Monday, May 19, 2008

Kindergarten in Heaven

We are planning to homeschool Gianna (age 4) and lately I have been spending a lot of time researching curricula. During my research, I have had a strong desire to purchase a kindergarten curriculum for Gianna. The only problem—Gianna is a little too young for kindergarten. She will be 4.5 come September, and while mature for her age, she will definitely struggle with some of the material because she is too young.

Despite this fact, and regardless of my otherwise relaxed attitude towards homeschooling, I have had a strong desire to plunge forward and buy a kindergarten curriculum. Is this because I want my daughter to succeed academically? It is because I am a pushy parent, already putting pressure on my 4 year old to attain academic greatness? Is it because I think my child is mature for her age? Or intelligent for her age? Is it because I’m excited to be a “real” homeschooler?

No. I just want to have a little girl in kindergarten. But why?

This desire has been so strong that I spent last night lying awake thinking about why I want her to be in kindergarten. The label was somehow important to me. I look back with nostalgia at my own kindergarten experience. It was a real milestone in my life, and a time of great joy, learning, and independence. Was this the reason?

No. It was deeper than that. And then it hit me.


Our baby Therese would be starting kindergarten this fall. Therese is my first baby, who was stillborn due to a fatal birth defect called anencephaly. If Therese were here, I would be ordering a kindergarten curricula for her.

“If she were here…”
“What if…”
“If only…”

These are the words of grief that ruled my life after Therese died. Grief has a funny way of rolling in when we least expect it. And last night it was back and I missed my daughter terribly. I thought of the dreaded day we heard the news that Therese wouldn’t be here with us for long. I distinctly remember crying until my entire body hurt and my eyes could barely see. I thought of all the great moments in life that would never be for Therese and me. And at the time, one of those moments was the first day of kindergarten.

Last night, as I laid silently in bed holding back the tears, with an aching chest and a large lump in my throat, I just closed my eyes and prayed. And God answered. I pictured my daughter, with long curly brown hair, running through a heavenly kindergarten playground, straight into the arms of Jesus. I had peace that my job was already done. Therese was there, in heaven. And the next thing I knew it was morning.


Anonymous said...

Oh Kellie! It never goes away... My husband has been looking at our family eating dinner and saying, "Just imagine if there were two more here!" We will always have gaps where Benedict and Charlotte should be...

What a beautiful consolation you received that night!

God bless,

Alex said...

[This is my first time posting, but I am an avid Cathedrals-reader, and former Princeton classmate--and cross-country teammate-- of several of you builders!]
This is a very meaningful post, Red. My husband and I, too, lost our first child, Alma, on the eve of her anticipated birth. It is now exactly one year since I delivered her and I constantly marvel at the mystery and many dimensions of our grief and the way that it weaves itself into our life these days, sometimes much more explicity than others. Red, I was struck by your impulse to experience Therese’s milestones in tune with Gianna’s. I am currently doing work in pediatrics and evaluating the development of countless 12 to 18-month olds, all along thinking of where Alma would fall in, which milestones she would be toddling towards these days, even as my husband and I happily mark late pregnancy progression and prepare for the summer birth of our second child, Alma’s little brother. These heavenly children and siblings are a tremendous and permanent blessing in our lives and families—Alma has brought such strength of love into our marriage and taught us to embody joy and hope even amidst great suffering. (and, as Mary Alice so poignantly wrote in a previous post, losing a child brings one closer to the personal suffering and love of Mary.) And I have to believe that these children are watching over us with Jesus and have a hand in the safe-keeping of all of their siblings and siblings-to-be. I will smile now while thinking of our little ones in their heavenly pre-schools and kindergartens, Red. Yes, our job is being done, and beautifully so. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to read about your loss--and those of so many other mothers here. I've had one healthy pregnancy and one miscarriage and now am pregnant with our third. Do you (or any of the other women here) have any suggestions for dealing with fear and anxiety during subsequent pregnancies? I am frequently praying "not my will but Yours be done," but still feel afraid to really get excited (or share the good news) for fear of heartbreak. May our Lord continue to comfort you as you grieve the loss of little Therese.

Kat said...

My goodness, what a poignant reminder it is for me to read the comments from you ladies, that so many of us have lost precious babies and that we are not alone! Alex, I was struck by your comment that there are many dimensions to our grief and that it weaves its way into our lives in so many unexpected ways...I know what you mean! After we lost Lucy, I was often surprised by my emotions - I would think that I was doing well, and then suddenly I would enter a period of extreme anger, or anxiety, or sadness (Lucy was born in August of 2006, and we now have a subsequent child, Maria, who is about 7 months old). I knew that it was all part of the grieving process, but I was always surprised by it...And I shouldn't speak in the past tense, since this is still an ongoing process for me as well.

Alex and Anonymous, as each of you prepare to have your first subsequent child after the loss of your precious little ones, I pray that you will be filled with tremendous peace...My experience has been that there is a lot of healing that occurs once you finally get to hold your baby in your arms. It's not that this child replaces the child that you lost, not at all; the healing comes with the hope that this new baby brings, and the mothering that you are able to do - all of the things that you were not able to do for the baby that you lost.

Anonymous, I had similar emotions to yours as we anticipated the birth of our daughter, Maria...Maria was born just a little over a year after we had lost Lucy, so I was very cautious with my emotions for the entire pregnancy. ET and I didn't really talk about things that had to do with after the baby was born - what the baby would be named, how we would arrange the baby's room, etc. I didn't do much shopping or organizing beforehand, because I couldn't believe that I would actually get to bring a healthy baby home with me! I did find that as the pregnancy progressed, I was able to let myself get more and more attached to our baby because I wasn't as afraid of losing her...Once we had the 20 week ultrasound and ruled out anencephaly, once we got to the point where I knew that the baby would be okay if she was born prematurely, etc.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to this subject, but the only other thing that I'll write now is that I also found it tough to talk with others while I was pregnant with Maria, because they just assumed that it was my second pregnancy. I hated the fact that most people did not know about Lucy, and I never knew when to talk about her and when to be silent. When I corrected someone and told them that this was actually my third baby, they became very uncomfortable and I felt badly. When I didn't correct someone and didn't mention Lucy, I felt terribly afterwards, almost as if I had betrayed her...I think that these are all very common emotions for moms who have lost little ones.

Red, thank you for your post. I love the image of precious Therese running into the arms of Jesus...Maybe all of our children are running with her :)

Anonymous said...

Ladies who have lost babies at full term or shortly after birth: my prayers are with you! Was there anything that you read or anything that anyone did for you that was particularly helpful during your immediate time of grief? One of my best friends has a daughter who, after almost four months in the NICU, appears to be undergoing heart failure (among other difficulties). Aside from praying for a miracle, I'm not sure what I--or so many other willing friends--can do. I don't want to bring up sorrowful memories, but is there anything that you have learned in your grief that might help another young mother?

Kat said...

As a friend or family member, the best thing that you can do is to let your friend know that you will be there for her no matter what. You'll be there to listen, to help with the practical things that she just can't take care of herself (cooking, cleaning, etc.), to communicate with other friends and family members that she just doesn't have the energy to deal with, etc. Really, the most important thing is to know that other people are suffering with you, that they aren't uncomfortable with your grief and that they will stick by you in the tough times. Your friend is lucky to have you by her side!

Right Said Red said...

Kat gave so many helpful suggestions on practical ways you can help your friend. You are a great friend for asking how you can help!

I would add, that I really appreciated friends who could cry with me over my baby. So many friends tried to give me hope when I was sad, but what I really needed at times was for my friends and family to just cry with me and acknowledge that the situation sucked!

Be sensitive, be observant, and just follow your friend's lead. If she wants to talk about her baby, let her, and let her know you are so sad too.

Finally, don't expect her to EVER be the same person. She will be a better person, but different. A new normal so to speak. She will still be grieving her baby in the years to come, this isn't something she will "get over." Our children are a part of us forever. If you remember this over time, you will likely become a friend she can really lean on and talk with.

Right Said Red said...


I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your precious baby. It always breaks my heart to hear of more moms who have suffered the loss of one of their children!

I will keep you in my prayers for a healthy uneventful next couple of months, and for the safe arrival of your son.

I'm not sure if we have ever met, although I was roommates with B-mama (a fellow cross country gal).

Prayers for you. Please let us know when your little one arrives safely!


Kat said...

I just thought of something else that helped me...If your friend is Catholic, I wonder if she might be able to foster a devotion to a particular saint. Then she could focus on readings by that saint, praying a novena, asking for intercession...And if her baby does go to heaven, she will feel great comfort knowing that her daughter is in the company of this particular saint that she already has a devotion to. I felt particularly drawn to Our Lady, and I know others have been drawn to other saints.

Also, I wonder if your friend has the energy to write in a journal...I am very glad to be able to look back and see what I was thinking and feeling before and after Lucy was born. After she was born, I found myself writing in my journal to Lucy herself...It helped to make my emotions more real for me to write them down on paper - it helped me to sort through what I was feeling. And I liked being able to write to Lucy, since I wasn't able to "mother" her in the ways that I so desperately wanted to.

Anonymous said...

I must come out of the lurking closet... I have been reading "Cathedrals" for awhile now and have truly enjoyed every minute of it.

We have had the horrific experiences of burying three babies (all lost during the second trimester). I can identify with all that you have said... the morphing grief, the fears before, during and after subsequent pregnancies, the emptiness in my heart as well as my arms, etc. It doesn't go away. It does, however, soften with time. I do know that there is no shortcut around the grieving process. One must go through all of it. Like Kat, I have found that holding that next baby in my arms did wonders for my empty heart and aching arms. That new baby was in no way a replacement, but rather another God-given gift to heal.

Yet, knowing all that, I still struggle with our last loss. Our little girl died last year the week before Easter. She was to be the caboose of our little family train. I struggle with ending our family growth on such a sour note. I fear never having another baby, and I fear having another. Talk about a catch-22. How does one reconcile this?

My priest told me to pray for courage. Perhaps, that is something we all need to pray for. We are not in control, but with courage and grace, we can get through these times of trial and anxiety.

Another thing that has helped me in my grief is an intention that my dh gave at the baptism of our first/oldest child. "Lord, like Hannah, we have prayed for this child. We ask for your guidance so that we may raise her so that she will fulfill the purpose for which you created her." That simple prayer has really hit home with each loss. We always assume that our children have an earthly purpose. Yet, our other 3 babes must have a Heavenly purpose and needed to be conceived in love before they could fulfill that purpose.

Prayers to all of you.

B-Mama said...

I'm chiming in late after being away from the computer a few days... but wanted to comment what a touching post this was, Red, along with all of the comments by various readers and builders. I have been sitting here crying with you all... Prayers!