Yesterday, my attention was on making Sarah's 16th birthday celebration with our families special for her. I ran to the grocery store for ingredients, made homemade chowder, cod, and mashed potatoes....plus a little takeout for her favorite Gold Fever Wings from 99! (Strange combo I know, but it's what she asked for!) Cake was provided by Jay's mom special recipe...plus a little ice cream including Sarah's favorite flavor, cookie dough. (Or as Kate calls it, Cooooooo-kie Dough!) There were gifts from family and some surprise gifts: from me, (a hat she had eyed in Newport during her surprise birthday celebration) and from dad(Which he picked out all on his own! The Soup Bible..bc she loves soup...and a gift card to JoAnn Fabrics..bc she loves to sew...and a gift card to Panera...bc she loves soup and bread(!)...and her favorite chocolates...just bc.) Sarah had a good birthday!
Today is another birthday in the Hamel house. The celebration looks much different, though. There is no shopping for gifts or ingredients for a favorite meal. There is no family party...no cake or presents.
Therese would have been 17 today.
I've found myself contemplating a lot today about how to honor the memory of someone that lived such a short time but will forever hold a piece of my heart. When Therese first died, it was so important to me that everyone that asked how many kids I had knew that she counted, too. After a while, though, it was just too painful, (for me), and too awkward, (for people that asked), to include her in the number when people asked how many children we had. At least out loud. Even now, after 17 years, when people ask how many children I have, I may say 8 out loud, but in my head and heart I say 9.
The first few years after she died, we would get roses and go as a family to put them on her grave. It was emotionally wrenching for most of us, especially Michael, whenever we went....and just dragged up a lot of grief and sadness for everyone that it was something that faded away over time. It didn't mean we didn't acknowledge her short life....just not always in a very visible way. We certainly never forgot!
There were small, joyful moments in her very short 16 day life. I am very grateful for every one of them. I'm grateful for the Sacraments she received, the day I got to dress my very first daughter in a little girl's preemie outfit, (so different from all the boys clothes I was used to!) that had been donated to the hospital by parents who had navigated the long road of the NICU before us, being able to bring her home and have her sleep in the brand new crib we had bought just for her, even if it was for only one night......
There was also a lot of grief that filled us when she died. It shattered our hearts when she took her last breath. For a long time our hearts were held together with duct tape and the need to put one foot in front of the other to care for the 3 little boys that needed us! I can say with great conviction that God's grace was very visible and tangible to us during that difficult time: the family and friends that supported us, the God-incidences that shined through even the darkest moments of our grief to remind us that He was there and somehow, even if we couldn't see it or feel it, everything would be ok!
When she had first died, a very good priest had told us, "You are closest to your loved ones that have passed away at Mass in the moment of consecration. Because, as the priest holds up the Eucharist and we worship Him, there is just a thin veil that separates all of our loved ones. They are just on the other side of that veil worshiping Him at the very same time."
So today, Andrew, Jon, and Kate came to Mass with me. It was a way for me to thank God for her short life. I am so grateful that I never have to worry about Therese. I know that she is eternally happy with Him.
I just wanted her to know that she will always be a part of us....and that I would never, ever forget.