Walking to remember our babies
Yesterday we celebrated all the babies in the Inland Empire who went to heaven so very soon at Forever Footprint's annual I.E. Walk to Remember. It is always such an honor to be surrounded by so many brave moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, and friends, who shine so brightly in spite of everything they've been through. I had the immense privilege of being this year's keynote speaker. It is seriously not lost on my what an immense honor this is.
Two years ago, I attended my first Walk to Remember. It had only been two months since I had last held my infant son, Ethan, in my arms and said goodbye, and the sting of grief was fresh. The past two months had been devastating, painful, and often lonely in ways that I couldn’t put into words. My stomach was in knots as we arrived at the Cal State San Bernardino Campus and followed signs to the event. I had no idea what to expect.
It didn’t take long for my fears to dissolve and for me to realize that I was surrounded by my people. Upon arrival I met Amanda. Amanda asked me who I was walking for and I told her about Ethan. I showed her his picture. She oohed and aahed over how beautiful he was and asked me more about him. She said his name. She got it.
My walls crumbled down with each person I spoke to. As each baby’s name was spoken and each rose was passed out, I felt less and less alone. While it didn’t take away the grief of losing my son, stepping into this community of like-minded people softened the jagged edges of grief in ways I never expected. I received an indescribable gift on that day—the gift of hearing Ethan’s name, the gift of honoring him, the gift of being surrounded by people who didn’t try to brush him aside or just tell me to “think positive”. I received the gift of meeting other parents and hearing about their babies--the simple gift of “me too”.
Last year, I attended my second walk—this time walking for three babies. Ethan, and two other tiny babies that I don’t know much about, but wish every day that I did. This time, instead of fear, I felt excitement—although often accompanied with tears. My heart swelled with excitement thinking about the beautiful ceremony I was about to be a part of. Of knowing that I’d be surrounded by my tribe. Of knowing I was about to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful, brave, and broken people, who shine so bright in spite of all they’ve been through.
Today, I am walking for the third year—this time for five babies, including the identical twins who joined their older siblings in heaven last July. When I look back on each year, I cannot help but see how much I’ve changed—I see the ways grief has brought out the worst in me, but far more I see the ways being a mother to five babies in heaven has made me better. And for that I cannot help but thank God for his faithfulness in the midst of something so horrible, and for introducing me to people just like you. It is people just like you--people who just know, people who have walked through the unthinkable--that have helped me to keep going when it felt impossible, have given me a safe place, and have made all the difference.
I may not know your story, but I do know that a special baby has touched your heart in a very big way. Whether you are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandma, a grandpa, an aunt, an uncle, a friend, a doctor, a nurse—we are all here because someone very small left a very big footprint on each of our hearts. I want you to look around for a moment and notice the people around you—though the details of our stories may be different, these people around you know. Whether you’ve walked through any of this yourself, or you’ve held the hand of someone who has, you are surrounded by people who have stood where you stand.
They know the pain of a due date that never comes—of “what ifs” and unfulfilled plans. They know the devastation of the words “not compatible with life” or “I’m sorry, there’s just no heartbeat”. They know the pain of laboring and delivering a child who never opened their eyes, or one who did but couldn’t stay long. They know the long days in the NICU, they know the devastation of planning a memorial service for an infant.
They also know the joy of knowing someone so small, but so special. They know the joy of knowing a love that is stronger than death. They know what it’s like not to take one sunrise for granted. They know the pride of being part of such a beautiful legacy, sparked by someone so small.
I truly believe that each life is meaningful and was created for a purpose, and your baby is no exception. Whether your baby left this earth before you ever knew, before you ever had a chance to hear their heartbeat, or after holding them in your arms—your baby’s life has meaning. Whether you said goodbye after hours, days, or months of holding them in your heart or your arms—your baby’s life has meaning.
To the parents out there, I want to leave you with this—that you, of all people, were chosen to be your baby’s parent. You are the best mother or father they could have asked for. You, of all the mothers and fathers in the world, were hand picked to experience a love stronger than death and to carry their legacy.