Dora Jewel Gjertsen was due tomorrow, December 4. She probably would have arrived even earlier than that in a C-section (the early C-section with James rendered my uterus too weak to risk a natural birth). I think about how different things would be now if she were alive. We might have sold our house and moved into a bigger one during the time our kids’ lives overlapped. No need for more space now. I probably would not have gone back to work or tried to write a book.
One of the reasons we tried for a baby so soon after James was because we knew he might not live long, and we thought another child would help us cope with his loss. Oh well, I guess you can’t really plan these things. The whole grieving process for James would have looked and felt much different if I were still pregnant. I would have tried to suppress some of my sadness so I didn’t affect the baby. Of course there would be less to cry about anyway if she were still here, and it would take less faith to have hope.
One of our readers with a blog for a miscarriage ministry asked us a while ago whether we were able to grieve the loss of Dora or whether it had been overshadowed by the loss of James. John and I talked about this question quite a lot. I think that for both of us, losing Dora was harder than losing James because of the total shock, the spiritual confusion of so devastating a loss after her miraculous conception, and because we never got to meet her. It was also more difficult because we lost her first. The art of losing takes some time to master.
I do think grieving for Dora prepared us in many ways to grieve for James. I had already gotten used to the idea that I had a baby in heaven, and I had time to process my feelings and understanding of God’s greater purposes and continuing care for us. But after James died, my grief for Dora was pretty much absorbed into my grief for James. I think of James much more often because of my memories of his constant needy presence. I imagined Dora as an addition to our family of three, a companion and helper for us and for James. Without James the context I pictured her in is gone. I guess they are together now after all.
Sometimes I think of how proud parents are when their children perform in a Christmas choir. I try to imagine that’s how we’ll feel when we get to see her sing in heaven. I assume her life there will be spent in worship.
We set aside some time to honor Dora on November 22 at the Remembrance Ceremony for babies lost at Winnie Palmer Hospital. Parents read poems and sang songs they or others had written. There were a lot of tears. The social workers read the names of each of the babies represented–I was surprised how many had names–and some families lost three. They offered to honor James, but we declined because he had already had a memorial service. This day was for Dora.
When we heard them announce, “Elvis Aaron Lee,” we realized that we knew someone there. Elvis was a former roommate of James in the NICU, and we lived in the RMH with his parents, Chad and Natasha, until Elvis died at less than a month old. We talked to them after the ceremony and told them about James and Dora, and they shed some tears with us. Both Chad and Natasha got elaborate tattoos of little Elvis, done from a photograph, with baby blocks underneath spelling out his name. It was a comfort to know that we weren’t the only ones whose lives are marked by the loss of a tiny one.
Throughout the service, and the butterfly release afterward (which was postponed until a warmer day), familiar phrases of comfort were spoken about how our children live forever in our hearts, or in our memories, or as a sort of consciousness in nature like the wind. I thought how much more exciting is the truth: they are more alive than they ever were on earth, joyfully, completely, abundantly—whether we remember them or not—forever.
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