When people ask me how I’m doing, the only word I can seem to find is: “Okay.” It’s not that what happened to our daughter is okay. It is wrong. It’s not like our life will ever be the same. And how could it be? I don’t ever want to be the same after losing a part of myself. But, Peter and I really are doing okay. The Lord has never left our side.
A week after Charlotte died, I remember this specific conversation Peter and I had. Peter had taken that week off. Like I said in a previous blog, it was a sacred week for the two of us. We slept in, cried, ran errands, did house projects, prayed. While talking, he said, “This past week has been the hardest week of my life.” I thought that was the end of his sentence but he proceeded with the smile of a father, concluding, “But it’s also been the proudest week of my life.”
Dichotomy has been a word I keep thinking about. Peter was pained yet proud. There are moments of extreme grief mixed with confident hope. One minute I am crying and the next, singing. It’s funny like that. My mom and I were talking about this sentiment and I said, “Grief is weird.” It really is. I don’t mean that insensitively. I simply mean grief is unpredictable and raw. It is one day at a time, a lifelong journey I am sure. Like Megan said to my mother-in-law at Charlotte’s memorial, “This will be a journey for them.” It is and that’s comforting and heart-wrenching all at once.
Because of the living power of Jesus, I am far from hopeless! I am a broken, wrecked woman. But He is my great reward. As Paul explains, God brings beauty from ashes:
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” ( 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NLT ).
Peter and I have such assurance in Jesus. We know now more then ever that we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know Jesus holds it all.
As my Poppa Knabe said to me and Peter on the phone the morning of Charlotte’s memorial, “The sun will come up again. You know where she is and she is safe. We have hope, faith, & trust. But it’s just hard to do.”
The week after Charlotte’s death, our home was filled with our closest family members. It was comforting to me that we weren’t alone. Yet, I longed for us to all be gathering for a fun holiday or vacation or something. Something else, just anything else but this. I wanted to close my eyes, shake my head and snap out of the nightmare. But the new reality wasn’t going anywhere and it still isn’t.
Having both of our families under the same roof for a prolonged period of time was a first for us, let alone under these circumstances. I really wasn’t anxious about it, though. It went so beautifully. God knit us all together and I think it all really glorified Him. Everyone weathered that stormy week so well. Everyone just did it. It wasn’t by our own strength; it was of His. God used each person’s giftings to minister to Pete and me in incredible ways. With vulnerability, some explained that they didn’t know what to say/not say, or what to do/not do. But by being WITH us, they were and did just what Pete and I needed. I can’t quite adequately express my gratitude.
I learned that though it felt uncomfortable at first, it was good for me to provide jobs for our family members to do. That may sound odd but we could only talk and cry so much. There’s this human phenomenon to it; it’s like we all want to do something to make it all better but no one can. Instead, God provides us comfort through doing accomplishable assignments. Peter and I found that there was something healing about having tasks to do and it was no different for our family members.
My dad has always been a “fixer.” I knew he ached to fix the pain and loss we were experiencing. But he couldn’t. But he was so present. He asked me if there was anything tangible he could do for us. Knowing my dad was always a great painter, I hesitantly asked him if he wanted to paint our master bathroom. His face lit up. Mind you, this was after my parents came up just that weekend before to help us paint our bedroom before the baby arrived. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep helping us. He did an amazing job and blessed us beyond words.
Our master bath my dad painted
Our updated vanity. I love our bathroom, now!
My mom spent time with me and took me shopping for some new outfits. We also shopped for bedding for the nursery that Peter and I were planning to eventually convert into another guest bedroom. We strolled through Marshalls and SteinMart. We didn’t always say much but we were just together. She listened. She was present. That was the best gift of all.
I remember this certain song came on while we were shopping. It was Rise Up by Andra Day. I really like the lyrics. Here are some of them: “And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up. … In spite of the ache. I will rise a thousand times again.” (Rise Up by Andra Day) I realize this isn’t a Christian song. But I think of how with Jesus and because of Jesus, I am an overcomer. It’s not because I am so strong but because He is. A verse many people have referenced shares this sentiment that, “…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV
Music has a way of triggering my emotions. After hearing the song while shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks, trying to catch my breath, and then broke down in tears. My mom held me. She told me how deeply sorry she was. I needed that. I needed her.
I asked my mother-in-law and Holly to take care of the decorations for Charlotte’s memorial. I gave them my vision that I wanted all white accents with soft lighting from candles and sweet, little bouquets throughout our home. I knew they’d get it. Boy, did they ever. They nailed it. The memorial looked even better than I’d hoped. They even weeded in the front of the house (something I hadn’t done being pregnant in 90 degree, Virginia weather) spread some mulch there and put a hanging basket of white and pink flowers in the front garden bed. Our home looked warm and inviting for our kind guests that’d be arriving soon for Charlotte’s memorial.
Over dinner one evening, I asked Danny if he would be willing to lead worship at Charlotte’s memorial. Danny has this incredible voice and plays the guitar like it’s second nature to him. Peter and I thought it’d be so meaningful if he’d play. Danny accepted the invitation with great humility and honor.
During the hospitalization, I had the song, “It is well” stuck in my head. I grew up singing that song in church and it kept playing as if on repeat in my mind. God did that, I know. Peter told me that he had the song, “How He Loves” playing over and over in his head when we were at the hospital. Thus, we thought it made sense to have those two songs at her memorial. We also wanted to affirm our trust in Jesus, so we added, “Great is Thy faithfulness” to the list, too.
I remember one day, I want to say it was that Thursday before her memorial but I may be getting my days mixed up, but I hadn’t seen Danny for awhile. He and Holly were almost always at our place that week. Holly told me that he was back home in Williamsburg practicing for the memorial. He practiced for like eight hours! I was so honored and humbled by that. Holly practiced a lot with him too, I later found out. She even sang with Danny at the memorial. I’d never heard her sing before but Danny told me she had a good voice. He was right. Wow. Later hearing the two of them together at her memorial was amazing.
My father-in-law drove three hours to pick up Lizzie at college. She had just started her first week of classes at Iowa State when this all happened. He, Lizzie and Caleb then turned around and drove another seventeen hours to Richmond, all in one go. They arrived at our place first thing the Friday of Charlotte’s memorial, August 26th. Their selflessness and devotion to family were amazing. Again, just having then WITH us was so comforting.
After taking a little nap, Caleb mowed our lawn in the sweltering heat. Josh blew the leaves, cleaned off the deck, and made Peter food (Peter isn’t the best at remembering to eat). They were all so thoughtful.
Funny enough, Peter and I bought a new bed for the guest bedroom that week. Crazy, for sure. He really wanted to have a bed for his parents to sleep on instead of an air mattress. And we were working to convert the nursery into another guest bedroom, so we figured, why not. The bed arrived the morning of Charlotte’s memorial and all the guys helped out with that.
My father-in-law also helped troubleshoot our fridge that conveniently stopped making ice. My dad helped Peter build shelves in the garage. Everyone was so great. And our house never looked better. On the other hand, it had never looked worse to me.
My cousin, Todd, flew in from Colorado to be at the memorial. He arrived Friday afternoon. Pete and I were blown way. Todd has always been a special influence in my life. We’ve always been close, even though we don’t live close to one another. It was just so unbelievably kind for him to fly so far on such short notice to be with us. Words really don’t do this justice.
Mike and Morgan came back down to Richmond after just being with us when I delivered Charlotte three days earlier. It was amazing of them. Mike and Todd helped string these cute, bistro lights on our back porch that I had wanted to be done for awhile now. They did this all in the oppressive, Virginia humidity. Gosh, it was so hot.
My Aunt Missy came down from Ohio and was so loving. She brought all these delicious pastries and cared for me and Pete so well. She and my mom, Morgan, my mother-in-law, Lizzie and Holly did such a great job getting our place reading for Charlotte’s memorial. Everyone did. Morgan gave me this sweet plaque in honor of Charlotte that I hung up before our guests arrived. I loved that. I know there are countless labors of love our family did for us that I am sure I am forgetting and countless more than I’ll never know about. There just really is nothing like family. Thank you, Jesus, for family.
On January 10th, 2016, we found out that we were pregnant. We were so excited! Six months has passed since we miscarried our first child. The heartbreak from losing our first was inexpressible. Though we were thrilled for this new pregnancy, we were cautious. I wrote in Charlotte’s baby journal three days after finding out we were pregnant, “I’m filled with both overflowing joy and fear. Jesus, hold this baby in Your hands, have Your way, bind Peter and I to you more.” How He has answered this prayer and in ways I could begin to imagine.
On February 2nd, 2016, we had Charlotte’s first ultrasound. Shortly before the ultrasound, my dear friend, Sarah, texted me the verse I decided to claim for Charlotte’s pregnancy, John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Jesus spoke this to his disciples after explaining to them that He soon would be taken from them. His disciples would be losing the physical manifestation of their friend and Savior in this world. Jesus wouldn’t be physically walking with them for much longer. Soon, Jesus would conquer death on the Cross and through His resurrection. A few verses earlier in verse 19, Jesus expressed, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus was promising his followers the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter, to be with them in their earthly loss of Jesus and that “whoever believes in Me [Jesus] will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12). Jesus’ words cover me with peace.
Charlotte lives because Jesus lives.
I have hope through the deposit of the Holy Spirit. On February 8th, 2016, I journaled, “Jesus, during this pregnancy and always, allow me to fully TRUST in you by the power of the Holy Spirit and not be a white-washed tomb. Without You, I am unable, unworthy, undone.” I marvel at a God who even orchestrates our prayers.
Jesus was giving His dear friends and followers what they needed to hear before their had a clue they would need to hear it! God did this for me, too. After Sarah shared this verse with me, my other dear friend, Kara, asked me if she could calligraphy a verse for Charlotte’s nursery, a verse I had perhaps claimed for the pregnancy. Frankly, I didn’t give this much thought. I knew Sarah had texted me John 14:27, I liked that verse and really didn’t have another verse in mind. So rather flippantly, I informed Kara that I’d love to have John 14:27 for my baby’s nursery.
Sarah & me
Kara & me
I was reflecting on this with my incredible sister-in-law and friend, Holly. She said when she heard this story at Charlotte’s baby shower (which was the day before we found out Charlotte had died), where Kara gifted the calligraphy to me, Holly thought to herself, “Why peace?” I mean it is kind of funny to have that verse in a baby nursery.
Why would God give that word to me? Why would God have me be reflecting on that Scripture during my pregnancy? The answer is crystal clear now. God gives us words of encouragement – words of peace – before we realize we will need to hang onto every one of them.
On April 16th, 2016, we shared that we were pregnant with the whole Knabe family. We were all together for my cousin, Katie’s, wedding. Everyone caught on pretty quick that we were pregnant. It was so fun.
Katie & Ryan’s wedding. We shared the news of our baby later that night.
Me & Pete dancing at the reception. I have a little baby bump!
On Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016, we found out we were having a girl! My friends and co-workers were taking bets on if we were having a boy or a girl. It was such a fun and exciting time. I was craving root beer, pickles, caesar salad dressing and vanilla ice cream. Peter was such an patient supporter.
Annie rocking Charlotte’s pink balloons!
Peter brought home pink balloons!
They were right!
20 week ultrasound. It’s a girl!
The pregnancy progressed wonderfully. I savor that friends and family members were able to feel sweet Char Char, as I call her, kick and move! She even got to wear the most beautiful dress for her Auntie Holly’s wedding! She was there for Aunt Liz’s high school graduation. Sweet Pea, as my mother-in-law called her since we didn’t share a name, brought so many people such joy. And she keeps doing so and I know she always will. She will always bring this mama such pride.
The three of us
Me & Charlotte with the beautiful bride!
Lizzie’s high school graduation
Danny, Caleb, Holly, Josh, Liz, Pete, me & Charlotte
We had three lovely baby showers and felt so supported and loved. One in New Jersey, one in Pittsburgh and the other in Richmond. Each was so fun and special.
Love them so much
Elizabeth & Kirstie loving on Charlotte!
Morgan, Aunt Karen, mom, me and Charlotte at the lovely Pittsburgh baby shower!
Me and Charlotte with the lovely hostesses!
Adi, Nana & me at our beautiful NJ shower
The whole gang in NJ!
Charlotte even got to tag along for some lake fun at Findley Lake, NY. It was so fun to share our news with everyone. And just as deeply as our friends and families shared in our delight over being pregnant with our little girl, they have just as deeply shared in our devastation of losing her.
Me, mom and Charlotte at Findley Lake
My two best buds, Kirstie & Elizabeth, with Charlotte
Quickly, her nursery filled up with the cutest clothes and Pete got working on her nursery furniture with his remarkable wood working skills. He built a stellar changing table dresser for her. We now use it as a dresser and it looks lovely, but just not quite right.
During the pregnancy, people asked us if we felt ready? Our usual response was, “We feel as ready for her as we know how.” And we were ready. We were thrilled! We had been praying for a baby for so long. We had the gear, the clothes, the car seat, the stroller, the rocker. I had painted her nursery twice because the first color wasn’t to my liking. As my husband later explained at Charlotte’s memorial, we can plan and plan and feel like we have some sort of control, but that’s all an illusion. We have no control. But we have abundant hope.
The nursery closet with the start of her sweet clothes!
The changing table dresser Peter made
Peter, Papa, me and Charlotte with Papa’s painting
Papa’s painting in the frame Peter made for it
Peter’s Papa selflessly gifted us this incredible painting of his for Charlotte’s nursery. She is Nana and Papa’s thirteenth great grandchild. Peter used some of the walnut wood he was planning on using to make Charlotte’s crib to instead create this gorgeous frame for Papa’s artwork. It is now hung in what would have been Charlotte’s nursery. We re-made the room to be a guest bedroom. The theme for her nursery was going to be elephants. We call the guest room the “elephant room.”
Me, mom & Charlotte after the Richmond baby shower
Dad, Mom, me, Charlotte & Peter
Me, Charlotte, Kara (& of course our pup, Annie)
Peter, Me, Charlotte, Arden, Sarah & Collin
Despite losing Charlotte, we continue to expect great things from Jesus. We trust in His goodness. We just trust Him.