Life hadn’t gone as our family had expected. My husband, Paul, and I along with our two children had looked forward to a full-term, healthy third child. Instead Alia, our premature daughter, lay battling a serious infection in the neonatal intensive care nursery at a hospital 30 minutes from our home in northern Brazil.
She had been born at 28 weeks, tiny but seemingly healthy. Now, she had been placed on full life support.
Our concern grew as Alia’s condition worsened. After a week of seeking counsel from our Brazil team and multiple Skype calls to doctors in the United States, we made the very difficult decision to attempt a medical evacuation. Another week dragged by as we waited for the medivac team to acquire the plane and visas necessary for the trip.
Alia and I arrived in Florida early Friday morning, where we were greeted by a huge entourage of doctors and nurses. Alia was immediately whisked into her own isolation room and placed on every machine imaginable. I was taken to the Wycliffe Associate apartments to rest and was amazed by the use of a rental car, a kitchen stocked with food, and welcome gifts for our family. On Saturday I picked up Paul, Karis, and Ethan at the airport when they arrived on their commercial flight. After unpacking, Paul and I visited Alia but didn’t stay long. She was heavily sedated and there seemed to be little we could do for her.
I knew that Alia was very, very sick, but I wasn’t thinking she was so close to death. I was just relieved to finally be in an American hospital where everyone spoke English, and I knew she was getting the best care available. I assumed that she would slowly recover, and that we would stay in Florida for several months during her recuperation. So it was quite a shock to receive a phone call Sunday morning from the doctor, advising us that she did not have long to live and we should come immediately to hold her. She passed away in my arms less than two hours later. She had lived for 34 days.
Losing Alia has made heaven seem so much closer, so much more real. Instead of seeming like a distant cloud on the horizon that I will get to “someday,” it feels like the house next door. A real, tangible place that is now the home of my dear daughter. Verses like Revelation 21:4 mean so much to me when I read that God will wipe away all tears, and there will be no more death or sorrow or pain.
Her death has also made me cherish my other two children so much more. As a task-oriented person, I often see my kids as an obstacle to what I need to get done each day. But since her passing, I like to slow down and watch my kids as they play or snuggle with them in the evening. I have realized how fragile life is. I want to cherish the moments I have with them during our short time together.
We are thankful that at each step of this journey we had the time to make a thoughtful decision. We feel that we did the best we could given the information we had at the time. Our biggest regret is how little time we spent with Alia during her short month of life. We were expecting her to get well and come home. We were torn between spending time with her and the needs of our other two children. Plus, the distance to the hospital and limited visiting hours made visits challenging. We felt so useless at the nursery when all we could do was talk to her and stroke her hand.
Friends often ask me how I‘m doing now, nearly a year after Alia’s death. I usually answer honestly that I am doing well. Our Skype sessions with a JAARS counselor helped us through the initial grieving process, allowing us to tell our story from start to finish. And Angie Smith’s book The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy blessed me immensely and helped me work through some of my grief.
I still miss Alia and think of her in my quiet moments. I’m occasionally caught by surprise with emotions of sadness, thinking of how she would have fit into our life. I have to work through unmet expectations—all of the things I had hoped to do with her. But overall I am at peace. I know that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. For reasons that I cannot comprehend, he chose to allow her early birth and early death. I know she is safe, whole, and loved by God more than I can imagine. I don’t need to have all of the answers. I look forward to seeing her again soon!
We do not grieve as ones who have no hope! (1 Thess. 4:13)