Today it has been eight months since Molly was born and went to Heaven. As in previous months on the 17th, I am taking time today to honor the memory of our daughter and Sean’s baby sister through sharing with you about special things that help our family to continue to remember and feel connected to our baby girl. This month I am going to tell you about some of the beautiful ornaments that hang on our Benson Family Christmas tree (pictured here) including ones that our thoughtful and caring family members and friends have given us over the past year in honor and memory of Molly.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I love this time of year for many reasons… decorating and then enjoying the beauty of our and others’ Christmas trees, listening to and singing Christmas carols, lighting the candles on our Advent wreath, acting out the story of Jesus’s birth with nativity sets, picking out special gifts for loved ones and then getting to see them open their presents at holiday gatherings and most of all spending quality time with family and friends.
Over the past four years the Christmas season has been bittersweet for us. In December 2004 we experienced our first miscarriage. In December 2005 we were grieving another miscarriage in August of that year and an interstitial ectopic pregnancy that November. In December 2006 we were frustrated that after over 2 ½ years of trying to have another child that we had experienced three pregnancy losses and then had been unable to conceive again since.
Then last Christmas (2007) just a few days after we finally told Sean that he was going to be a big brother, something we didn’t take lightly having waited until I was 12 weeks along and had many ultrasounds that led us to believe that things looked promising for our baby, yet again our world seemed to be falling apart. Ironically, it was on this date last year that I first went to see our OB/GYN after I began to spot a bit the night before and learned that our baby’s heart rate was extremely low, in the 60s.
At the appointment that day one of our OBs told me “Where there is life, there is hope.” We found inspiration in her words and we did our best to keep it together and make the most of Christmas and the holiday season for Sean and ourselves. We tried to enjoy the time we spent with our family and friends however, it was also very painful to know all the while that after everything we had been through we might not get to bring our baby home this time either.
We appreciate that our family and friends have tried to be sensitive with us through the years, empathizing with the losses we were grieving and knowing how much we wanted to be able to expand our family, to have another living child and for Sean to get to have one or more living siblings. One of the many ways our friends and family have shown their care and compassion for us is by giving us thoughtful ornaments to hang on our tree.
Growing up ornaments were a big deal in both Bob and my families. My maternal grandparents gave my sister and I each our own ornament every year of our lives before they died, so that when we grew up and got married we would have ornaments to start our own trees with. Bob’s parents also gave us some of his childhood ornaments for our tree after we got married. So when Bob and I spent our first Christmas together as a married couple in December 2000, our tree was filled with beautiful and meaningful ornaments from throughout both of ours lives.
Growing up if someone really meant a lot to me, one way I would show them was through buying them a special ornament for Christmas. The first year that Bob and I were dating, in 1996, I got him an ornament for Christmas and have given him one every Christmas since then. This year will be Bob and my 13th Christmas together.
After our first miscarriage in December 2004 we bought a special angel ornament to honor the memory of the baby we had lost. When we found out we were pregnant with Molly and we were deciding how we wanted to share the news with Sean, we decided to get him an ornament that would show him that I had a baby in my tummy. Pictured above is Sean holding the ornament we gave him on the night we told him he was going to be a big brother and to the left is a close up of the ornament hanging on our tree last year.
I noticed when I found the picture to share in this post that ironically a butterfly ornament, which I got in a grab bag gift exchange last year, happened to be hanging right below the ornament we gave Sean. This was before we knew there was anything wrong with our baby girl’s heart and prior to our spending time at the perinatal cardiologist’s office for echocardiograms, where I would look at the butterfly painted on the ceiling in the examining room that led to my feeling a special connection with butterflies both before and after Molly was born and went to Heaven. In retrospect the picture seems ironic and if it were part of a fictional story, foreshadowing of what was to come.
Good friends of ours from our neighborhood also gave Sean a very special ornament last year for Christmas (pictured here to the right). This ornament was in honor of Sean being a new big brother in 2007. I remember at the time thinking how thoughtful and cute the ornament was, but wondering if it was accurate, since Sean’s younger sibling hadn’t been born yet and wouldn’t be until the following year (2008), God-willing if all went well. I wasn’t sure if technically he was a big brother yet, but appreciated the gift just the same. Since we never got to bring Molly home and Sean didn’t get to be her big brother beyond when she was growing inside of me and the day she was born (at least in a tangible way), it seems this ornament is now both very accurate and appropriate. Though it was short term, I do believe that Sean was an awesome big brother to his baby sister Molly during her life with our family. And though Molly isn’t here with us this Christmas, as we hoped and dreamed she would be, I am still so proud of Sean for being such a sweet and caring big brother over the past year.
Another family that we are close with gave us a special Willow Tree “Sign for Love” ornament last Christmas, after we found out that something might be wrong with our baby’s heart. When they gave us this special gift neither we nor they knew just how serious Molly’s heart abnormalities might be. They wanted us to have something that would help us to always remember our child and sibling, no matter how much longer our baby girl survived. The wife/mother of this family has been a dear friend of mine since I was a freshman in college. We stood up in each other’s weddings and Bob and I are proud to be her and her husband’s daughter’s Godparents. She and I both love Willow Tree figurines and it meant a lot to me that she picked out such a meaningful one to honor our baby girl’s life and memory. Throughout our pregnancy with Molly and since she was born and died we have received many more thoughtful and beautiful Willow Tree figurines that we have placed around our home and remind us each day of our sweet baby girl. Another month I will likely share with you pictures of and the stories that go along with each of them.
On April 21, the day we buried our baby girl at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Bob’s sister and our brother-in-law gave us a beautiful ornament with Molly’s name on it (pictured to the right) from them and their three sons. I love that the baby girl on the ornament (who I like to imagine is what Molly looks like in Heaven) is holding a teddy bear with a heart on it, somewhat like the one that Sean picked out to give his baby sister the day she was born and that he wanted her to be (and she was) buried with. When Bob’s sister/Sean’s Aunt gave us this sweet ornament she told us that she thought it would be nice for us to hang on the tree every year in honor and memory of our daughter/baby sister. It was the first ornament we placed on our tree this year as a family, in honor of Molly, and we are grateful to have another special way to remember our baby girl.
The next ornament that we added to our tree this year we actually got for ourselves. Every Christmas since Sean was born we or someone else has gotten us at least one ornament that represents our Benson Family that year. Though I imagined we might get one or two from family or friends as in years past, I wasn’t sure if they would choose to include Molly’s name. Rather than wondering about it or trying to hint to those who might being getting us one, but who might not have thought to, or feel comfortable with, having all four of our names put on it, I decided to just pick one out that would have our names and the meaning associated with it that I had in mind. I found this cute one and really like that it has bears and hearts, two things that remind me a lot of Molly. Though I don’t know that in future years I will want or feel the need to include Molly’s name on our Benson family ornaments, Molly was a part of our family this year and it was important to me that she be a part of our 2008 family ornament.
Lastly, another of our good friends from our neighborhood recently gave us a special ornament that is our local Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital’s “ornament of the year.” They bought it for us at an annual Breakfast with Santa fundraiser for the children’s hospital. The perinatal cardiologist, that we met with throughout our pregnancy with Molly, worked out of Hope Children’s Hospital. We went there for all of Molly’s echocardiograms and after she died asked that charitable donations made in her honor and memory be given to The Heart Institute for Children Foundation (which is a division of Hope Children’s Hospital). I love that this beautiful ornament is an angel carrying a banner with the word “Hope” written on it. To me it symbolizes our angel Molly, the hospital that cared for her and our family during her short life and the hope we have for our family’s future believing that our baby girl is watching over us from Heaven. It is actually a paintable ornament and we plan to personalize it with Sean’s help sometime soon.
This past Sunday, the third in Advent, which is known as “Gaudete” (or Rejoice!) Sunday” our pastor, who was very supportive of our family during our journey with Molly and baptized her before she died, said mass. He gave an awesome homily about what it means to rejoice as we prepare for Christmas and all year long. Our pastor said gratitude is the way that we are able to survive and find joy in difficult times throughout our lives. This really struck me.
Whether I was conscious of it at the time or not, gratitude was a huge factor in my being able to be positive and optimistic for so much of our journey with Molly. I intend to keep that concept and attitude in mind in the days and weeks to come. Bob, Sean and I do have so much to be grateful for. It is really sad that Molly died and unfortunate that we don’t get to celebrate Molly’s first Christmas here with our family on earth, as we hoped and dreamed we would get to this year. However, we learned so much from having our baby girl in our lives this year and I believe we are all better for it.
You may recall that at the time Molly was born and died Sean learned the concept that Molly could and would live on in his and all of our hearts. He seemed to find comfort in knowing this and would often say that his baby sister Molly was in his heart. Over the past few weeks we have been celebrating Advent, as we prepare for Jesus’s Birthday (a.k.a. Christmas), in our home. Every night at dinner (and sometimes even at lunchtime too) we have been lighting the candles on our Advent wreath (that we made and decorated together as a family after church one Sunday) and reading from a small book of reflections geared towards children Sean’s age. Sean and we have really enjoyed this daily family faith sharing and through this time Sean has learned that Jesus can be/is also in our hearts, just like Molly. So Sean has taken to telling our family and friends that “Baby Jesus and Molly are in my heart.” Once again, Sean continues to amaze us and allows us to see this experience through the curious, innocent and loving eyes of a child.
I leave you with a picture of Molly’s grave at the cemetery with the little Christmas tree we decorated and placed there recently. We continue to find it comforting to go there, decorate her space and feel a special connection to our baby girl who we believe is healed and at peace now in Heaven.
Thank you for reading and for your continued kind words, support, encouragement, thoughts and prayers. Thank you for being apart of our lives this past year. 2008 was not at all what we hoped, dreamed or expected it would be. However, we still feel so blessed to have had Molly in our lives and she will always be in our hearts. May God bless you and your loved ones this holiday season and in the year to come.