A Time to Remember and Give Thanks: Our Return to CHOP
The morning of the memorial service, Brian and I were a bit on edge. I felt uneasy and was so afraid that I would completely fall apart. Once we arrived, I struggled to hold back the tears as we walked through the hospital. There were so many memories flooding back, and so many things I thought I had forgotten. I tried so hard to block out the emotions, out of fear that I would break all over again.
Each step forward brought back a memory. Rushing to the Special Delivery Unit on Christmas Eve to receive another shot of steroids to keep Aria going. The moment we learned Aria was terminal. Walking into the operating room. The memories played in my mind, fresh as the moment they happened.
As we turned the corner to walk into the auditorium, we were greeted by the faces of every child we were here to remember. Silver frames with pictures of precious faces glowed in the soft light from candles that lined the table. As soon as my eyes fell on Aria’s picture, the flood gates burst open, and tears began steaming down my cheeks. I held onto Brian and did everything I could to hold the pieces of my broken heart together.
As we stood there, trying to collect ourselves, we saw numerous hospital staff members walking by and pausing in front of each child’s picture. They looked at each of their faces and acknowledged their existence. It was beautiful to see how much they all cared for our children. I will always cherish that moment.
The service included music that was performed by hospital staff, prayers, and readings. There was also a slide presentation where each child’s name was read, while their picture was shown on the screen. It was an honor to celebrate all twenty six children that day, and to share Aria’s life with everyone. I was so touched by the love that overflowed in that space. Each child was so loved, so missed, and so cherished.
Afterwards, we were able to meet with other families, and hear their stories. For the first time, we were among people who truly understood our loss, because they have felt it too. We were reminded again and again that we are never alone.
Just before leaving the hospital, we took a picture in front of the entrance to CHOP’s Wood Pediatric Center, where the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment, and Special Delivery Unit are located. The last time I walked through those doors, I was pregnant with Aria. As we stood there, I could barely comprehend how much everything has changed since then. I had dreamed of taking this picture while holding Aria in my arms, and proudly announcing that we were finally busting out of the NICU and going home. That was not the path that was intended for us, but we still found a way to take that picture and include Aria in it. The pink balloon is in remembrance of our baby girl, who soars above us. Overall, I’m really happy we made the trip. I was so anxious about it, and unsure if going back to CHOP would be a good idea. But during the ceremony, I realized that as bereaved parents, we don’t get many public opportunities to acknowledge our daughter. There won’t be first days of school, graduations, or weddings. However, attending this memorial gave us a chance to sit in the audience, hear our child’s name, see her face, and celebrate her life. I’m really thankful for that.
In addition to attending the memorial at CHOP, we got to visit the cemetery where Aria is buried. Since we are a military family, we chose to bury her in Maryland, where our families are. It was the best choice for us because we know it’s a place we’ll visit often, no matter where we live. Although it is really difficult to be so far away, our family visits often and keeps her little spot of earth full of love.
When we got to the cemetery, I was so excited to see the cherry blossom trees that surround the baby section beginning to bloom. As the wind blew, little pink and white flower petals trickled down and covered the earth below. I couldn’t help but think that really suited her. We placed flowers at her grave, and played her song. We felt like we were reunited with our daughter for a moment, and that was really wonderful.