Monday, September 23, 2013

Harper's Legacy

"Dear Diary,
I had that dream again. The one with the stillborn babies. This time they were lined up on small brown mats - dozens of them lying identically and lifelessly on their sides. They aren't grotesque - they are beautiful and frail and delicate, curled into perfect balls. Sometimes there is one baby, other times - like last night, too many to count. 1 in every 160 births. 2,000 babies a day.

I've been having this dream since the day Harper arrived. The days before that it was of me and my sister, heavily pregnant in the forest. Waiting to give birth to death. But after she came, it has been the babies. Bones and ashes. Helpless little bodies. I don't spend my days dwelling on her, but the dreams still come.

I got to lay eyes on her just that once. On her graceful perfectly formed hand. The pearly shell fingernails. I couldn't help it. I bent down to the tiny casket, that was shorter than my shin bone, and pushed my face right in. Studying her hands and her face. The mind cannot comprehend a human so small. I had to get close to be sure she wasn't a doll. Her existence defies definition. She was never "alive". Yet you wouldn't dare think that, because she so obviously was. I memorized her hand, poking out from under her ribbon cuffed gown.

What can be done for these that I dream of? Featherless birds, perished from nothingness to nothingness? There is only one thing I can do - clothe them."

I wrote this in my dear diary on July 6th, two weeks after our niece Harper was stillborn. I had been haunted by these dreams ever since leaving Louisiana. Harper had been clothed for her photos and funeral by a non-profit called Threads of Love. They provided a beautiful gown and bonnet, as well as some memory items, to Wendy and Steve in the hospital. The gift touched them so much that they asked for memorial donations in Harper's name to be directed there. I read up on the international ministry, that has more than 100 chapters world wide, and found there wasn't one in Western NY. I'll have to change that, I thought to myself.
And then I came home. And life goes on and you and I and everyone else is busy with the things that we are busy with. But the dreams were persistent. Every night it was - tiny babies, perished and unclothed. I wasn't frightened or tormented by them,  they simply visited me very matter of fact in my sleep. One morning with the visions fresh on my mind, I put my to-do list aside, sat down, and sewed a tiny white gown. The bodice so small it fit within my palm. That afternoon I sent off an application to form a chapter of Threads of Love. The dreams never returned once I began to sew.

My family has, as I am sure millions of families around the world have, felt the burden of being able to do nothing to heal my sister and brother in law - to remove their pain, to somehow bring her back. But this is something that we do in her honor. It is a practical gift - a blanket, a memory envelope, a prayer, and a gown for a child too small to wear store bought clothes. It removes the painful task of shopping for a burial outfit. Gives these tiny humans the same dignity we give to others in death. But it's not about clothes. Not really. It is about God. It is about shared grief. It is about letting a devastated family know that somebody cares. God cares. We care. So along with my mother and best friend, we have created Harper's Legacy Threads of Love.

The goal of Harper's Legacy is to supply every hospital in Monroe County with a bereavement package for families who have lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or NICU death. This will take money and time. But I don't believe that God's plan for Harper ended when she was unable to take a breath. She has a legacy, as every person does. And this is a part of it. I hope you will take a few moments to visit our website. Share it with anyone and everyone you can. This will take an army of volunteer sewers, knitters and crocheters. It will take money and fabric and thread and time. And prayer - that Harper's Legacy reaches far beyond our family, and has no end.


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