February 12 Heaven readies another cradle in its nursery today. Baby Mirra Charrisse, Miraculous Grace, has come home.
February 17 Five days ago Mirra left the safety of her mother's womb, to be cuddled in the arms of God.
I don't understand this kind of sorrow.
One mother carries her longed-for baby to term, dreading, yet anticipating the difficult labor to come. When her work is done, she holds the fulfilment of her dreams tightly in her arms. She counts tiny fingers and miniature toes, and plants tender kisses on baby's sweet nose.
Another mother labors in agony, torn, wanting the pain to end, knowing that when it does the baby she has birthed will be lifeless and cold. She will hold, she will weep, she will unwillingly release. One mother frets, not understanding the privilege of colic, sleepless nights, earaches, and runny noses. Another weeps for lost kisses, soiled diapers, first words, and skinned knees. I am that mother.
But, today it is Mirra's memorial service; she came five weeks shy of her due date. Soothing music floats gently on the air; muted sunshine filters through elegant stained-glass windows. On a beautifully decorated table, nestled among the fragrant flowers, and pictures of a beloved baby girl, sits an urn containing her ashes. A silky-soft, pink blanket lies nearby, and I am comforted by its presence.
Being invited into this private place is a sacred privilege. While her family weeps, Mirra wakes, in another place, gently rocked in caring arms, serenaded by Heavenly Hosts.
My husband, Rob, and I sit quietly, my hand tucked safely in his. I hurt for the young family sitting three rows ahead. They do not know, but will soon learn, one of life's most difficult truths: though the pain lessens with the passing of time, they will never forget.
It's been fourteen years since we sat where they sit today. I'll never forget that hot, August summer day. For a week we had known that William would be stillborn. Not wanting to induce, the doctor had advised us to wait for labor to begin spontaneously. So, we waited. My tormented mind struggled to accept our loss. As a committed Christian, I believe in the sovereignty of God. That belief brought me little comfort in the long, night hours. Perhaps, it made my pain more difficult. I wrestled, questioning all I had ever learned about Him.
"Why, God, why? Why won't you save my baby?"
The delivery was painful. When it was over we tenderly held, William Andrew, and struggled not to cry. He was perfect in every way, except for the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his right leg. And, except for the fact that he was dead.
Standing beside William's tiny, white casket, I was numb with sorrow. In my grief I questioned, do I have a right to cry for this child I never knew? Though few, I clung tightly to my memories. Just two years before we had relinquished another child to Heaven's care when Baby Knuth miscarried. Time brought little relief; my questions remained unanswered. The will to break loose from my despondency weakened with each passing day. I felt abandoned by God. I longed for a place of rest, a kind word, an understanding heart. In time, I stuffed my pain towards the back, on a shelf high in the closet of my heart - then shut the door and walked away.
Eleven years later, I stood before that door once more when a phone call came from a friend. "Ronda, I have a friend whose baby was stillborn. I want to get her a gift. Do you have a suggestion?"
Suddenly, the door of my heart swung open, and all the painful memories tumbled out. I was surprised at their intensity, and at my ready reply, "Get her a soft blanket. One she can cuddle with, and cry her tears into." When her grief was spent, she would have a memento of her baby's brief life. “If I'd had a blanket like that," I shared, "I know it would have been easier for me to grieve William's death."
The next week a package came addressed to me. Inside was a note that read, "A blanket for William . . . for Momma. Trusting it's never too late." Beneath, wrapped in crinkly, white tissue paper, lay a beautiful, pastel baby blanket. Holding that soft blanket in my hands gave credence to the lives of William Andrew, and Baby Knuth. It seemed to whisper, "They haven't been forgotten."
I wept then, blessed healing tears. In time I was able to release my babies back into the arms of God. Like Hannah of old, I could finally say, ". . . now I give you to the Lord."(I Samuel 1:28)
The gentle voice of the minister overseeing Mirra's memorial draws me from my reverie. I glance once more at the tiny, pink blanket and remember the night I gave it to them. As the facilitator of the "Empty Arms, Aching Hearts" support group, I knew the importance of placing that blanket in their hands. Drawing them into the circle of our love, we prayed, inviting the Holy Spirit to use the blanket as a tool to bring comfort in their grief.
Mirra's blanket is only one of many that I have given over the years. The ripple effect has taken blankets on a mission to soothe broken-hearted parents from the Bronx in New York, to comfortable Ranch Santo Margarita, California. They've winged their way to rural Humble, Texas, north to lazy Kimball, Nebraska, and even as far away as Germany.
The first blanket went, at her request, to a mother who had aborted two babies in her early twenties. Other blankets have gone to a missionary, the wife of a popular talk show host, a sorrowing Lieutenant Governor, and his wife, and a military couple miles from home. One mother wept when she received a blanket in memory of her son. A professed atheist father slipped the blanket they had received from his sleeping wife. She woke in the morning to find him sound asleep, the blanket at his side.
Some wonder, "Is it such a good idea to give a blanket to the parents after a baby has died? Won't it remind them of their loss?" My reply is, "Do you really think they have forgotten?"
In memory of our babies, and named after William, this simple outreach of love is called, The Billy Blanket Project. To most, I am a stranger. I prefer to think of myself as a friend they have yet to meet. Though certified in pregnancy and early infant loss, I am not a professional. Like others who grieve, I am simply a sojourner on a journey not of my choosing.
There will be questions in the days to come. Perhaps, Mirra's mom and dad will wonder why a loving God allowed their baby girl to die. They will wrestle with Him, seeking to understand. There are no easy answers. We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen to good people. But, we serve a risen Savior, a Redeemer God who, when allowed, will bring order out of chaos, beauty out of ashes, comfort out of pain.
It's been worth the journey back today. I wipe momma's tears, and hug daddy's neck. I pray they will successfully navigate the turbulent waters of their grief, and that when they are weary, and cannot run, they will rest in the Father's arms. And, I pray that they will experience, in their sorrow, God's miraculous grace.
I can't help all the grieving parents of the world, but I can help these two find the healing love of Christ tucked inside a soft, warm blanket. So can you, if someone you know needs a soft blanket to cry into.
© 2011 Ronda Knuth