I have been writing and re-writing this post in my head for days. I knew that it would be the hardest, and honestly, I’ve kind of been avoiding it. Watching our baby girl slip away was much more difficult than I could have imagined, although I’m sure there’s nothing I could have done to “prepare” myself for it ahead of time. There is no man-made preparation for this—only the grace the Father so graciously gives, each moment that we need it. And His grace was there. Poured out on us as my husband prayed aloud, desperate for it.
By Sunday morning, I knew that our time with Elizabeth Grace was drawing to a close. Her color was very dusky, her breathing shallow. I was going to be discharged from hospital that afternoon. I had always said that I wanted to be able to take her home with us if possible, but now that it was almost time and she was doing so poorly, I felt uneasy about this prospect. We had been in touch with pediatric hospice, but the nurse was unsure if she’d be able to get out to us that day. The initial meeting is apparently a three hour ordeal. There was the option of taking Elizabeth to a hospice facility in Atlanta, but it was unclear if Onan and I would be allowed to ride in the ambulance with her, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her passing without us there. I began to feel stressed. I prayed for God to work out every detail.
I took a quick shower around 8 am and was just finishing up in the bathroom when I heard Onan calling for the nurses in a panicked voice. Elizabeth had begun to cough up some blood. Our nurse, Madeline, who had also been with us all day Saturday, quickly rushed in and helped to suction it out with the aspirator bulb. She listened to her heartbeat and told us that it was very faint.
We took Elizabeth over to the window and turned on the CD that a sweet friend had made for us. We sat, listening to the beautiful worship music, looking out at Kennesaw Mountain, crying, praying, talking to our baby girl. We stayed this way for a long time. At one point I was holding Elizabeth and her breathing became very labored. I wondered to myself if she may experience seizures. As soon as I finished this thought, she began to seize. It was as if the Holy Spirit had whispered it to me, right before I needed to hear it. I remained calm as we again called for Madeline, who immediately returned. The seizing had stopped by then and her vitals were checked. Still breathing, still a faint heartbeat. Elizabeth was fighting, but she was struggling so much to do so. She made some little cries at this point—the loudest she made the whole time she was with us. It was like she was sighing, long and drawn out. I kept telling her over and over, "It's okay, baby girl. You don't have to fight so hard."
Madeline came back a short while later and administered some morphine, which Elizabeth took very well. This seemed to really help her relax and any seizures she had after this were much milder. She continued to hang on.
By now my in-laws had returned to the hospital and had been able to spend some more time with Elizabeth. I was seen by my OB and was discharged but told that there was no rush for us to leave, which I greatly appreciated.
I began to pack up our things while my father-in-law held Elizabeth with Onan close by. I heard my husband say that it looked like she was having another seizure. He took her into his arms and I went over to hold on to her as well. She finished seizing and made one more little sighing sound as she breathed her last. I knew that she was done fighting. I sobbed. They were tears of sorrow, of course, but also tears of joy. I was just so relieved that she was in the arms of Jesus, no longer struggling for breath, perfect and whole. I was consumed with the image. I told Onan, “I think she’s done.” We called for Madeline and I told her the same. She put her stethoscope to Elizabeth’s little chest and nodded, “I don’t hear anything,” she told us through her own tears. It was a little after 1:00 pm. She cleared out the room to give Onan and I some time with our daughter, just the two of us.
We took her back to the window. Onan prayed: “Lord, we need your comfort.” We held her and we held each other. We changed her into a beautiful little white dress. I had ink pads and we put her foot prints in our Bibles, on scrapbook paper, in my journal. We took more pictures. Our family and a few friends came in to cry and pray and hold us too. After awhile, we knew it was time for us to let her go. Everyone left, once again, and Madeline told us to take us to take our time. She would call the funeral home to come and get her. We would leave her there; she would stay on our hospital floor until they picked her up.
We spent just a little more time with Elizabeth Grace before we called to tell our nurse that we were ready. One last kiss for each hand, one last “goodbye for now” whispered. We left the hospital late afternoon on an unseasonably warm day in February. And we are forever changed.
Still Holding On, Sunday Morning