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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Death is the New Birth, Part 1

Recently I attended a funeral for a baby. Definitely not my favorite thing to do but it ended up being a good experience for me and one that I will hold in my heart. Death brings sadness; sadness to those who loved those who are gone. I once read that the measure of our grief can be equal to the measure of our love. I don’t know if that’s true but I know grief is not something you just “get over,” or “move on” from in a day, a year, a decade or even a lifetime. Even if you believe in life after death, as I do, it still hurts, it still aches and it still occasionally makes me angry. 

Why do I know about grief? I do not claim to have a monopoly on crap happening to me because I believe anyone who has lost a child is beyond my capacity of hurt. However, that being said, I have lost siblings and there is a unique ache to that kind of loss that is akin to losing a child, although not as great, in my opinion. I have also not lost a beloved spouse or parent (yet) but I do know that I can survive those losses because I survived that one. Even if I don’t want to, I will survive.

I was moved to make a gift for my friends that lost their beloved child. I made them a plaque that reads, “Because someone we love is in Heaven; We have a little bit of Heaven in our Home.”

There is a story behind this saying and I’m going to share that today. 

I have five brothers: G, M, me, B, G2, J. (G2 is the one I write with). We have had our ups and downs as most siblings do, but I love them all, they are part of me, we share DNA and I know if I ever needed anything they would be there for me, and I for them.

22 years ago this week I married the love of my life. We had a good first year, even with all the awkward adjustments that come with newly-weddery.

The summer after we married, my family went on a trip to a dude ranch in Colorado. It was an “entire family” event and all my brothers, their spouses (two, G & M) and children (four grandkids & one on the way) met and enjoyed a week with horses, nature and majestic views. M's wife, who was expecting, had a high-risk pregnancy and almost wasn’t able to come but her doctor cleared her just for that trip. She spent most of that pregnancy on bedrest but was able to enjoy the trip painting and relaxing rather than riding horses and whatnot. We had a wonderful time and it ended up being one of the best family memories we would ever have, but we didn’t know that at the time.

In October of 1991, my sister-in-law was due and the doctor released her from bedrest. As they were leaving the doctor and going to lunch to celebrate, they were hit by a car turning left in front of them. My sister-in-law nearly died and her baby was born emergency C-section and my brother was devastated, freaking out. My sister-in-law ended up with multiple injuries and by the time she was able to leave the hospital she was still in a wheelchair because of her crushed foot.

The baby was born under duress but she was healthy. They were all home for just a few short weeks when one night in early December the baby stopped breathing. My sister-in-law was trained in CPR but it was no use. It was determined that their sweet baby girl died at just six-weeks-old from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a determination that has no answers or relief. We were all devastated.

The family gathered to their home in Provo, Utah for the funeral. A song was shared called, “An Early Goodbye,” written by Janice Kapp Perry on the death of her infant son many years before.

There is pain in an early good bye.
There are so many dreams you set aside.
So many memories to cause you pain, so many plans to change.
There is pain in an early goodbye.
There are so many times you question why,
so many feelings you must deny, so many tears you cry.
There are so many things I wanted to say,
so many reasons I hoped you could stay.
I loved you completely I have no regrets, but I just wasn't ready yet.
So i'll cry a little bit,
and I'll die a little bit and I'll try with all my heart to make some sense of it.
And there's only one power to lean upon,
there's only one reason that I can go on.
I believe in the wisdom of God.
He ruleth the seasons, he fails us not.
This kind of sorrow he too has known.
I do not walk alone.
There is nothing, and noone to blame.
And there's no use in thinking what might have been.
I would have kept you through life's short span, but God had a different plan.
So I'll pray for the day when sorrow will cease,
pray for the day when I know perfect peace.
I'll find courage to make it somehow, but I'm feeling so lonely now.
So I'll cry a little bit,
then I'll try a little bit and I'll trust in God above to make some sense if it.
Then my eye will be single to one bright star,
to live my life worthy to be where you are.
But today it's not easy, today I may cry,
so if you see a tear in my eye, it's the pain of an early goodbye. 

It was a memorable yet heartbreaking time for my brother, his family and anyone who loved and cared about them. This happened just a few weeks before Christmas.

We all gathered at my parents for the holiday, my brother, M, and his wife and their two other children stayed with her family. Two days after Christmas is my mother’s birthday and we gathered again and went out to dinner. The holidays were still tinged with the grief we all shared at the loss of this precious angel but reveled in the time we spent together knowing that separation could come at any time. 

A few days later the boys planned a day trip on my father’s sailboat. My two older brothers, G & M, were seasoned sailors, M actually sailed competitively with our uncle on occasion. G, M, B, my husband and his father set sail on a Saturday morning and headed toward the Channel Islands. When they didn’t return on time we began to worry but not too much because they could be easily distracted and lose track of time.

Around 6:00 PM there was a phone call to my parents home. I answered it (my mother and I had gone shopping together that day and I was to meet my husband at their home) and it was the Coast Guard asking for my mother. We were informed that two of our party were missing and the rest would be home soon (the Coast Guard was forcing them to go home, even though there were still two in the party missing).

My older brother Monte and my younger brother, Bryan were missing.

I was afraid but imagined them sitting on a beach laughing at us over our concern and worry. As it turned out we had much to worry about. The next morning we headed out on hired boats to search for them. We had so many people that we filled two boats for a search party. However, unknown to me, Channel Islands is basically a rock sticking out of the water, a sheer cliff and my brothers had no shore to be laughing on.

We found my younger brother drowned at the mouth of the cave they were attempting to enter. They believe an underwater surge sent their dinghy to the roof of the cave, knocked them out and tossed them into the frigid winter water. The brother we found, Bryan, was wearing a life vest. Monte was not and we never found him.

My sister-in-law lost her baby and her spouse in a month, to the date. We lost two sons, two brothers, two uncles, two nephews, two cousins and an innocent baby. It was almost too much. The grief was overwhelming. The pain was extreme. There are no words to describe what I felt, let alone what I knew my parents and sister-in-law were going through.

My sister-in-law is the most courageous person I know. Not only did she stay strong (it was difficult, but she did it) but she became a beacon of light for others. She raised her two other children, lived and worked on her own all these years. Both children are amazing adults with lives and beginnings of families of their own. The presence of their father and sister have always been in their lives because my sister-in-law refused to allow their memories to be forgotten. Regardless of her personal pain and emotional trauma she started leading grief groups and helping others.

She is truly one of my heroes.

My mother has this saying up in her house. They saw it at my sister-in-law’s home and got one for themselves. When I heard of my friends loss I needed them to have that constant reminder that, “Because someone we love is in Heaven; We have a little bit of Heaven in our Home.”

That’s why I made it for them.


  1. That's just over 21 years ago and I remember so many details. My mother feeling like an idiot for yelling at your father, "Find them!". You're father's tooth and humor over loss of said tooth, the fact that years earlier M and I made a pact and I asked him to come back and tell me if there really was life after death as if I knew he would be leaving life first, the car crash leaving the funeral and memorial that lead to my fear of freeways. So much, too much, well written, Katrina, thanks!

  2. 21 is right. 22 is our anniversary.
    & yes there are lots of memories, both good and bad.

  3. I read the 2nd part and came back to see what you had written for the 1st part. Now I'm sitting here at my computer with my daughter asking why I look like I'm about to cry. Being young at the time I never knew all that had happened. Your family are all such amazing examples of strength! Big hugs!


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