Dear Emmy,

Yesterday afternoon, I posted this picture for the world to see:

I shared it because it filled my heart with joy. We were all at church, and as I looked down our row I thought to myself, “We are so abundantly blessed.” Papa was holding Lexi, your daddy was holding KK, Auntie was holding Lakyn and the older girls were proudly performing every song the worship team played.  My heart was truly overflowing. I was so, unbelievably happy.

Later in the day, I was feeding Lakyn while listening to the older girls playing downstairs. Sister fell asleep in my arms, and instead of laying her down, I decided to just pause and enjoy the moment. But in the stillness and solitude, the sadness washed over me….

That picture should have six little girls in it.

And just like that my joyful, happy heart was shattered.

We should have needed on more seat when we sat down at church.

 Nana should have had one more little girl shaking sprinkles on the Christmas cookies.

 There should have been five sleeping bags on the floor at bedtime.

 There should be presents under the tree with your name on them.

 When people look at our crew and say, “That sure is a lot of little girls!” …what they don’t know is there is another one missing.

 3 Gillespie girls. 3 Hummel girls. Even playing field.

There should be six.

Sometimes A lot of times, grief hits me this way – in the happiest moments. Probably because it’s those moments I most feel your absence. I feel the hole that is left in our family with you not here, and I wonder if anyone else feels it, too.

Tonight, as we have every Christmas Eve since you died, we will light a candle in the center of the table that will burn in your memory. Your stocking will hang in its spot above the fireplace. A crystal angel that your Papa gave me our first Christmas without you will sparkle with the lights on the tree.

We do our best, sweet girl, to make you a part of who we are as a family. We are a family of 5. A family of 12. Without you…we are not full us.

On these days, I feel your absence in the depths of my soul. My heart aches for you. But when the sadness threatens to consume me, I remember how lucky I am that you were mine at all. I remind myself that God knit you together perfectly and wrote your story flawlessly. And even though you are not here, He is still writing.

He is the master author of each of our lives, and in the final chapter there is a common thread: death. But that is not the end. Because on the first Christmas, He gave the world a baby. A baby born humbly, who grew into a faultless man – God’s son, who died so the rest of us might live. So that even if when someone we love goes before us, we can hold to the hope of a heavenly reunion.

This Christmas, while I wish you were here to decorate cookies, sing in church, unwrap presents, and add one more little girl to our family photos, I will remember that God is uniquely using your story to write mine. That He gave you life with a plan and purpose – just like His own son. God gave His son’s life so that you and I would not be separated by death. And in the waiting, I never want to lose sight of that promise.

So for now, know that I miss you. And when I look at that photo, I know there are six little girls in our family. And one day, we will all be together again.

Miss you most,

Your Mama

Answering the hard questions…

“Mama, why did Emmy die?”

The question came completely unprompted and entirely unexpected. We were on our way school last week, having the kind of conversation you have while driving with a toddler. I think just before that, we were talking about her “babies” at home, when she matter-of-factly mentioned that I had three babies. Then…that.

I caught my breath as the first tear fell down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away and told her… “Emmy’s body was really sick baby.”

And that was the end of it. It was over as quickly as it had begun. As if she totally understood my answer, and there was no need for further explanation.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.

In fact, quite often our little girl is inquisitive about death or has incredible insight about heaven or shares the sweetest sentiment about her sister that completely blows us away.

Here’s another exchange that happened while we were talking about baby sister a week or so before she was born…

L: Is my other sister in heaven?

M: You mean Emmy, baby?

L: Yeah…

M: Yes sweetie, Emmy is in heaven.

L: Can I give her lots of hugs when I get there, because I miss her?

M: Silence…dying inside.

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In light of that, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about these conversations and why they happen so freely in our family. Our daughter is not quite three-and-a-half years old. And while I do truly believe that she has a implicit and eternal connection to her twin sister, I am also certain that she would not recognize or express those feelings if we had not made the conscious decision to make Emmy a very real and normal part of our lives. We don’t limit our conversations about infant loss to one month of the year. It is engrained in who we are as a family.

We openly acknowledge that death is painful. We honestly believe that heaven is real. And we truly think it is ok to talk about it. Even when…especially when…it hurts. With tears rolling down our cheeks, we answer the hard questions.

I know “our way” is not the only way. I know not every family who has experienced this type of loss wants to talk about it the way we do. But the number one thing I hear from my brothers and sisters in bereavement – whether their loss was suffered during the pregnancy or after birth – is that they want to feel seen. They want their loss to be acknowledged. They want their baby to be recognized – called by name. They want to hear from you. Not just during the first year. Not just on special occasions. And not just during a month that is set aside for this purpose. But always.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, there might be some tears. But those tears, the ones you see when you ask a bereaved parent about their baby…those aren’t tears of sadness. At least in part, they are tears of respite. Tears of joy. Tears of appreciation for your courage in speaking about what many treat as unspeakable.

If you know a family who has suffered the loss of a child, don’t look away…see them. Ask the hard question. I promise, through the tears they will appreciatively answer.

 

 

Dear Emmy…

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in full nesting mode. At least, to the extent my “almost due” body has allowed (someone actually used that phrase to describe my ever-impressive physique recently…I just thought to myself…you should have seen 36 weeks with twins!)

In the midst of cleaning out bathroom cabinets, sorting through no-longer-worn clothes and organizing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I could get my hands on, I allowed myself to slow down for a couple of hours to sort through one tub in particular. Yours.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around, even now. How can your beautiful, precious, meaningful life be summed up by the contents of one large plastic tub?

It hadn’t been opened it since we moved to Kansas…almost three years ago. Everything kind of got stuffed in there to “deal with later” because the loss was still too fresh. Now, with some time and distance between my heart and that day, I was able look at things from a new perspective.

There were some things I actually took out – realizing their irrelevance. Things from who exactly I couldn’t remember and that you never actually used. Inanimate objects that once held great value had lost their power over my heart. And that felt good.

Other things, however, still made my soul ache. Like the pair of boots that matched your sisters that we used in our pregnancy announcement photos. And the little outfit your daddy and I picked out in Chicago that you didn’t get to come home in. And the book we read to you and Lexi after all the tubes and monitors had been unhooked, and we we free to just be a family of four for a brief moment.

The hardest thing to look through, though, was a box. I didn’t even remember what was in it at first, and when I took the top off, I didn’t realize the floodgates I was opening. Cards and letters from friends and family and some people I didn’t even know. Words of sorrow and grief and hope and love. Prayers that poured in over us. I read each and every one, sobbing at such raw reminders of our loss.

I needed that time, though. Time alone with you. Time before our next baby girl comes into this world to remember my baby girl in heaven. Time to re-grieve the immense hole your death has left in my heart that will never be filled, no matter how many babies fill our home.

What I realized through this time – through my lack of connection to much of the physical “stuff” but deep emotional ties to the words written by those who love us – is that your memory isn’t defined by a tub full of things at all. It lives on in how you changed our lives. In how you changed the lives of so many who never even met you. You changed lives, Emmy girl, and your memory lives on through that. 

Each night before I lay down, I go into the room you should be sharing with Lexi. The room she will soon share with her baby sister. And I tell each of you goodnight and that I love you. Because just like the little girl who is sleeping in the bed and the baby who is growing inside of me – you, my angel, very much still live here. In us, you live.

Miss you most baby girl,

Mama

Broken Body, Brave Soul

At the very moment I am writing this, three years ago, my baby’s heart stopped beating. I had the great privilege of holding her in my arms as she was set free from her broken body – leaving me with a piece of her brave soul.

This day is hard. It will never pass without a recognition of her absence in our lives. The ache in my heart for that girl will be a part of me until the day I hold her in heaven. Like my brown eyes and my stubborn spirit, it is now just a part of who I am.

But Emmy’s story is made up of so much more than sadness and pain. Woven into even the most difficult moments are feelings of hope and joy and peace. The death of a child will change you forever. But it is up to you how.

There have absolutely been moments of emotional turmoil and relational tensions and heartache that seemed to heavy to carry. But we have learned how to cope. How to dig deeper into our faith than I ever thought possible. How to lean in to the discomfort and look in to realize what we do have right in front of us.

It has lead to the sweetest family traditions. And an astonishing understanding of life and loss and heaven in a little girl who truly knows and deeply loves a sister she cannot see. The things about her sister and about heaven that come out of that girl’s mouth are inconceivable for a three-year-old. Some day, when I’m brave enough, I will share.

For now, I’ll just share these. Our day celebrating Emmy…

Helping dad dig the hole for Emmy’s new tree!

“Stamping” the bottom of the hole with dad before the tree went in.

Emmy’s original tree, a Spring Snow Crabapple, is on the right. It was planted with our extended family at her 1 year memorial ceremony. The tree on the left is the one we planted today. Lexi wanted a tree for her sister that would get purple blooms in the spring, so we went with the Oklahoma Redbud. Can’t wait to see them both blooming next year!

Talks about sissy. They happen on a regular basis, but especially on the day we celebrate her going to heaven.

Sending sissy messages to heaven on balloons. This year Lexi also decided to send her a sucker (it took three balloons to make sure it would actually float!)

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