To quote Ferris Buller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” The past month or so has seemed to just fly by and in effort not to miss my life, I have spent less time on the computer and put off sharing about Molly’s birthday/celebration of life the weekend of April 17 – 19. However, I did want to get back here and tell you about how we, along with some of our family and close friends, honored the life and memory of our baby girl Molly Marie last month, as I know many of you were with us in spirit and are interested in hearing the highlights.
As you may recall we planned to celebrate Molly’s birthday and life on two days, her actual birthday Friday, April 17 with primarily Bob, Sean and me and Sunday, April 19 with some of our extended family and dear friends. Friday morning I woke up earlier than usual with more energy and less nausea than I had felt in awhile (Baby Benson was just shy of 18 weeks gestation at the time). I asked Sean if he knew what the day was, he replied “Molly’s Birthday.” Later he told me that he had already wished Molly a happy birthday (in Heaven).
Sean happened to be on spring break from preschool that week and Bob had taken time off work so we could spend the day together. We had our I-pod on shuffle playing in our kitchen as we prepared and ate breakfast that morning. As we were getting our breakfast ready a song about loss called “Without You,” from one of my favorite musicals “Rent,” came on and seemed very appropriate as we called to mind the memory of our baby girl. Hearing “Without You” was the first of a few times that day when I felt that Molly was “deejaying” for us from Heaven. A bit later, while we were eating breakfast as a family, the song that most reminds all of us of Molly, “Time” by Billy Porter came on. Sean heard it start and asked Bob if he could please turn it up a bit. Then Sean said, “this song reminds me of Molly.” I said, “me too.”
We had arranged for the 8:45 a.m. mass at our neighborhood parish to be said for Molly, so after breakfast and taking it easy around the house, we headed over to our church. When we arrived at mass that morning we sat down in a pew next to Bob’s mom and my sister. We noticed that two friends of ours were also sitting in nearby pews. We hadn’t been sitting there long when Bob pointed out (knowing what it would mean to me) that there was a penny on the floor right in front of my feet.
Not long after Molly was born and died I reconnected with an old friend who I worked with for two summers in college at a residential summer camp. I found out that she had lost a son, a baby who was stillborn five year ago, and we quickly bonded over our shared loss experiences. My friend shared with me that after her son died that someone had shared with her a story called “Pennies from Heaven.” The premise is to believe that when you find pennies here and there after the death of a loved one (specifically a baby/child) that they were sent to you as a sign from your loved one in Heaven. So my friend shared that story and her belief with me. She told me that since her son died she has found a lot of pennies over the years. Very soon after my friend told me the story last June, I went for a run and found a penny (from Molly)! I have found more over the past year since she was born and died and keep a small pile of them on my dresser in our bedroom. So you can see why Bob finding a penny that morning right in front of us, in our pew at mass, was so meaningful to me, a very special “penny from Heaven/Molly” on our baby girl’s birthday!
The mass that morning was said by our parish’s pastor Fr. Bill, who was also with us last year on April 17. It meant so much to us to have Fr. Bill with us on Molly’s birthday, as he was so supportive of us and our family that day. It was awesome that he got to be in the delivery/operating room with us and baptize Molly before she died. So it was really special to be with Fr. Bill again on this milestone of Molly’s birthday this year.
At one point during mass Sean opened a Gather song book and found the song “Marching in the Light of God.” I felt it was another sign from Molly, as when I was pregnant with Sean I heard/sang it a lot, because it was the unofficial Peacebuilders Initiative theme song. My last job in the professional world, before I left to be a SAHM to Sean in 2003 was directing a program for high school students at a Catholic graduate school for theology and ministry in Chicago, called the Peacebuilders Initiative.
I also felt that Sean turning to that song page was a sign, because one night before Molly was born and died I was lying in bed thinking about what songs we might choose to sing at her memorial service (morbid I know, but understanding her prognosis at the time I guess not that unusual). I thought that Marching in the Light of God might be a nice/appropriate choice for the recessional/closing song and at that moment she kicked me and I remember laughing to myself that she was trying to tell me that she was still alive, so not to plan too much yet for after she goes to Heaven!
The mass, being a morning daily one, was short, but very nice. I got choked up during the prayers of the faithful when the reader said “and for whom this mass is being offered, Molly Marie Benson.” After mass we visited with the handful of family and friends that were there to honor Molly’s life and memory on her birthday, which meant a lot to us. Though we hadn’t encouraged our family and friends to be with us that day, since we planned our bigger celebration of Molly’s life/birthday for that Sunday, we also didn’t discourage people from attending and appreciated those who were able/chose to be there. We also talked for awhile with Fr. Bill after mass, which was very special, as he is a big part of our memories from Molly’s birthday last year and was so supportive of Bob, Sean, me and our extended family throughout our journey with our baby girl (both before and after she was born and went to Heaven). Fr. Bill had a previous commitment that Sunday and though he felt terrible about it, he and we knew (and understood) that he wouldn’t be able to be with us and our family and friends for the the mass in Molly’s honor and memory that day. So Fr. Bill made sure that he could be with us on Molly’s actual birthday and that he would be the priest saying the mass that morning.
After mass my sister/Molly’s Godmother had brought a few small and symbolic gifts for our family in honor and memory of Molly. These thoughtful presents included “Magic Socks” for me that were shrink wrapped in the shape of a butterfly and when drenched in water would turn into whimsical socks with pretty flowers and butterflies on them (which I will share a bit more about later in this post). My sister also gave us a beautiful stone cross for Molly’s grave that said “Rest in Peace, dear child, with the arms of Jesus as your cradle” and a small colorful butterfly shaped slinky for Sean, which he proceeded to play with throughout the rest of the day.
We also decided after talking with Bob’s Mom after mass that we would visit Bob’s maternal grandma/Sean, Molly and Baby Benson’s “GG” (Great Grandma) later that morning at a rehab facility/nursing home that she had been transferred too that week from the hospital where she had been recovering from a fall where she had injured her right shoulder/arm (just a note that GG is doing a lot better and is back at home now). So on our way to the cemetery to visit Molly’s grave, we stopped at a local grocery store and picked up a “Hope you feel better soon” mylar balloon for GG (that happened to have a cute butterfly on it), a pink helium balloon to release at the cemetery in honor of Molly’s first birthday and a bouquet of pink roses (like the ones we had brought to Molly’s grave the day we buried her last year) to have in our home in the days to follow.
Next we drove to the cemetery. Those who live in the Chicago area may recall what an incredible day Friday, April 17 was weather wise — bright and sunny, not too hot and not too cold with not a cloud in the sky. We brought with us a number one candle and a lighter. When we arrived we placed the candle on a wooden stick in the ground by Molly’s headstone and than sang “Happy Birthday” to our baby girl in Heaven. Then we took a few pictures of her grave, which I had decorated earlier that week with items that reminded me of Molly and seemed festive for her birthday. We don’t do this often, but we also took pictures of Sean, me and the two of us together with Molly’s grave. It may seem strange if you haven’t lost a baby (or even if you have) to do such a thing, but with the way I love photos, I like to have a few pictures each year of Sean and me with his baby sister’s/my daughter’s grave, as it helps me to feel a connection to our baby girl when I look at them.
Next, as you can see in some of the pictures I have included here, Sean released the pink balloon into the sky that we had brought with us in honor and memory of our sweet Molly-girl. It was bittersweet to watch the pretty pink balloon float up and drift about in the sky. Being such a clear day we were able to watch it for a long time as it flew higher and higher. It was nice to imagine that when the balloon did finally disappear from our view that it would somehow carry our love, thoughts, prayers and birthday wishes to our baby girl in Heaven. It meant a lot to me to be able to spend some time with Molly’s daddy and her big brother at the cemetery on her birthday. Though I believe Molly’s soul is at peace and healed in Heaven, I still feel such a strong connection to our baby girl when I/we visit her grave.
Fast-forwarding to present day for a moment… Bob, Sean and I actually visited Molly’s grave at the cemetery this afternoon. While we were there tending to her grave, trimming the grass around her headstone and cleaning it off, Sean was playing with the “Molly” train (from the Take Along Thomas collection) that we bought for her grave last summer at Day Out with Thomas, as he often does. At one point Sean said to me, “Mommy, do you think that Molly got the balloon that we sent her?” I was so touched that he remembered our letting the pink balloon go on his baby sister’s first birthday and replied, “I don’t know, but I like to believe that she did. What do you think?” Sean said, “I think she got it!”
As I mentioned earlier, there were a number of times on Molly’s birthday when I felt that she was playing DJ. After we left the cemetery we were driving to the nursing home to visit GG, when the song “Who You’d Be Today” sung by Kenny Chesney came on the radio. I had heard the song for the first time in October at the Memorial Walk/balloon release hosted by the monthly support group I participate in at the hospital where Molly was delivered. I got choked up when I realized what song was playing and Sean asked why I was sad. He asked if the song reminded me of Molly. I said “yes.” Then Sean asked what it was about. I explained that the song was about thinking about things that our loved ones (who died too soon) would be doing if they were alive. Sean said, “that’s okay, when Baby Benson is born she will be able to do all the things that we didn’t get to see Molly do here, but that we know she is doing in Heaven.” Oh, how I love getting to see the world through the perspective of our five year old son at times like this.
Next we arrived at the nursing home to visit GG and it was nice to be able to see and spend some time with her and Bob’s mom (who was also visiting with her at the time). Sean had been very excited about the “Magic Socks” that Molly’s Godmother/their Aunt had given us earlier that day and I had promised him that maybe we could try them out while visiting GG, since I knew there would be a sink in her room, where we could submerge them. So soon after we got there we asked GG if it would be okay and then we opened the small shrink wrapped butterfly shaped package. Then we put the contents in a sink full of water and sure enough they “magically” turned into colorful socks with flowers and butterflies on them! Sean and GG both seemed to really get a kick out of watching the transformation and I thought it was pretty cool too.
Another fun story from our visit with GG was when we were telling her and Bob’s mom about our day up until that point. I told the story of finding our “Penny from Molly/Heaven” that morning at church and when Sean heard, he said that he wanted a penny from Heaven too. So his quick thinking/cleaver Grandma dropped one on the floor in GG’s room so that Sean could find it. After Sean “found” the penny and picked it up he asked if there was such a thing as “Quarters from Heaven?!” Bob said, yeah, how about “Dollars from Heaven?!” We all had a good laugh together.
After our visit with GG and Bob’s mom we made a pit stop at home for lunch and then headed to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Sean had been to that zoo in our city of Chicago with my parents a few times, but never with Bob and me. We had always taken him to another zoo, the Brookfield Zoo, that is a bit closer to our home. So we thought it would be fun to go there as a family for a change in honor of our baby girl’s birthday. We figured if Molly had lived that we would have done something special and fun on her birthday as a family, like a zoo outing, so why not do such a thing anyway to celebrate her life and memory!
I have included a few pictures above and below here from our afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo including Bob and Sean at the zoo entrance, a butterfly decoration that I happened to notice inside one of the exhibits at the zoo, the polar bear that we saw (Sean’s favorite kind of animal) and Sean holding his hand up to compare its size to that of a polar bear’s paw. We had a lovely time together that afternoon at the zoo and though I naturally found myself imagining what it might have been like to be there with Bob, Sean and Molly that day, I found peace and comfort in believing that our baby girl was celebrating her birthday and was with us in spirit on our zoo outing in her honor as she continued to watch over us from Heaven.
After we left the zoo we went to one of my favorite restaurants (from my childhood and where I celebrated some of my birthdays with family and friends) Ed DeBevic’s in downtown Chicago. For those who aren’t familiar with Ed DeBevic’s, it is a fifties themed restaurant, where the waiters and waitresses are known for being very sarcastic and poking fun at their customers as they serve them. Sean had never been to “Ed’s” and we thought it would be a fun way to wrap up the day.
On our way to the restaurant I was explaining to Sean why I though Ed’s was such a fun place to go and how the waitstaff like to tease the customers. Sean wanted some examples of what I meant and so I told him the story of one time when I was there as a kid and I asked for some water. The waiter told me that I could “get it myself” and pointed to a pitcher of water on a nearby counter top. At first I was a bit annoyed, but remembering that was how the waiters at Ed’s acted and having fun with the whole thing, I proceeded to get up, pick up the pitcher and pour myself a glass of water! Sean thought the story was hilarious and later, when we were enjoying our dinner at Ed’s, he kept asking when our waiter was going to tell us to get our own water!
We did have a fun and tasty evening at Ed’s, including each of us getting one of their yummy milkshakes. When our waiter delivered our milkshakes to our table, he pretended not to remember that Sean had ordered one. Then he walked around to other tables near by asking if anyone had ordered a chocolate shake, as he couldn’t seem to remember who it belonged too. Sean thought it was very funny and called out to him that it was his! Also when our waiter brought us the bill he gave it to Sean and asked him if he had enough money to pay for it. This time Sean didn’t get the joke as quickly and looked concerned. So we quickly told him that our waiter was just teasing him and that Daddy and Mommy would pay for our meal! Pictured below are Sean and me in our booth at Ed’s sporting our Ed DeBevic’s chef hats!
As we left Ed’s that evening and drove home Bob, Sean and I reflected on what an awesome day we had together as a family celebrating Molly’s birthday. Though we much rather would have been celebrating our baby girl’s first birthday with her here with us on earth, we did our best to honor her life and memory through our thoughts, prayers and activities that day. It was bittersweet, but most of all it was beautiful and in many ways a perfect day for us to remember our daughter and sister Molly Marie Benson.
Thank you for reading, for your thoughts, for your prayers and for remembering our Molly-girl with us. I will post “Part II” of my reflections from our celebration of Molly’s life and first birthday weekend soon.
A brief update in regards to Baby Benson, for those who might be curious. I am pleased to report that no news, continues to be good news. Our new baby girl seems to be growing and developing on track as we reach this 24 weeks gestatational milestone today. We know that we still have a ways to go, but do find much hope in having made it this far in what seems to be a relatively “normal” pregnancy. Our baby girl is even giving me love taps as I type this! Take care and may God bless you and your loved ones.