11 Years Old, and Celebrating Therese’s Birthday for the Very First Time

11 Years Old, and Celebrating Therese’s Birthday for the Very First Time November 24, 2013

It is probably not a coincidence that tomorrow is my day to post — it is my deceased daughter Therese’s 11th birthday.

Therese Joy was born and died on what was a snowy Michigan night.  Some of the builders were there to meet her.  Others were praying for our family from afar.  Each year, as November 25th approaches, I grieve for my daughter.  Some years I cry a lot, other years I do not cry at all, but only experience a very palpable sadness.  Sometimes the grief begins as soon as the weather changes.  Other years, I feel almost nothing until a few days before her birthday.  But every year the sadness is there.  I assumed this was just the way things would always be.  I am a mother who has lost a child, and so the grief would always be there.  But this year is different.  This year, I feel only joy and gratitude, and I’d like to explain why —

Last October, my daughter Claire (then age 3), suffered a compound fracture of her collar bone.  About a month after the injury, and just after Therese’s 10th birthday, I was driving with Claire to a follow up appointment at the orthopedic doctor.  As I drove, I suddenly felt Therese’s presence with me.  I don’t want to sound insane, as these sorts of things normally don’t happen to me.  Since her death my daughter has always just felt dead to me — like nothing is there.  I’m not one for personal mystical experiences.  I don’t know another way to explain it, but her presence just felt like her in the form of a warm, beautiful light.  I felt completely at peace.  And then she spoke to me.

Therese very clearly and simply said, “Please stop being sad about me.  Be joyful about my life.”  I don’t remember the rest other than to say I had visions of all the relationships and people in my life that existed because of Therese’s death.  People were flashing through my mind.  And then suddenly Therese was gone.  I was alone in the car with Claire.  And Claire was simply looking out the window, humming and paying no attention to me or anything in the car.  It was all very surreal.

Shortly after this vision, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the many, many, many people in my life who I have connections to because of Therese’s death.  For starters, none of my kids would exist if she had survived ~ that’s an easy one.  But, I’ve also been blessed with some amazing relationships with other mothers because of Therese’s death.  And then there are some of my dearest friends, people who, through Therese’s death, have shown their love for me in remarkable ways.  One friend gave me a set of healing cards with scripture verses, one handwritten card for each day, for over a month!!! after Therese died.  Another friend, though not yet a mother herself, always understood my sorrow and cried tears of love for me and my baby.  Another woman always thinks of me and remembers to send a sympathy card or note on Therese’s birthday.  An amazing Priest, Fr. Brian, both calls my home and says Mass for my family on the 25th of November every year.  And of course the beautiful bond I have with our dear Katrina.  When I start looking at relationships, there are almost too many blessings to count.

And I’ll never forget one acquaintance, a woman named K.  She had suffered from an abortion years prior to Therese’s life.  K wrote me the most beautiful note during my pregnancy with Therese.  Therese and our love for her, had helped K to heal.  As a gift, she knitted my baby a beautiful white sweater, booties, and a blanket.  Each of my children wear this on their baptism day.  And, to this day, K’s letter is the most  beautiful note I have ever received.

These are just some examples of the people and memories that came into my mind when I really stopped to ponder Therese’s message.  The joy, the gift, the sweetness of her short life were without measure.  My mind and heart were ready to stop being sad.  I prayed for the grace to just be thankful.  I prayed for the grace to think of Therese and her life in a new way.  And that was a very hard step for me.  In the past, I had resisted doing this because I felt in some way that I owed it to Therese to be sad.  And perhaps I should explain that a little.

Immediately after her death (and even during my pregnancy), the grief and sadness were really overwhelming.  There were days when my body hurt to breath, and I dreaded getting out of bed.  But as time passed, and I worked through the many stages of grief, I somewhere made a choice to hold onto some sadness.  I had two excuses for doing so.  First, I knew that the death of a child had changed me in ways that couldn’t be undone.  Being sad just seemed to be one of those ways.  Second, and perhaps more motivating, I remained sad about Therese because it was my way of showing Therese and the world that I really loved her.  That as her mother, I would never forget her.  I had suffered for her, and missed her more than anyone.  And I believe that’s why little Therese had to pay me a visit.  She had to ask me to stop, and set me free.

This November I didn’t mourn Therese.  In fact, I almost forgot it was her birthday until I looked at the calendar on Friday and noticed that this Monday was the 25th!  So we made plans to visit the cemetery on Sunday and I purchased some balloons and flowers for her grave.  Upon seeing the flowers, my sweet Claire (now age 4) came up to me and asked whether Therese was  in heaven or buried in the ground.  Claire and I had a beautiful conversation about our bodies and souls and heaven and being a friend of Jesus.  Claire told me she wanted to be a saint someday (and a doctor too!), and asked if I would pray with her right there to ask Jesus if she could become a saint.  With tears of joy in my eyes I listened to her pray.  And then, in my heart, I thanked God for the gift of Therese.

This year, on her birthday, there is no sadness.  My heart is full of gratitude.  My life is full of incredible people.  Thank you little Therese.  Your life was a great gift.  You are having another great birthday in heaven, and I’m overjoyed to be truly celebrating that for the very first time.


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  • Touched

    This is one of the most beautiful peices I have ever read. I was able to witness first hand the joy that came because of Therese’s life and her death. The joy she brought. Kellie and Joe, your decision for life was so courageous and so brave and so selfless. And these many years later I still think about the day you found out that Therese would most likely die. I remember your faith. And total and complete surrender to His will. It was and still is inspiring to me. I carry around Therese’s little footprints from Cards that you sent to remind me that life – in all shapes and sizes and designs – truly is precious.

  • Bethany

    Oh Kel, this is just breathtaking. You gave Therese the middle name Joy for a reason–she reminds all of us to embrace the joy in this life and look forward to our eternal party someday in heaven. I am so happy for you in this journey with Therese, your beautiful saint. She was a precious gift. We rejoice with you tomorrow, friend, and remember her precious life. Angel Therese, pray for us!

  • Jennifer

    As a mother who lost her second child – Nicholas – to a late miscarriage and had to deliver him four days b/f Christmas 2008, I generally have a difficult time with the Advent & Christmas seasons each year. This post has truly blessed me tonight as I sat on my sofa gearing myself up for Advent’s beginning next week – thank you so much for sharing your experience and these beautiful thoughts. Each time you and Katrina write about your precious girls, I want to comment, but I just never do. Please know that both of you have provided me with an immense amount of comfort, hope, and courage as I have anxiously muddled through my pregnancies since losing our boy. My last pregnancy was especially difficult, as there was a possibility that our baby girl had a congenital brain malformation that would have resulted in significant medical issues. The problem did, end up being a “false alarm” (for want of a better cliche), but I was nearly crippled with fear for the majority of my 2nd trimester. Then, however, I would read one of your posts, Kellie, or I would read one of Katrina’s posts, and I would be blessed with just a bit more openness to God’s plan for our family – whatever that would be. Again, thank you both for sharing your families, your hearts, your grief, your courage, and your embracing of God’s will with your readers here. And, the length of this comment is why I have never left one before – apologies for my verbosity.

  • Kat0427

    What a beautiful post, Kellie, I’m so glad that you shared your thoughts with all of us today.
    Therese Joy, pray for us!

  • Mary Alice

    I have prayed for so many years that you would have some peace about Therese, and it is such a blessing to all of us who care about you that you have been able to share this wonderful new perspective. Much love to all of you, today and always.

  • No need to apologize for anything Jennifer! Thank you so much for commenting, and sharing that the lives of Therese, Lucy, and Annie have touched you. It means a lot. I’m so sorry to hear about your precious baby, and also the fear you experienced during your subsequent pregnancy. Pregnancies are a time of great anxiety for me, and it can be almost paralyzing. Many prayers for you and your family.

  • Alison

    Kellie, that was beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to post it and open up your thoughts……….and your heart.

  • Karen

    What a wonderful story of God’s presence on your journey of grief, and of finding hope and goodness too. It will be such an encouragement to others!

  • CatherineS

    This is such a beautiful testimony to God’s grace and to your cooperation with it. God bless you today, and you’ll be in my prayers.

  • Juris Mater

    Happy Birthday, Therese, and thanks Kellie for this beautiful post.

  • Kathy

    I want to wish Therese Joy a happy birthday. As she and I share the same birth date, I think about her on our birthday ever since I found your blog in 2011. This year our birthday was more difficult for me as I lost my beloved mother to lung cancer on Nov 7, 2013. Although I had a great day, the one thing I missed is that I would either stop in to see my mom or call her to thank her for giving me life. I did that this year too, but it was at the cemetery.

    When I originally read your post, I had lots of things to put in my own response, but I cannot remember all of the things I had wanted to say. Over the past few weeks, people have been a great blessing to me and my family, just as you experience. It doesn’t change things for either of us, but it helps to know that many blessings came into our lives as a result of such great sorrow.

    One thing that does come to mind is what my 10 yr old daughter said about the many things her grandmother was now doing in Heaven. One of them was that she knew grandma was taking good care of all the children who had gone to Heaven before their parents and grandparents. She said that since grandma was a school nurse, the children would be well taken care of (all their shots up to date and no head lice!) She said that although she was sad that her grandma had died, she was happy to share her with these children. My daughter had said (especially after the Newtown shooting) that it she worried about all of these children who had died and left their families. She felt they should have all the fun things she had – siblings, outings with mom and dad and grandparents. It was a great comfort to her to know that these children would have fun with her grandma until their mommies, daddies, siblings and grandparents arrived to take care of them. I even talked about that in the eulogy I delivered at my mom’s funeral.

    I hope that Therese, Lucy and Annie are having lots of fun with my mom.

    Happy Birthday Therese.

    Therese, Lucy, Annie and Grandma Dolores pray for us.