Sunday, August 21, 2011

It has been 8 years tonight since I last heard the voice of my Granni.

Wow. One line written and I'm already getting all teary.

She was happy that night. She was going into surgery the next morning to have a brain tumor removed. Family members from another state were visiting. Granni liked visitors, so she was so cheerful. Confident. At ease. I told her that I was scared. Scared that I would never see her again. And she told me not to worry. Whatever happened, we would see each other again. I wished I was there, in Florida, with her. But I was in California, awaiting the arrival of a new baby we had traveled from Texas to adopt. I stood outside Chuck E Cheese that night, with the baby's birthmother inside playing games and waiting for labor, just wanting to hold the phone a little longer but feeling like I should get back in. I rushed her off. Telling her I needed to go. I will always wish that I held on just a little bit longer.

The next morning when the phone rang in our hotel room and Justin jumped out of bed telling me that the baby was on the way and he was leaving to take the birthmother to the hospital, I looked at the clock. Ironically, at that very moment, my Granni was going into surgery. I whispered a groggy prayer and fell back into a restless sleep beside my then two year old, Ethan.

Not long after, Justin came back to get me to go to the hospital. I don't remember much about getting ready or going there. All I remember is waiting. Waiting for the baby to come. Waiting to hear from my mom about how Granni was doing. Just waiting. At around 7:00am, the little one arrived. The birthfather came out to tell us that the baby was here and 15 minutes later we were being escorted in to see her. She was short and plump, with a ton of black hair. We watched her get her first bath and stood back, somewhat awkwardly, as it was decided who should hold her first. Eventually we all settled into a comfortable "oohing" and "ahhhing" over her absolute preciousness. I held her, and rocked her, and fed her a bottle. She was beautiful. She was ours. We named her Julia.

I remember walking out into a courtyard with my cell phone and calling my mom to tell her that Julia was here. I remember describing every little detail that I could about her. I remember my mom's guarded cheerfulness. I remember asking how Granni was doing. And I remember silence. Then my mom told me that Granni had suffered a stroke while in surgery. She said that she had been able to communicate with a hand squeeze but had not woken up. I remember becoming a little girl again at that moment. I pressed her to reassure me that everything was ok. And she tried. But she couldn't.

The day went on full of the most conflicting mix of emotions I have ever experienced. I held my new daughter and all I could think was that one of the most important people in my life might be gone. Unfortunately, the first day of my first daughter's life is mostly a blur.

The hospital gave us a room to sleep in, and Julia stayed with us. I can recall little Ethan kissing her and holding her. But the most vivid memory to me of that night is of facing reality in a dark room adjoined to ours. Justin was on the phone with my mom. It was clear now that Granni wasn't going to make it. Her heart was still beating. She was still breathing with the help of a machine. But, the "life" in her was gone. My mom thought she had been gone since the last time that morning that Granni had squeezed her hand. They had not been able to get any response from her since that moment. Almost exactly the same moment Julia was born.

In a tiny room that night I wrestled with grief so powerful that I thought it was going to rip me apart. I screamed and cried and wailed and threw my body on the ground. I just wanted to escape from the pain. But there was nowhere to go. It was inside me. If I had been able to literally rip my heart out with my own hands I might have done it. I remember Justin trying to quiet me, telling me "you can't do this". But I knew he was wrong. There was no stopping it. I simply couldn't NOT do it.

We booked a flight for me to leave California and go to Florida to say goodbye to Granni while she was still "alive". Ethan and I were to leave the next day but Justin had to stay there. Because of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, we were not yet allowed to leave California with Julia. It could take up to two weeks to get the paperwork finished for Justin to leave the state with her. And her birthparents still hadn't even signed the papers to terminate their rights. So much was still to be done. And Justin was going to have to do it all alone.

The next morning I woke up vomiting. I vomited over and over and over all day long. I was 20 weeks pregnant with Asa, so Justin called my OBGYN and got a prescription for Zofran, so I could stop throwing up long enough to fly home with Ethan. He took me to the airport and dropped me off. I don't know how we did it. I was hardly capable of taking care of Ethan on my own. But I had to. I couldn't even hold my own body up, much less carry a two year old, so Justin had it arranged for the airport staff to push me to the gate in a wheelchair, Ethan on my lap, and holding a bag to throw up into. All I remember of the flight is holding onto my precious baby, whom my Granni loved with all her heart, and weeping into his sweet blond head.

Justin's family picked me up from the airport and took me to the hospital. The waiting room was full, wall to wall, with people who loved my Granni. Everyone else had already said their goodbyes. I was the only one left. The only one they were waiting for.

I sat beside her and held her hand. I begged her to wake up. To look at me. I studied the speckled arms that had loved and hugged me all my life. I willed with everything inside of me for her eyes to open and sparkle at me the way they did every time I walked into the room, and every time she said "we sure are special to each other, aren't we?"

I can recall very vividly being a little girl, lying in bed at night beside her. I was restless, as little girls often are, but she would always fall asleep quickly. I remember staring at her so many times and thinking that she looked dead sleeping there next me. I would imagine that my world might really fall apart if that were true and I'd scare myself so much with the thought of it that I would slowly and carefully snuggle closer to her and rest my ear on her chest, just to assure myself that she was still alive.

I wasn't there when they unplugged the machines. I did not see her take her last breath.

That was the last time I saw her. There was an open casket at the funeral. I didn't even look. I couldn't, for fear that I would not be able to stop the little girl inside me from lying down beside her and laying my head against her chest one more time in a hopeless and desperate effort to hear her heart beating and listen for her breaths of life.

Justin had been allowed to leave California much sooner than anticipated. He and Julia arrived the night before my Granni was to buried. During the funeral I held onto my sweet new baby girl. I passed her around and everyone hugged and kissed her, this ray of light in what might otherwise have been utter darkness for so many of us.

Julia was our gift. Not everyone gets a gift in the middle of their pain. But God saw fit to give us one. The months following Granni's death, the first months of Julia's life, were wrought with heartache. Sometimes it was hard to see this new responsibility as anything more than one more person to take emotional energy that I did not have to give. Sometimes I even felt anger toward that beautiful little baby for "taking me away" from my Granni when she needed me. But looking back I can see that Julia helped bring me through the storm. Today, I understand clearly that she was a divinely timed salve for my heart from The Healer.

God sent us life in the midst of death.

Isn't that just like Him?

Happy birthday sweet Julia Faye Elise Allen. You are a miracle.


  1. Sobbing! Beauty for ashes! Praising God He knows what we need.

  2. Beautiful, sweet Julia what an amazing story she has. What an incredible granni you must have had to fill your heart that way. You touched my heart yet again with your words.