Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy birthday, Harper bean!

Dear Harper,

Happy birthday, little bean!

I feel like nothing I write today could possibly be adequate. Words cannot possibly contain the complexity of marking your birthday, the birthday of a child who no longer exists. Who never experienced a full month of life, much less a full year.

How can I explain to you how I managed to survive this year in your absence, when I can't even understand it myself?

Carrying on the tradition of writing an annual birthday letter to my kids is proving tough when it comes to you. In all of Shea's letters, I tell him what he's like, how he's changed over the past year, what his favorites are. I don't have any of that for you.

I also tell him how I feel about him, how much I love him with every cell in my body. That I can do for you, my bean.

A beautiful birthday gift, from a dear friend, little bean. 

I miss you. Seems silly, given I barely knew you, but this anniversary has hit me hard. I feel like I should be baking your first taste of birthday cake - Passover be damned! - and getting out the next round of clothing.

Early this morning, cuddled with Shea, we talked about you. Shea wondered if the fish in the pond near your tree had grown any bigger. "Maybe we should check on them," he suggested, "And check to see if Harper's tree has flowers."

Your big brother surprised me with the clarity of his memory of meeting you. "Remember when we visited baby Harper at the doctor's and they gave us books to read?", he said. "That was very nice!"

He's exactly right. The staff gave him a copy of Ferdinand the Bull, and I read it to both of you, while you both sat on my lap. The one and only time I was able to do that.

Your daddy and I celebrated your birthday with an unveiling at your memorial stone. We decided to make it private, just the two of us. And you, of course. It struck me that this is the closest we've come to being alone with you. We never had that when you were alive. We were always in the NICU, surrounded by people and other babies, noises in the background, even during the hushed graveyard shift hours.

For your birthday, our present was some time alone with mommy and daddy.

It was beautiful. Daddy cleaned off your stone and set out the beautiful hydrangeas we'd brought.

And then we remembered. We talked about our time with you, our memories of the day you were born, good, bad, and confusing. Your daddy felt it all happened so fast, and yet it feels like years ago. I feel like we've lived decades in a short period of time, like that 17 days lasted a lifetime.

"We should have brought her home," your daddy said. He wishes he had spent more time with you at the NICU.

We had no way of knowing, Harper bean, we would only have those 17 days. We spoke about that last day, about my regret for not staying with you longer, when I felt deeply how very sick you were. About how happy we were that you hung on until we could arrive and hold you. About the road work in the middle of the night that nearly ruined it all, the lost parking ticket, the disbelief that it was all over so quickly.

As I stared at your stone, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of your name. Your daddy agrees. If nothing else, Harper Merrick, we gave you a truly beautiful name, and I love to see it written in stone for all time. Harper Merrick Wolinetz. A beautiful name for a beautiful baby girl.

Speaking of your name, on the way to our unveiling, we stopped at a market to buy the flowers and some fruit to deliver to the NICU nurses and had an odd coincidence. As we stood choosing produce, I was startled to hear someone call Harper. There was a little girl, about four, I'd guess. As she prepared to ride a toy horse, her mother cheerily  said, make sure you tell the horse your name. "Hi," said the little girl. "My name is Harper." It make me smile and tear up all at the same time.

At your stone, we cried, we laughed, we told stories, we said the memorial prayer and mourner's kaddish. We looked at pictures and relived our moments together. We talked again about how lovely it was that our friends and family put this stone in place. "This is what I wanted," said daddy. "Someplace we could go, to remember."

Going back to Georgetown was harder than I expected. Truthfully, between teaching and doctor's appointments, I'm there all the time. But today was different. I could feel you there. I was flashing back to our time together in the NICU, the hours in the mother's lounge, the uncertainty, the joy, the fear, the sadness. I missed you.

"Are you coming to the reunion?", asked the receptionist, as we dropped off the basket of fruit and candy we'd put together. It was important to us, Harper bean, to honor your memory by saying thank you to all the people who took such good care of you, such good care of us. Even as it felt impossible to be there, too full of memories, too sad.

"Our baby passed away," I told her. "That's OK, you can still come," she said. Then she paused, "Or you can come to the memorial service."

Although I was ready to turn around and run away, far, far away, we paused to collect information about the NICU memorial service (we skipped it last year). It was brought to us by a nurse I remembered. One who gave you loving care, Harper bean, and told me she loved your name. Who was quick with a tissue and a smile when I needed it. She was happy to learn about spawn. "Come let us know, when he's born," she said. "Let us know you're all doing OK."

I lost it as soon as we passed through the hospital doors. I'm sorry I couldn't hold it together for you, little one. I wanted to badly for that visit to just be about the joy of your life, but there was a moment of being overtaken by your loss.

I wish I could write you the letter of how much you've changed over this year, Harper bean. I want to tell you about the first time you smiled, about what your first food was, how you began to giggle. Whether or not you can walk.

I feel robbed and sad and aching to hold you again. At the same time, I am glad to at least have had the chance to have met you. I'm glad we found you such a gorgeous name. I'm glad you are no longer in pain, no longer struggling with the broken, little body that nature had the misfortune to grant you.

I spent much of your birthday longing for silence. For quiet and peace. Something else you never got to experience in your lifetime, because you were always surround by beeping monitors, hissing oxygen, quietly efficient nurses. I hope your forever sleep is peaceful and soft, like a welcoming bed, piled high with down blankets. My vision of heaven is snuggling in such a bed with you and Shea.

Tonight, we had a family dinner in your honor. We wore our pajamas, all of us. This is partly because your brother, Shea, has recently become obsessed with flannel pajamas. But it seemed fitting, since pajamas were all you ever wore. I cuddled your brother and felt spawn kick and wished you were here with us.

Your birthday did not go unnoticed by all the people you touched, little Harper. You received messages of love and remembrance from all around. In your tiny life, never leaving the NICU, never saying a word, you touched an enormous number of hearts. I'm so proud of that, of you.

I'm crying as I write this, tears pouring nonstop. I cry when I write Shea's letter each year, too. Different kinds of tears, but not unrelated.

Crying for the might have beens, the never agains, the should haves, the what ifs. Crying because I can still feel your soft hair fluffs tickling my face when I kissed your head.

Crying uncontrollably in the car when Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" came on the radio. "Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky."

Today is your birthday, Harper bean. One week from today, your brother, Shea's, birthday. Two weeks from today, spawn's scheduled arrival. You will always be connected: by love, by calendar, by memory.

"I wish baby Harper hadn't died," Shea said several times today.

I asked him what he thought we should do to celebrate your birthday.

He thought about it for a while. "I think maybe we should go to her tree and bring her a present. We could tell her about my trains, too," he told me. "How about that?"

How about that, Harper?

We love you, bean. We miss you every day. Happy birthday, Harper.

Love, Mommy


  1. Carrie,

    Thank you once again for sharing your grief. I am sorry that the sea you are crossing is so vast.


  2. This is a beautiful post. Not a day goes by that I don't think of sweet Harper. She truly has touched so many.