair as I had gotten ready that morning. I remember pulling up and seeing all of our friends and family gathered under the tent waiting for us to get out of the car. But, I couldn’t move. Physically, and emotionally, it hurt to move. In my mind, all I was thinking was that at some point I was going to wake up and realize that this was just a nightmare. There was no way that this was really happening, and so there was no reason I needed to get out of the car. We were parked at the base of a small hill. In front of us stood the most beautiful willow tree I had ever seen. The long flowing branches hung down and gently waved back and forth in the wind. My emotions seemed to be just as vulnerable and yet, my body felt anything but flexible. I felt stiff and numb. I turned my head and began scanning the crowd in search of my daughters, who were sitting in their chairs waiting for us to join them. Katelund, our oldest, was just weeks away from her fifth birthday. Sitting next to her was our three year old, Cloey. Cloey had no idea what had been going on over the last month. In her innocent three-year old mind she was just as happy as ever as she contentedly sat next to both of her grandmas and grandpas. Katelund, on the other hand, knew that something was very wrong in her little world. I could see it all over her innocent, beautiful face. I knew that I needed to go and sit next to her, but I just didn’t know if I had the strength to do it.

I was sitting in the back seat of the car next to my husband, Cory. I looked over at him and saw in his eyes exactly what I felt in my own heart. I saw agony, sorrow, and confusion. I saw exhaustion, weakness, and a whole new level of vulnerability. It seemed as if his face had aged. There were lines of worry and stress that I had never noticed before. His eyes were swollen and red from the seemingly endless tears that had been shed over the last week. And yet, behind the stress, exhaustion, and sorrow, I also saw strength. I thought of the tender moment that we had shared earlier that morning as he had helped me into the shower and washed my hair. I thought of his gentle hands as he replaced the bloody gauze and tape that had been secured over my incision. I thought of his warm embrace as he stood in the shower with me and held me in his arms as I cried in agony, not only for the physical pain I was enduring, but also for the event that I knew was coming. The last year of our marriage had been anything but easy. We were tested and tried on a level that we had never experienced. We had a better understanding of what it meant to completely submit to one another and to learn to trust and rely on each other in a way that we hadn’t known before. As the memories of hardship and sweet forgiveness rushed through my body, he must have known what I was thinking. He lovingly intertwined his fingers with mine and pulled my face toward his. Once again, the faucet of tears started flowing. At this point, I would’ve thought that there would be no more tears to cry, but there must have been a reserve reservoir. Through the ugly sobs that were escaping my throat, the uncontrollable heaving that had taken over my chest, and the most intense and horrific pain that was coming from the six inch incision that ran vertically down my lower abdomen, somehow I uttered out the words, “I can’t do this.” As lovingly and reassuringly as he could, Cory squeezed my hands and said six words that have repeatedly rung through my heart and soul ever since he uttered them those many years ago. “I know, but together we can.”

The following hour was filled with many more tears, heaving, and pain. But, there were also other emotions. As my father spoke, I felt as if I was transported back to my childhood, to a time when my whole world revolved around the comforting and reassuring words of my parents. I needed those words and those feelings more in that moment than I ever would have imagined. I began to believe that my life actually would move on from this day, and that I could be happy once again. The beautiful peaceful words and music continued as my faith and hope in a day of reunion was restored. The sweet tears of joy gushed out of my eyes as I felt a strength within me that I hadn’t known for days. Next was the moment I had been waiting for, her song to be sung. My thoughts took me back to our hospital room where we spent our one and only day with Clairisa. We kept the room as cold as the thermostat would go, so we could keep her for as long as possible. With each passing hour, her skin got darker and darker as the evidence of death set in. As the time approached for us to say our final goodbyes, everyone left the room so Cory and I could be alone. As Cory gently embraced her stiff body and held her sunken chest against his, he started to sing. As is custom with each of our children, he had chosen her song. His voice was trembling and the notes hardly came out, but I had never heard anything more beautiful. As the chorus approached, I joined in as together we sang the prayer of our hearts, “Till we meet again, till we meet. Till we meet at Jesus’ feet. God be with you till we meet again.”

The memory of that moment in the hospital room was so powerful and so sweet. I clasped Cory’s hands as tightly as I could as we sat there amongst our family and friends and remembered together. But then, the moment I had dreaded had come. The little casket that held the beautiful and perfect baby that I had carried for 28 weeks would never be opened again. All that I had was the memory of holding her lifeless cold body on my chest for the first and last time. I remembered looking at her face and praying that for just one second she could open her eyes so that I could see within the windows of her soul. For the last month, I had lived and breathed by the sound of her heartbeat as I laid in a hospital bed praying that the bleeding would subside and that we would both make it to the 28th week, with a 90% survival rate. But instead, here I was standing underneath a majestic weeping willow tree trying to figure out how a mother was supposed to just leave her baby to be buried in the ground with only a small plaque to be remembered by. All I could do was stand there and weep. As each person individually expressed their sorrow and love, they instinctively reached out and embraced me in a hug. Although their love and affection were appreciated, even their embrace brought intense physical pain to my post partum body. The bleeding that had plagued my pregnancy from the 19th week, now seemed to be gushing from my broken heart.

As I carefully fell into the backseat, after the service was over, I realized that my whole body was shaking. Physically and emotionally, I had hit a wall. My head was pounding and I felt completely empty inside, literally and figuratively. All I could think about was getting home to the comforting and familiar blankets on my bed. I wanted to crawl inside, pull them over my head, and lie there for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to move forward and I wasn’t ready to start healing. I just wanted to lie there broken and bleeding until there was no more blood or tears to shed. But then the sweet precious faces of my daughters came to my mind. I knew that for them I had to keep moving and I had to start healing. It was the first step in a very long and painful healing process.

The moments of that day were very dark ones for me. But even amongst all of the pain and darkness, there was still light-the light that comes from the love of others and from within the recesses of your own soul. That light is what guided me through such a dark moment. I knew as we drove away from that sacred ground under the willow tree where Clairisa’s body would be laid to rest for the remainder of my life, that someday I would see her again. I knew it then, and I know it now. The light that comes from this kind of faith and hope, somehow, eventually overtakes the darkness of despair. Cory was right. Together we made it through the most difficult time in our lives. With our hands embraced, we slowly picked our lives back up and with the Lord’s help we put our broken hearts back together again.

The longer the clock of my life ticks onward, the more I am discovering the importance of appreciating every moment. All of them are significant, but some of them will forever stand as pillars and beacons to all the rest. Although I have experienced suffering and sorrow in other ways throughout my life, those two hours are the ones that changed everything. They have changed how I mother the four children I have today. They have changed the level of compassion and empathy I feel for others who are suffering. They have given me greater faith and hope for the future. Even as painful as it was to endure, this moment in my life has become a source of strength and light. Although the incision has healed and my bleeding heart has been mended, there are still scars that will forever remind me of this moment. Sometimes, the moments that seem to take everything and leave you empty, are also the ones that give you more purpose and fill your heart with greater love. Even today, many years later, I am still holding on to those six words as I hold tightly to all those little hands reaching up to me and to the memory of the angel looking down upon me.


Briana Tustian said...

Melissa and Cory...
What do I say...I had no idea this happened... I'm so sorry. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece! Going through some of my own horrible challenges I know of your pain and sorrow you write of. Not being able to put those feelings into words let a lone down on paper I'm grateful to you. You have no idea how grateful I am. Today is my birthday as well. She was born on an amazing day :) but as I sat down to read, the tears fell like a water faucet...
I'm again, so sorry! I hope you know we think of you often. Wish time, money, and miles were not an issue. As I read this I wanted so badly to reach out to you! I love you Melissa!
Love, Bri

Carrie said...

Where does the time go?..You continue to be an amazing inspiration to me. Your little angel looking down at you changed a lot of lives for the better. I know you will be united with her again and what a sweet reunion it will be! We miss and love you guys so much.

Sherrie said...

I am so grateful for the memories we share of that day. I held her for but a moment, but it is a moment that holds me to the promises of eternity. Though I can't begin to understand, I hold fast to what I do know. I know God lives, I know he has a plan, I know He loves us. i know life is hard at times, seemingly unbearable but I know He will make it all better and one day we will hold our sweet Angel again . Though I don't know it all, I know enough and that makes all the difference . Happy Perfection day, Clairisa.

Rebecca said...

That was hard. And beautiful.

Nicole said...

I read this and I cant tell you how beautiful you tell your story. You are an amazing women. I know Heavenly Father is so pleased with you and how you live your life.
Thank you for sharing.

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