When I was 25 my friend’s baby died. Liv and I met in college and immediately forged a friendship as scandalously young brides. We were both 20 at the time. We learned how to be wives together and had our first babies together. Then her second baby was born on October 11, 2003.
Baby Ellie came too soon—but not too soon for what was commonly viable for American medical capabilities at that time. She was 30 weeks. Mark and I, along with our other young married friends—all relatively untouched by tragedy—stared at each other, stared at our own newborns, stared at the wall, not knowing what to do in the hours after Ellie was born and we heard through phone chains that she was not well.
Back then you waited by the phone for a call. One friend had a husband at the hospital, standing watch with Liv’s husband. He would call his wife with updates and she would call me and I would call the other ladies in our circle. She called twice and told me through sobs to pray for Liv and Ellie.
Finally, late in the the agonizing, unknowing evening, the call came: Ellie had slipped away less than 24 hours after she had arrived. Stunned, Mark and I asked each other, “Should we go?” We dropped our own baby girl off with friends who were pregnant, lived at the seminary, and were part of our group—a group being thrust into our first-ever deep heartbreak as young adults. And we went.
The nurse on the labor and delivery floor directed us to a room where Liv and her family had gathered to say goodbye to their precious newborn. They dressed her in white and baptized her. A quiet nurse gently snapped photos. Liv’s husband handed Ellie to me and I held her. She was beautiful and tiny and that moment has shaped so much of my adult soul.
A funeral was held days later. Liv was in a regal black dress and hat with a small veil covering her eyes, holding the hand of her toddler son and her husband carried a white casket, the size of a tissue box. We and our other young married friends stood together near the gravesite and gasped for breath.
In the following days I called Liv often to check in. Through tears she said she was going to leave Ellie’s room the way it was and just close the door. She described how her son carried on with toddlerhood. The day after Ellie went to heaven he had dumped a bag of crackers on their living room floor. Liv said, “So I vacuumed it up. He’s still living and very much a toddler. I have to keep living. What else am I going to do?”
For years I called Liv every October 11. For years we sniffled on the phone together and I listened as she told me how they were walking through their grief. One year she said to me, “People keep lamenting, ‘why us?’ and I wonder, ‘why not us?’”
I was with Liv this past weekend and on Saturday night we looked at each other with the realization that Ellie’s birthday—in this world and in heaven—was upon us. She shed a couple tears as we relayed the story to our other friend who was there. Liv described the dismay she felt the first day she made it through without thinking of Ellie. She described how the pain is still present, but each passing year lessens the sharpness.
Ellie would have been 13 today. We chatted about heaven and the hope of Glory.