This is what I wrote down to say. It's close to what I actually said.
Eight weeks is too short a time to live a complete life. That goes without saying. Eight weeks isn’t long enough to do much more than sleep, eat, poop, cry, and occasionally cuddle. Eight weeks of life isn’t long enough to do much else. Except one thing: in eight weeks, you can fall hopelessly, completely, and eternally in love.
We went to the Rainforest Café a few weeks back and Brooke and I sat at a big round family-sized table. We spent most of the dinner talking about how great it will be when we can take our three babies there to see the tropical fish and the animatronic monkeys and the fake thunderstorms. We even had a seating chart made up to decide who would sit where. The picture we created had Lily throwing food at Charlie, Charlie getting mad and crying on his mommy’s lap, and Annaleigh trying to be the peace-maker between the two. It made us so excited to think of that simple family dinner and about how fun it will be to see them experience something like that.
In our visions of their futures, Charlie is the mama’s boy. He is cute and cuddly but a bit on the lazy side. He gets picked on a lot by Lily, who is the boss and rules with an iron fist. She is demanding and spoiled rotten, but in a cute and lovable way. Annaleigh is the logical one, the strong one who manages to tolerate her sister’s abuse and her brother’s timidity. We’re not sure how they developed these personalities but Brooke and I talk about it like it’s a done deal, as though we already know the people they will become.
Obviously we don’t know everything about their futures.
I know that I’ve always wanted my very own Annaleigh. When I was in high school, one of my favorite CDs was from an obscure band called Sonia Dada, and the best song on that CD was called “Annalee.” I listened to it a lot and made the determination that someday I would have a daughter and I would name her Annalee. I just thought it was so pretty, a perfect name for a cute little daddy’s girl. Brooke was never too keen on the name until she realized that she could spell it ANNALEIGH and the suddenly she loved it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were blessed with three babies of our own to give names to. But I have always wanted her, my own little Annaleigh.
And I had her, but just for eight weeks. Eight weeks was not enough time to know someone so special. That’s crazy, you’ll think (but never say, because who would contradict a grieving father?). A baby that young doesn’t have a personality so how could she be so special? You couldn’t be more wrong to think that. She was special.
First, she came out crying, despite the fact that her lungs should have been tiny and undeveloped. And her lungs apparently were so strong that she could breathe without a respirator, which is almost unheard of for a baby born 15 week too early weighing only a pound-and-a-half.
Second, she was strong. How could you know that she was strong? You ask. She was strong because that little fighter had surgery when she was four weeks old and a week later there was hardly a scar to show for it. Plus, in the days before she was diagnosed with NEC, she was breathing nothing but room air like you and me. By comparison, Charlie and Lily will be on their breathing help in one form or another for another month at least.
Third, she was beautiful. I know that every parent thinks his kid is beautiful and I know that I’ve seen some ugly kids so the math doesn’t work quite right. But Annaleigh was beautiful. She didn’t open her eyes until she was three weeks old, but when she did—that was it: she was gorgeous. There are two moments between Brooke and Annaleigh that I will never forget as long as I live. The first was how Annaleigh looked like she smiled on the night she was born when Brooke went to see her for the first time. The second was right after their one-month birthday. Annaleigh was a few days out of her first surgery and was acting like a completely renewed spirit. She was energetic and happy and obviously feeling better than she had before. We arrived at the NICU and Brooke greeted Lily first and I went to Annaleigh first. I saw that she was awake so I grabbed Brooke, who had not seen the babies in a couple of days because she had been sick. She took one look at Annaleigh and half-laughed half-cried “Oh my god she’s so beautiful!” She was so shocked by Annaleigh’s beauty because it was the first time she was really, truly alert for us. But Brooke stood there and gazed at our daughter with tears running down her face—if you know Brooke, you know she is not a crier, so this was particularly striking for me.
But that was the effect that Annaleigh had on people. She could open her eyes and look directly at your face and it was as though she could see past all the masks we put up and the get right into your heart. I don’t know how she did it and I logically know she couldn’t even see more than a few inches from her face with any clarity, but she managed to look at me and know me completely.
And that is a comfort to us right now, to know that she knew us. Of the many things that I find so terribly tragic and sad about this is that there are only a small handful of you in this room that could see her and know her personally. That was simply a consequence of being in Intensive Care—limited visitors. If she were a normal baby, she would have been home and had many adoring visitors and all of you in this room would have met her before she passed. But as it stands, I can count her visitors on my fingers. I know that people loved her—you all and the readers of our unbelievably read blog have shown us that—but we wish you could have let her look into your faces to see you the way she saw us.
One great comfort to us has been that we know how much she was loved by the people around her in the NICU. Nurse Marissa loved her so much that she came to the hospital as soon as she found out that Annaleigh was sick, and then she came back the next night right after she died. Marissa had taken time off to be with her own daughter but she still felt compelled to be with us and with Annaleigh during those final hours. Nurse Tina knew Annaleigh so well that she was able to see that something was wrong by just looking at her as soon as her shift started on that Friday morning. Within minutes, Tina had started the process that led to her diagnosis. Nurse Alicia had only recently started caring for Annaleigh and had just the night before taught Brooke how to give our babies their baths, and she had promised to teach a lesson on nose-cleaning the next night. Alicia stood with us on the night that she died and just sobbed with us. Nurse Cathy was the most protective of the staff, always making sure that we handled Annaleigh carefully and gently, just like any good mother would do. And poor, poor Nurse Jane had only cared for our babies a handful of times because of scheduling conflicts, but she was the one who cared for Annaleigh on that last day. She was calm and helpful and clearly affected by what was happening in a way that was more than just a job.
These women and many others cared for our sweet Annaleigh as though she were theirs. These women were her family at a time when we couldn’t be with her around the clock. These women loved our daughter and gave her a home. It is hard to lose a child, but it is made slightly less hard knowing that our baby did not spend her eight weeks of life in a cold, sterile hospital room, but rather a place where she was so clearly a part of a family.
Eight weeks of life is just too short. It makes me think about what the point of life is at all. That’s a hard question to think about when you’re of clear and sound mind, but to think about it at a time like this is just unfair. But I think I’ve come up with an answer to that question anyway. The way I see it, there are three points to life:
1. To love and be loved.
2. To prove you can make it on your own.
3. To have babies of your own.
The first two are clear. Annaleigh was loved, perhaps more than even I know. Judging by the people here and at the hospital and the following on our blog, Annaleigh was more loved than anyone else I’ve ever met.
I also think that in a small way she proved that she could make it on her own. She was dealt an unfair hand, to say the least. But if you look at her medically and take away the disease that took her life, you can see that she was breathing on her own with no help from anyone but herself. She was about to start eating on her own (within days, actually). So for as much as any baby born so small could possibly do it, she was able to do some things on her own that most others in her situation could not.
And I think in a very important way, Annaleigh does have babies of her own in Lily and Charlie. None of us will be able to look at them, perhaps for the rest of their lives, without seeing a piece of her in them. I’m not sure I believe in guardian angels or spirits or any of that, but as hypocritical as it sounds I believe that she is watching out for them and helping them as they go on with their lives. The night she died, Brooke and I held Lily and Charlie and told them what had happened, and told them to make sure that they listened to that little voice in their heads that wasn’t there before. That voice will take care of them, we said, and make sure that they’re on the right path. That voice, we told them, was their sister, who loved them very very much and would always be with them.
So in her own way, Annaleigh managed to live a full and successful life. It may have been only eight weeks long and it may have been full of struggle and confusion, but it was also full of love. And that love does not end with her death, it does not die with her.
Baby girl, you will always be with us.