Remembering Zoe

Today, we remember and celebrate the life of our Warrior Princess, Zoe Rose.  Four years have passed since that sunny Saturday morning we said goodbye to our daughter.  It is hard to believe I am at this stage.  I remember early on talking with moms who were 5, 8, or even 10 years along.  I would think to myself “That seems like an eternity.  I can’t possibly live long enough with this pain in my heart to be where they are.”  And yet…here I am.

In the past three years, on this day, and in the weeks leading up to it, I re-lived February 16th, 2008 – moment by moment, horrifying vision by horrifying vision.  I could smell the antiseptic soap at the sink, feel the heat of the lamps positioned over her bed, hear the beeps of the machines, the in and out breaths of the ventilator, and the quickly shuffling feet of nurses and doctors in and out and around our room.  In a futile attempt, I would desperately try to capture the memories of Zoe at home, before the sudden illness; to hear the sound of her voice when she laughed, feel the softness of her skin as I lotioned  her after a bath,IMG_1889 and see the sparkle in her eyes when she smiled……

Four years have passed and much has changed.

I always rely on my memories to bring her back to life in my mind…that’s all I have left after all.  But in the previous 3 anniversaries of her death, I went straight to the most painful memories…even trying to imagine what the pain was like for others close to us when Zoe died.  What was it like when my dad and stepmom learned of her death?  DSC_1937 They were driving from North Carolina after receiving word Zoe was in the PICU, thinking they were coming for yet another visit to help us out with Avery and Lily at home while we tended to Zoe in the hospital.  Or when our dear support coordinator from Northside  Hospital, where our girls were born, found out Zoe was dead.  She dropped what she was doing and sprinted across the street to the Children’s Hospital where we sat with Zoe, lifeless, in our arms.  What was it like for my sister-in-law to have to call her husband and my mother-in-law to let them know what she had just witnessed in the past few hours?  As if my own pain and grief weren’t enough, I wanted to try and re-live the pain of others.  All of this to remember my daughter.

zoe 1 yr remembrance I don’t want to do that this year.  I don’t want to recount the trauma of the day.  Not on this anniversary.  I have expended much energy digging in my heels, refusing to move forward, sitting squarely in my suffering…all in an effort to feel something…to bring the dull ache that lives below the surface to the forefront, so I can feel it to the length of my bones.  At the time I thought this was my way to make sure Zoe knew I loved her then and that I love her still.

Four years have passed and much has changed.

I am not suppressing my grief this year.  I’m not locking it away, refusing to face it.  This is not denial charading as a coping mechanism.  Believe me the visions and flashbacks, they are still my companions, though no longer my best friends – more passing acquaintances.  I’ve had my moments, the song on the radio that makes tears instantly well in my eyes, the sweet email or note Zoe_Rosefrom a bereaved mother or  friend acknowledging the challenge of these days, the tightened throat, the fatigue, the sleepless nights, those moments are all still here.  And I do allow the trauma scenes to flow through my mind.  I acknowledge them.  I may even sit with them for a while, but then I say “That’s enough.  No more for today…I’ll see you next time.”  I wipe my tears, wash my face, breathe in deeply and pray.  “Lord, you did not take me.  You took Zoe, but you did not take me.  Give me strength to live the life you’ve left for me.  There must be purpose in this pain and hope will grow from it.”

Four years have passed and much has changed.

Today, I find myself in a different place – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  My memories of Zoe are rich in smiles and joy.zozo_smile  They are full of her squeaky laughs and sense of humor.   I feel now as though I have gotten through at least one valley, maybe even conquered a hill.  There will be more to come as the clock of time continues to tick.  But today, I know I’m not alone.  While my 1st instinct and desire may be to withdraw, pull the covers over my head and turn off the lights; I know there is purpose in my grief.

As I reflect on the good that has come our way since Zoe’s death I am humbled and overwhelmed.  Beginning with the great fortune we had in the caliber of healthcare professionals and therapists who cared for Zoe during her 14 months of life.  Some of these IMG_1224very special people were even with us in that room the morning she died, at that moment when the last machines was turned off.  Some of them are with us today as close as any family member.   The kindness and compassion is woven into the fabric of the hearts of these men and women who dedicate their lives to saving, caring for, and supporting fragile babies like Zoe.

Our friends and family who flew and drove hundreds of miles to be with us for Zoe’s funeral.  They swarmed to us, gathered us in their warm embraces, listened to us, cried with us, helped us to lay our baby girl to rest.  There was the flood of donations for the Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation, when it wasn’t much more than a thought or a dream in our minds.  People we didn’t know gave generously and people we knew who had little to spare gave without a 2nd thought.  This laid the foundation of what we are buildingZoe Rose Dedication-56 today.  The Speech School in Atlanta, whose gifted teacher, Linda, helped us work with Zoe so she could understand sound; memorialized our baby with a plaque, portrait, statue and garden in her memory. 

Our friends,  volunteers, and board members who have helped us DSC_6230 4x6form the organization and made it possible to begin our mission to support other families like ours.   I simply could not begin to name and list the hundreds upon hundreds of people who have stood by our side, entered our lives, and continue to support us in a million different ways.

And there were and continue to be emails…countless emails, from parents of preemies, parents of multiples, parents of babies gone too soon.  These parents share their most personal stories with us, their most traumatic life events, and in many cases we come to know their family members and their friends, we now get emails about subsequent pregnancies, and subsequent losses.  We cry with them, smile with them.  We share in their grief and in their healing.  The connection of losing a child was made and the connection sustains.

I think that is what resonates so deeply with me now; that grief, loss, love, hope and prematurity transcend all human boundaries.  There is no discrimination of race, religion, marital DSC_6340 4x6 status, age, social or economic standing, education, culture, male or female – these single threads are easily broken when taken on their own.  But we become bound together as a rope woven by our experiences and we can be strong, stronger than anything else.  In my life – God holds that rope and is the weaver of my life – bringing moms, dads, and children into my existence – making me stronger and by our intertwining, makes them stronger too, I hope.  These parents, they may not yet realize they’ve been added to this rope, but as they begin to feel as if they may fall apart, our threads are there to hold them, sustain them.

I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to share our story at meetings, summits, and conferences across the country in the last few years.  For 45 minutes I tell the story of all three of our daughters, their birth, their struggles, and Zoe’s death.  Those in the audience sit in rapt silence, barely blinking, wiping the occasional tear.  Our story is tragic, yes.  Parents who have not experienced a loss like ours simply can not fathom that it really can happen and are equally stunned that we are still here, walking around, living life, and able to even talk about it.  The truth is, our story is not unique, not by a long shot.  And there are countless families who have endured and suffered tragedies I can not begin to fathom.  But we can not compare or categorize loss as worse than or better than, easier or more difficult than another.  Each family, each child, each life is different…and each is to be respected.
Sorrells Family Portraits 2011-12
It still stings a little when  Avery and Lily are referred to as twins by those who don’t know our story and by some who do.  Comments like “at least you still have two”, “at least she died quickly”, or “at least she is whole in Heaven”…those used to cut me to the core, like digging a knife deep into my heart.  My anger would rise hotly from my belly, burn my heart, and close my ears to anything else that may come.  A self-protection mechanism to avoid pain on top of pain. 

Four years have passed and much has changed.

I know now that I can not fault people for saying such things.  It isn’t their fault they don’t know how this feels to a bereaved parent.  And I am thankful that they don’t know this kind of loss and trauma.  They don’t know how deeply those words hurt.  I would like to believe that most of them really did mean well and were trying to say something comforting.  But, if you haven’t had a loss like this, you simply can’t know that, more often than not, saying “I’m so sorry” is all you have to say.  In the past years, I’ve felt strongly about making sure everyone knew that Zoe died and I will still tell people, but I have also found that in some situations, I just don’t need to.  I go back to what my counselor said to me so long ago…that it isn’t up to me to leave Zoe’s legacy, God will take care of that.  I rest in my faith in His plan and the comfort of knowing that I don’t have to force Zoe’s story on anyone.  Her story lives on and He will use it as it should best be used.

So, I trust my instincts in those situations.  When we’re in the check out line and someone asks if Avery and Lily are twins I may just smile or I may say “No, they’re my surviving triplets.”  You see, I have also learned that trusting my instinct, listening to the quiet voice, is trusting God and more often than not the response I get is “I had twin brothers who died”, “I lost a daughter 18 years ago” or “My son was born 3 months early”  You never know the story behind the people you meet, and you never know when your own story, your own experiences, and your own baby who fought hard to live and ultimately lost the fight, just may offer the glimmer of hope someone else needs as desperately as you needed it yourself.

Four years have passed and much has changed.

And much has remained the same. 

I love Zoe with all my heart, just as much as I love Avery and Lily and just as much as I always will, that will never change.  a_l_z_homeI also know that I loved Zoe then, that sunny Saturday morning.  My love couldn’t save her to keep her here on Earth with us, but my love was and continues to be, so great, that I let her go.  I do have moments of wondering if I gave up on her too soon, that maybe we should have asked them to keep working on her.  But she had had enough.  We both knew it and two years ago, when I read the doctor’s notes from that morning, it was confirmed.  Her words plainly said: “Agreed with parents to discontinue resuscitation.  On full support, patient was actively dying.”  Actively dying.  That phrase, though short, speaks volumes.

We never gave up on her…we just had to give her up…let the angels carry her back to Our Father in Heaven, the ultimate healer (Exod 17:15-16) and comforter (Jer 8:18).  He was with us then (Matt 1:22-23), He is our strength now (Ps. 42:9), He has given me rest and peace (Judg 6:24) these last 4 years, and has always been faithful (Deut 7:9).

Zoe Rose, my warrior princess, my angel; your heart was full of love, your eyes seemed sprinkled with a thousand twinkling emerald stars, and your calm determination was the veryzoe 2 wks before passing embodiment of what Peter wrote in his letter: that true beauty “should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of the gentle and quiet spirit” (1Peter 3:4).  Unfading beauty…that’s what you are my sweet girl…an unfading beauty.  You live on in our daily lives, and in our hearts forever.  We love you more than our words could ever truly express.


P.S. Thank you for my ladybug whispers :)

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zeph 3:17

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

Some of our favorite Zoe moments:
Also, look below to view our all time favorite video of Zoe!!!


Jennifer said...

Beautiful post Keira. You are so brave, giving her to God like you did. I think that is what I admire most about you, knowing Zoe so well that you knew it was time despite your own heartache. I will never forget finding out the next day that Zoe had died. My insides wanted to come out...I loved that little girl from the first moment I laid eyes on her.

MaryBeth said...

Beautifully written! I count it such a blessing to know you my sweet friend. I came here to let you know that I was thinking of you and praying for you today. You are an amazing woman and mother!

Taryn said...

I wish I could adequately express, as well as you do, what reading these words means to me. How they are an answer to prayer, how they make me smile, how they make me cry, how they heal my own heart, how they confirm for me still why it is that I love my job. I, too, found out the next day at work that Zoe had died. It knocked the wind out of me, and ripped my heart in two. I'll never forget that feeling, either. But I'll also never forget the little girl with the big green eyes peering back at me as I worked in her isolette, or leaned over her crib, or talked to her while on her daily stroll. I'll always be thankful for all that she taught me about never giving up, for all that she still teaches me about trusting in God's greater plan, and for the strength she gives me when ministering to other nurses and other families. I love you, Zoe. I am proud of you, Keira. And I know she is proud of you, too!

Kimberly Guinn said...

Wow! Wow! Wow! So beautiful and so wonderfully written! Missing Zoe so much and praying for continued healing and many ladybug visits!

Wiley said...

Beautiful post.

It's interesting how reflections on other family members always move me to tears. Our older son's fried has actually been perhaps the hardest for me.

Jana said...

A friend of yours shared the link to your blog at preachermike.com, so I headed over to read. I think I coulda been friends with that Zoe. She's beautiful. Thank you for sharing these pictures and your thoughts. I'm so sorry for the loss of your girl.

Angela B. said...

Thank you for sharing. I stumbled upon this post a few days ago via FB and then saw you in the CLIMB newsletter sample I just received... we lost our firstborn triplet Carter after a 49 day fight on 1/27/12 (born 12/9/11 at 28 weeks). His siblings, Braden & Tenley, are still in the NICU with a few more milestones to pass before they can come home. The loss is still very fresh, but reading what you wrote in CLIMB and here is comforting - thank you. :) I plan to be in touch via your organization as well, it seems like a wonderful resource.

All time favorite video of Zoe!

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Bible verses that comfort me

"Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord."
~ 2 Corinthians 5:8

"Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children....Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them"
~ Mark10:14 & 10:16

"...those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint"~ Isaiah40:31