Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

A Letter Of Gratitude To My Baby In Heaven

photo of 10 month old Zoe

angelic photo of Zoe 10 months old

I used to listen politely as people made references to the loss of an aunt, a mother, or even an adult child.  It was an attempt to connect with me, to identify with me about the loss of my 14 months old daughter, Zoe.  Beneath my smile, I would tune them out and in my mind say “You have no idea what you’re talking about, my loss is so different than yours.”  And, early on, I admit I would also think “My loss is much more tragic than yours.”

There is no question, a loss is tragic.  Losing someone you expect to live with and watch grow for years to come is so backwards, so upside down.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense. It has been five and a half years since Zoe died and I now see how intertwined loss is from one person to the next.  As a mom who has lost an older baby, I can find support from others with very different losses.  After all, the tie that binds is love.

I recently had dinner with a friend who lost their husband some years ago and she said something that struck a chord.  She told me very plainly “I loved him more than anything.  Do I miss him?  Of course I do.  Do I wish he was here?  Of course I do.  But I can’t change the fact that he’s gone.  Nothing I can do will change that fact.  So I choose to live a life of gratitude.  I choose to be thankful.  I don’t mean I’m thankful that he died.  What I mean is that I choose to be thankful that I know what it feels like to love and I know what it feels like to be loved.”

There it was.  So simple and, oh so, true.  In that moment I realized that losing someone you love is just that…Loss. It is heartache, it is grief, it is awful, and we don’t like it.  What we have in common, the loss of a 14-month-old baby and the loss of a great and loving husband is that we know what it feels like to love and we have a choice to make: to be thankful or to be bitter.

A few weeks ago, I sat in my therapist’s office and she asked if I had ever written letters to Zoe.

“Of course,” I replied.

“What is the tone of them?  What do you say to Zoe?” she asked.

“Typically, they are apology letters,” I responded.

“I want you to try something for our next session together.  I’d like you to write a letter of gratitude to your daughter.  I’m talking about the bigger picture here.  Do you think you can do that?”

As my foot began to jiggle and I scooted my hands underneath my legs to keep from biting my nails, I replied, “I think so.”

So, here we go.  My letter of gratitude to Zoe, no apologies, no guilt, no  should- haves, no regret.  Just gratitude for my gift that was taken away.

My dear Zoe,

Where do I begin?  It has been 5 years and 8 months exactly since you left this world and my how life has changed.  As a kid I loved to play the board game called “Life”.  You’d get this little car to travel along the twisting roads of life, there were choices to make and unexpected setbacks at each turn; do you go to college or do you start a family?  Medical school or become a teacher?  I think about that now and how if I had been given a choice 15 years ago of two different lives, one where all the difficulties and heartache would be on open display ahead of time and the other a fantasy of the “perfect” no-problem life, I would have wanted the fantasy.  The easy life, no job issues, no fertility problems, no prematurity and, of course, no losing you.

But, with all the choices we make in life we don’t have options with guaranteed outcomes and on the surface I would have never wished to go through what we’ve been through.  But as I look deeper and begin to uncover the gift of circumstances out of my control, I am thankful.  I am thankful that you graced my life for 14 months. 

I am thankful that I got to see you smile, hear you laugh, and look into those gorgeous eyes.  So many parents, parents I’ve met in these last 5 years, never got that chance with their babies.

I’m thankful that because of you I know what true love is, this love envelopes me with an awe-inspiring sense of completeness.  I’m thankful that I pushed through the fear of losing you when you were first born, a mere 1 pound 10 ounces, and allowed myself to fall in love with you.

I feel immense gratitude for God allowing me to see your life through His lenses, to see that you were much more than a baby with special needs.  You were meant as a gift to so many people.  You brought people together and showered joy upon them.  Most of the world never got to know you, but for those doctors and nurses in the NICU, you will never be forgotten.

You alone taught me that gestures don’t have to be sweeping and grandiose to make a difference.  Your smile, your laugh, that twinkle in your eyes is all it took to turn someone’s day around.  I know, because I’ve loved you, that simply saying a baby’s name and lighting a candle in their memory is all it takes to make a difference in a grieving parent’s day.  Spending an hour of my time having breakfast with parents whose baby is fighting to live, means more than their words can express me, but the gratitude in their misty eyes says it all.

I’ve learned to be courageous, to trust in God, have faith that no matter what happens or which way life goes, what obstacles we may face, He will provide.  Not in monetary ways, but in ways to survive spiritually.  Because I’ve loved you, I love God.  His love has covered me and sustained me these many months.  I don’t have to like the fact that you died, but I can be thankful because I have loved you I know God’s love, I’ve felt it and I’ve lived it.

Because of you people from around the country find happiness in seeing a ladybug.  Thank you for sending those sweet little round bugs at just the right time on just the right days.

surviving triplets

Zoe’s surviving sisters

Because I’ve loved you, I’m a better parent to your sisters than I think I might have been.  I think I might have gotten so caught up in the day-to-day of therapies, appointments, evaluations, and medications that I would have forgotten to stop and be in the moment with Avery and Lily.  Of course daily life does fog my glasses from time to time, but when I’m pushing them in the hammock on a perfect fall day and their laughter joyfully spills out of them, I stop.  I stare at them.  I smile and laugh with them and I thank God for them and you.

I am beyond blessed to be your mommy.  Each day I will promise to shed another ounce of guilt.  You soldiered ahead with grace and purpose and that is the example I want to set for your sisters.  I want to show them that awful, terrible, heartbreaking things happen in life, but life does not have to be ruined because of it.  Life can truly be beautiful again and can have meaning deeper than you imagined.  I am thankful I have felt the deepest emotions known to mankind…love, grief, and joy.

Zoe, I will always miss you.  I will always wish life had gone differently and that I was holding your hand in the morning as we walk into school.  But this is the life that was given to us and living in the past, full of regret is no way to live.  Thank you for showing me how to live, how to love, and how to find happiness no matter what challenges we face.

Love,

 Mommy

Keira Sorrells About Keira Sorrells

Keira Sorrells (MS) is the mother of triplets, Avery, Lily, and Zoe, born at 25 weeks. Avery and Lily spent four months in the NICU and Zoe was there for 9.5 months. After coming home, Zoe was rehospitalized at 14 months and died suddenly from a secondary infection. As a result of those experiences, Keira founded the Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation which offers support to parents of premature infants and those who have lost an infant; as well as the Preemie Parent Alliance, which connects parent-led, preemie support organizations across the country. Her faith and connecting with preemie and bereaved parents has given her hope when it was hard to find. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook or on her personal blog.

Comments

  1. Keira,
    I have no words. This is just simply beautiful! I am so proud of you for allowing yourself this opportunity. I am so happy you are working so hard to shed the guilt. That is what Zoe would want for you and it is what all those that love you want for you. You use your life daily to help and inspire. This message is going to do so much for so many people who are grieving — not just NICU parents. I love you sweet friend. I have a feeling a ladybug is going to find you today! Hugs, Kelli

  2. Sheila Gephart says:

    Thank you, Keira. We talked about Zoe when I taught my 6th grade girls at church about the sanctity of life. I told them her story in pictures (thank you facebook!). I think of you and of Zoe when I need to brave and keep fighting my research fight. I think of you when I hear clinicians talk about the children they care for and their parents and I want parents to be thought of as critical players in the team. And even here in Arizona… I saw a ladybug recently and I thought of Zoe. We see very few ladybugs here- only 2 in the 7 years I have been here. Thank you for sharing her story- your story.

  3. My dear friend. What a beautiful letter. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for being one of those friends trying to comfort you with maybe a story or two…helpless try to someway ease pain that was out of my control and arrogant to think I could possibly help in such a way. I will never understand what it is like to lose a child. I am thankful for the ladybug swarm we had here…literally thousands and thousands!! While neighbor were sweeping and vacuuming the volumes of ladybugs from their homes, I let them all stay! Any ladybug that made it in our house…I felt Zoe all around and thought of you with the sight of every one of them! It makes me smile every time I see one! Thank you Zoe Rose for giving us ladybugs as a symbol of you always being so close and watching us all! Keira, I just am speechless with your grace and beauty, strength and faith, perseverance and compassion for your family and those families sharing similar stories and experiences. You are a precious gift to all of us near and far. My love to you, Richard and the girls. We miss you and follow your emails. Thank you again for sharing your letter to Zoe, it helped me in more ways than you will ever know.

  4. Keira,
    What a loving letter to your sweet Zoe, the girl with such incredibly yummy cheeks and big beautiful eyes. And know that every ounce of guilt that you shed opens up space to give back love to sweet Zoe in the form of helping families everywhere. You are loved! Love, Deb

  5. Beautiful! May The Lord bless you and your family! I’m sure Zoe is with my little one in Heaven. We never met him/her, but are sure he/she is bouncing with the little angels!

  6. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, open-hearted letter, Keira. You are an incredibly inspiring woman.

  7. that was beautiful thank you for sharing. Zoe and her sisters are absolutely gorgeous.

  8. Thank you for sharing your letter. My son went to be with The Lord on November 26, 2013. I have turned to this website for comfort, and this post touched my heart. Thank you!

  9. We will never forget Zoe. She was a beautiful and engaging little girl. She had the most beautiful eyes that would twinkle when she interacted with you. She was strong, and she fought hard to survive and to be a part of this world. She is gone but her spirit lives on… she has left a footprint on our hearts. She was loved by her nurses and doctors and therapists. Keira, you are a strong and courageous woman. The love you gave your girls while they were in our hospital is the strenght and courage you pass on to them. Zoe had your strength and courage, she fought strong and hard because of the love and security you gave to her. You are an amazing mother! God Bless.

Trackbacks

  1. […] long ago I wrote a post for Preemie Babies 101 entitled “A Letter of Gratitude”.  I quoted a dear friend who was widowed several years ago.  In the dawn of my acceptance of […]

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