I asked my husband to write about Charlotte’s memorial. He was the heart and soul of orchestrating it all. He thought about every detail. He poured over every aspect of it. I thought it was only fitting that he describe it here in writing:
During our time in the hospital, Hannah and I spent a lot of time just waiting. Unlike the movies, the hospital has an eerie silence about it. I hate it. But in that silence, we talked. We cried. We sat in silence. One of the things that we had to decide was if we wanted to do some kind of service for Charlotte. What would that look like? Who would come? Where would we have it? We decided we wanted it to be intimate, so we would do it at our home. We wanted (and needed) it to be soon for some sense of closure, so we would do it on Friday evening (Charlotte was born on Tuesday). This also allowed both of our immediate families to be there. We couldn’t imagine doing the memorial without them.
We didn’t know what the memorial would look like, but there was one thing I knew. I was going to speak. I don’t know exactly why I felt so adamant about speaking. I think part of it was knowing that I was going to miss the opportunity to speak at all of her other life events. I wouldn’t get to embarrass her in front of her friends. I wouldn’t get to help her choose a college or a major. I wouldn’t get to give a toast at her wedding. So, I was sure that I was not going to pass the opportunity to speak at the memorial.
As we started to plan the memorial service, I was struggling with the point that we had no life stories to share about Charlotte. I remember saying to Hann, “It’s hard to plan it when we didn’t know her.” And she looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “We did know her. I remember finding out we were pregnant. I remember feeling her hiccupping. I remember you feeling her kick. We knew our little Char Char. Just not as much as we wanted to.” And she was so right.
When we sent out the email to our close friends and family, we had no idea how many would come. We knew it was a quick turnaround, so we knew it would be hard for a lot of them to come. We were blown away by the response of those who came. As people started coming to the house on Friday evening, it was such a joy to see each and every one of them. Some came from so far, and we were incredibly appreciative to have them there. They set such an amazing example of what family and friends do in hardship.
The morning of the memorial we called all of our grandparents. We wanted to a) make sure they were doing alright and b) to hear their thoughts about Charlotte. I am so glad that we did because each one of them had such encouraging and honest words for us. We sat on our bed with tear-filled eyes trying to write down their words as fast our hands would write. I will cherish those words.
We wanted our family to have a role in the service. We recognized that Charlotte is not only our daughter, but she is also a niece, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. We asked our moms if they could welcome everyone and get the memorial started with prayer. Danny and Holly led worship, which was such a special time for us. We sang three songs: Great is Thy Faithfulness, It Is Well, and How He Loves. It may sound crazy to sing words like “It is Well” at a time like that, but there is something about proclaiming words that you know are true (even if you don’t feel it). Our dads read two Scripture verses that had been special to Hannah throughout the pregnancy, but took on a whole new meaning after Charlotte died (John 14:23-27 and Psalm 103).
One of the things I had been looking forward to was to teach my daughter many things. How to count to 10. How to kick a soccer ball. That the Hokies and Red Sox are to be hated, and the Cavaliers and Yankees are to be revered. But throughout this whole ordeal, I found that Charlotte was doing the teaching. We learned so much from her. Hannah and I decided to use this as a structure for what we talked about that Friday night.
Things our daughter taught us:
- We are not in control: Despite all the planning that we do, in the end, we are not in control. We had the nursery all ready, the diaper bag packed, and the parenting books read. But all that changed in an instant. Just a reminder that we can think that we can plan this and that, but in the end, God is the One who is in control.
- Our prayers may be answered, but not always in the way we expect them: All throughout the pregnancy, we had prayed for Charlotte. We had prayed for the doctors that would deliver her. We prayed for the birth experience, that it go smoothly and painless (relatively). We prayed that our families would get along when visiting us. And although Charlotte’s birth looked so differently than we thought, God answered all those things. We could not have had better doctors and nurses. The birth went so smoothly. And our families were in a house together for a whole week (and at the end, there was talk of vacationing together. WHAT?!?!).
- In times of sorrow, accomplishing simple, daily tasks gives you a sense of accomplishment: I never thought folding laundry or building shelves would be so satisfying. But after Charlotte died, I found that the menial tasks of life became a healthy outlet. They were something where I could start a task, and see it to completion. The sense of accomplishment is something that God gives us to help us cope with grief.
- Enjoy the little things in every season: Hannah and I both long to be parents. And so naturally, we look forward to the day when we are running off to soccer games and piano recitals. I find that it is so easy to want the next thing. But by doing that, you miss out on what is right in front of you. So here are some of my favorite “little” things that I experienced with Charlotte.
- Finding out we were having a girl
- Charlotte kicking and hiccupping
- Ultrasound pictures
- Holding my daughter in my arms
- Signing as her father on forms
Our pastor closed the service with a few words and then had everyone gather around Hannah and me, lay hands on us and pray. It was so hot in our house with all the people, so I’m just glad we didn’t pass out. After the service ended, we were able to visit with everyone. It was hard though because we had so many close friends and family there but under such terrible circumstances.
We were so thankful that we were able to share Charlotte’s story that Friday night. We were also grateful for our family and friends that were willing to enter into our grief with us. We know that each one of them (and many more) would have had a role in raising our little girl.
As Hannah and I continue to navigate life without Charlotte, we keep seeing that joy and sorrow often live together. And we’re learning that’s okay. Through every season of life without her, we trust that God is in control. And that is a good thing.