October Gifts

I must have run my small fingers back and forth over the velvety blue ridge in the back seat of my parents’ car a thousand times.  On any other day it would have been the hotly contested “boundary line” between me and my brother that even a pinky nail dare not cross.  That day it was a place to focus and fidget and calm the fragile lump in my throat.

I was sad, but it was a confusing kind of sad. I didn’t know if I even had a right to be sad or to feel robbed, but I sure felt both of those things a whole lot.  I mean, I never met her. Heck, I wasn’t even alive yet. Right or wrong, I was shook and the news that day forever tinted the lens of my life.

My mom and dad brought my brother and me to the cemetery where they lovingly told us about our big sister in heaven. Her name was Megan. As we looked at the details of her birth certificate, they stretched snapshots of heartache and beauty into a life’s story.

They only got two days with Megan.  There was no way they could have known she had such heart problems. The sister I had always wanted was actually real, but she doesn’t get to live?  My parents had a sweet gorgeous baby, and they couldn’t bring her home? They had to bring her here? As my head was spinning picturing every person I knew losing Megan, my parents carefully chose the words for our young minds.  It’s hard to explain but I remember an overwhelming sense that my parents, amid this tremendous loss, had kind of surrendered to this absurdly complicated event. There was no hiding their devastation, and there were no words that would have made any logical sense to us. But simply, this was our truth.  We are blessed and this is what our blessings look like; some are seen, some are not. There was a steadfast assurance that she was living with God. We’d see her in heaven someday and until then, we live the life we are given. With hugs, a deep breath, and a “God is good.” we headed out.

My mind silently swirled on the way home as I traced the edge of that fuzzy seat with my fingers.  I was so heartbroken for my mom and dad.  It was a deep, aching feeling. I remember desperately wanting to know more, but I didn’t want to make them sad again with more questions. I finally blurted out something random, but quickly realized the answers weren’t making me feel better. Do they have baby funerals? What did she wear? Was she born bigger or smaller than me?  Did she look like Tommy or more like me? Where did her clothes go? What did the Grandmas do? Can you say her name again? I just wanted to know more. Anything more. More her. What a ripoff.

Three days after Megan was born, my aunt called the hospital to check on her very first niece. My mom replied, “she’s an angel.”

Determined to have a sister one way or another, I introduced myself to our angel that night in my bed. Staring at my flowered wallpaper I awkwardly said hello.  I didn’t know what to say or what to expect, but I felt sure she was listening. It didn’t hurt that she shared a birthday with my first best friend.  That had to be proof, right?  It didn’t seem right calling her my sister though.  That word seemed like a sacred title, earned over a thousand shared secrets, and we hadn’t even shared time on earth. Even without the right titles, I began to tell her more, imagining her whispering my prayers into God’s ear to give them extra oomph. Megan grew older in my mind as I grew. Would she want to be called “Meg” by now? I’d imagine her face, giving her all of the features I coveted myself like the brightest blue eyes, rich brown hair and the perfect sprinkle of freckles over her nose. Because I am a good sister, I gave her gorgeous, thick, curly hair despite our genetic predisposition for pin-like wisps. In return she gave me another place to be heard, understood. When I was happy, I had a hunch she was celebrating too. Looking at my brother’s newborn daughter’s face, I knew she had already felt the love of an aunt. When I was lonely, she made me less alone. Megan became the captain of my heavenly rally section. If I couldn’t have had her as a sister, I have loved having her as an angel.

My first due date would have been August, but like so many others, we miscarried and found ourselves praying for another chance at parenthood.  We were over the moon to get pregnant again quickly.  Shocked, really. I knew my rally captain was celebrating with all of us.  I took the fact that the baby was due near Megan’s birthday as a little high-five from heaven.

I had kind of a jerky labor.  My contractions came out of nowhere on Monday and immediately held themselves to a clockwork 10 minutes apart, quickly going to 5 minutes. Then they just stayed there forever.  Back and forth to the hospital.  Is it time? Yes. No. Yes. Maybe. No. Sure. Epidural kept going out on my right side and I was on night two of zero sleep and lots of pain.  Well, half pain/half paralyzed. Late Tuesday night, the nurse said, “You’re progressing, honey, just reaaaallllly slowly.  I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ll be ready to push until tomorrow.”  I don’t think she was expecting me to smile a huge smile. But I did.

What I had been afraid to say out loud my whole pregnancy, what we all had been afraid to say my whole pregnancy, was just a few hours away from coming true. Just before sunrise on Wednesday, October 18th, my son was born on Megan’s birthday.

I will never in my life forget the look on my parents’ faces as they entered the room to meet their grandson on their daughter’s birthday. Their sopping wet smiles were the most magnificent I had ever seen them.  Once I opened my mouth to try to speak, I couldn’t even form words. We were a blubbering heap of gratitude and joy and pain and healing and celebration. It was the most beautiful ugly cry in the history of all time. We all just smiled through our sobs. Nodding wildly. Knowing that right then, right there is where heaven met earth.

All of the hunches and hoping that she was somehow here with us were confirmed. And to witness my parents getting that gift was simply the most extraordinary experience.  Even with all of these words, I can’t express how much I wanted this for them. It was like a reward for their faith in God and themselves and each other, and for the shaky, numb footsteps they must have taken forward after they lost her. I know that few get this kind of moment and, I promise you, these people are worthy of this gift.  Not an ounce is lost on them.

I thanked God. I thanked Megan. I thanked them for my healthy, beautiful boy. I thanked them for guiding my parents from that first birthday that must have been so dark, to this one, full of light.

My son is a gift from God in heaven, but he was escorted here by my sister.  And for that, I am so deeply grateful.