"She is now Perfect"

A month has passed now since Kristen died, yet it seems like a lifetime ago. This is an account of that day, and I share it for a couple of reasons. First, I feel a need to write it all down. Maybe I'm afraid of forgetting. Maybe it's just a way to work through things. Regardless, I feel compelled. Second, I hope that you will see, along with me, the good things.

On August 17, 2009, we met with the doctors, chaplain and social worker around noon. Ron, Melody, Tammy and Kevin were with us as we heard them tell us that Kristen’s brain had sustained too much damage during the long bout of CPR on Friday. We had to prepare to say goodbye.

We knew that Jan, Emily and Grace were on their way to the hospital from Ness City. Will’s aunt and uncle had so kindly offered to bring them. We expected them to arrive around 2 or 2:30. We dressed Kristen in a sweet flowered dress to try to cover some of the many tubes and wires that were attached to her. She didn’t look like herself…she was so swollen. Emily, Grace, Will and I met with Leslie, a child life specialist from the hospital, who explained to the girls what they would see in the PICU. She showed them pictures of the equipment and gently answered their questions.

After that, the four of us made our way back to see Kristen in the PICU. We all got to hold her and just be together as a family. The girls went back to the waiting room while the doctor removed Kristen’s breathing tube. I held her in my arms as all of our family and friends filed silently into that tiny room. Kevin prayed and read scripture as everyone said their goodbyes. Will held our sweet baby as she took her last breath around 5:30.

We gathered our things and left that hospital with an empty carseat, heavy hearts and swollen eyes. I called my mom from the road to let her know that Kristen was gone. Little did I know that it would be one of the last times I would talk with her.

We arrived home late Monday night to a house filled with baby things…the pack and play in the living room, her high chair in the kitchen, her rocker seat, her blanket and toys. We moved all those things to her room and closed the door, unable to even look at those reminders of the baby we no longer had with us.

That’s the very sad, physical part of what happened. There were, however, some good moments over those 3 ½ days as well. Friends and family were right there to support us, some driving a very long way to be there. The many phone calls and messages made us feel so loved. The amazing number of visits and guest book entries left on our CaringBridge site humbled us greatly. Hearing of how people were constantly checking for facebook updates made us realize how much our loved ones care about us. It’s hard to even imagine how many prayers were being prayed for us that weekend and continue to be lifted up for us.

We were able to talk with the surgeon, to hug him and let him know that we were praying for him. He seemed so very broken. I don’t know about his relationship with God, but I never got the impression that he was a man of faith. I continue to pray that he bows the knee and submits himself to the One who gave him life and the talent to be a great doctor.

We saw our dear pastor rise above his own sadness over our situation and lead us when we needed him most. He baptized our baby as soon as he arrived at the hospital on Saturday. He prayed with us, cried with us and loved us through some very difficult days. He gently prepared us for what lay ahead of us and held us up as we walked. He spent time talking with Emily and Grace, letting them know that they are important, too. We’ve always known he was special, but he went above and beyond the call of duty that weekend, and for that we are grateful.

Our family and friends that rallied around us made such a difference, not only to us, but to the hospital staff as well. They definitely took notice of Kristen’s loved ones! I believe they saw firsthand what it means to be like Christ.

I will close with this…on a wall in our church’s fellowship hall are places for prayer requests and for answered prayers. Soon after Kristen’s surgery had been scheduled, I had placed a 3x5 card under prayer requests with Kristen’s name on it. I added a request “for safe surgery on Aug. 14th and a quick recovery.” Our first Sunday back, I noticed that the card had been moved to the answered prayer section. Written across the card were the words, “SHE IS NOW PERFECT.” Indeed, she is.

One month down, the rest of my life to go...

It's been a month today that we held Kristen as she breathed her last breath on this earth. It's been a month since we left the hospital very empty-handed. It's been a month since we arrived home to a house full of baby things that had to be hidden from sight. It's been a month, and I'm still sleeping with the bathroom light on. It's been a month, and I still cry every single day. It's been a month.

Somehow, it feels like so much more time has passed than a month. Other months have slipped by so quickly, but not this one. In this month, I have cried out to God, poured out my heart to Him more than I ever have. I have pressed into Him more than I ever have, too. I continue to pray for His grace to get me through this very dark place. I am intentionally and specifically asking Him to sanctify this pain for me. Though I know there is no way to sidestep this heartbreaking, cut-to-the-core pain, knowing that He can someday use it (and me) for His purpose does make it a tiny bit easier to endure. Some days, it's a very tiny bit, but it's there.

I suspect these "anniversaries" will never be easy. The 7th of every month will remind me that she would have been another month older. The 17th of every month will remind me of the day she left us. I not only grieve not having Kristen here to hold, but I grieve the things I'll never get to experience here...her first words, her first steps. I'll always wonder what she would have looked like as she grew. Would she look more like Emily or Grace? I'll always wonder if she would have like creamed spinach like Emily did or would have demolished her 1st birthday cake like Grace. I'll always wonder if she would have had curls when she finally got some hair. I will always remember that beautiful smile...and those eyes.

If she can see me from where she is in heaven, I hope she's pleased with what she sees. I'm so proud to have been chosen to be Kristen's mom.

A letter to Kristen

Today, I found a short letter I wrote to Kristen while she was in surgery:
August 14, 2009

My dear sweet Kristen,

We are waiting now as the surgeons are removing the lower lobe of your right lung. Hugs and kisses in the hallway were hard to do because I knew it meant they would be taking you away to the operating room.

We continue to pray for you, as do so many others. You are so loved, my sweet baby!

Your sisters miss you and send their love. Daddy got you a very cute Curious George monkey to bring to you after your surgery. George is wearing a bright yellow hat!

All my love,
I’ve sat down many times to try to put into words all we’ve experienced over these last days…it’s so difficult, yet I feel the need to do it. Three weeks ago at this time, we had arrived in the waiting room at Children’s Mercy. I left to find something to eat at the nearby snack bar since we had not had lunch yet. One of us had to remain in the waiting room at all times. After I returned with a little something to eat, Will left in search of some food. We ate together and talked for while. A nurse called at 3:35 to let us know that they had started the operation. We prayed and talked and made plans to add “Dinner with Mom” and “Dinner with Dad” on the calendar for both Emily and Grace. We wanted them to have individual time with each of us and realized that if it wasn’t on the calendar, it often got pushed to the side. We talked about family game nights, movie nights, ideas for family prayer and devotions. We made plans for the girls’ upcoming birthdays and talked about dates for Kristen’s baptism. We got a call from the nurse at 4:45 that the surgery was going well and should be done in another hour or so. The next call we got was puzzling.

In the waiting room, they will call your name when there’s an update on your child. They direct you to one of four small rooms with a phone, and you wait for the phone to ring to talk with the nurse. We’d already gotten two of those calls…one to let us know they were actually starting the surgery and another to let us know it was going well. This third time, we went to the appointed room, but the phone never rang. After several minutes, a chaplain came in and told us that Kristen had coded and that we needed to wait there. From that point on, I lost all sense of time.

The surgeon came in and told us that the team was still working on her, but that it didn’t look good. The surgery had gone picture perfect up until the very last step. The most difficult part was over and all that remained was to clamp off a vein, snip it and close up. Here’s where things went very wrong. The clamp applier malfunctioned, causing the clamp to scissor a bit on that vein. Dr. St. Peter pulled the vein taut and put another clamp right above the bad one. It scissored as well, the vein tore, and blood went everywhere. He did what he could, but there was no more vein to work with...they were right at the heart. A cardiac surgeon came in, oversewed the spot and did get the bleeding stopped, but Kristen had lost a lot of blood. Her heart emptied out at one point and she coded twice. All in all, they did chest compressions on her for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Blood was moving the entire time, and they hoped it would be enough to get sufficient oxygen to her brain, but they weren’t optimistic.

Will’s sister, Joy, had come up to the hospital, as had our dear friends, Robert and Andrea. We all waited in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) waiting area for what seemed an eternity. The area was full of people (and noisy children), but we weren’t able to even see Kristen until well after 9:00 p.m. She was very swollen and had tubes everywhere. We prayed over her and cried and asked God to restore her.

I've already written about the next days, as we waited to see the extent of the damage to her brain. I'll save the account of her last day on this earth for another time. It's incredibly sad and amazingly beautiful, all at the same time.

God bless you all,