In addition to attending the service, a few months prior I received a phone call asking if I would be willing to do a reading at the event. I immediately said yes...but then proceeded to hang up the phone and think to myself "What the heck did I just agree to!?" Self doubt hit me like a ton of bricks as I questioned if I would be able to hold myself together long enough to speak for 3-5 minutes. Doubt or not, a little flutter inside of my heart told me that it would be ok. The same flutter that gets me through most scary things. I knew I could do it for Charlotte.
Leave it to me, I couldn't just pick a nice reading or poem to share, but rather decided to make it more personal--something like I might post here on the blog. I have debated on whether or not I would share my words from that day here...a part of me feels like they were words reserved for the families that were honoring their children that day. On the other hand, I know that there are grieving parents who come to this site and they are words for them as well. Plus, I want to be able to document that day without having to keep my crumpled up sheets of paper that I clung to during those 5 minutes.
So, here you have it....
Had you told me a year ago that I would be asked to speak at a Children’s Hospital Remembrance Service I would have thought that you were crazy. My family of three was living a fairly normal life. Our daughter Charlotte was 11 months old and we were starting to plan her big 1 year birthday party—a huge milestone for a little girl born with such a “broken” heart. But Charlotte was thriving…defying the odds…and showing us day after day what it meant to have true “heart”. Little did we know, that just over a month later our perfect heart warrior would be taken from us in the most sudden and unexpected manner. And because of that I am here today.
My name is Kristen Ritchie, and I stand here before you today as a grieving parent - a member of a “club” that no one wants to be a part of….and as I look around the room my heart breaks knowing that each and every one of you here has been affected in some way by a similar loss. We may have ended up in this place through different means, each of us at different points in the grieving process…but at the end of the day, we are all here--heart-broken, feeling lost, trying to remember every tiny detail of our children, and doing our best to navigate through the world without them.
Being a mommy to Charlotte was the best experience I have ever known. She taught my husband and I how to love unrestrained and to give of ourselves whole-heartedly. She taught us strength beyond measure and opened our eyes to the incredibly fragile nature of life. NO ONE IS GUARANTEED TOMORROW...Young, old, sick, healthy, crazy heart or not. And while each of these lessons doesn’t do much to take away the heart ache that we feel on a daily basis, they serve as a guide to help us though this chaotic journey without our little girl. Through my daughter’s memory I am constantly reminded of what is important in life --to take a step back and to really appreciate the gifts that I have been given, even if at times life feels chaotic or overwhelming.
Shortly after Charlotte earned her wings, a friend shared the following phrase with me…
“Living as a person of faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
None of this makes sense to me. No one should have to say good-bye to a child. No one should have to experience the grief that I know you know all too well. No one should have to beat themselves up with WHYS and WHAT IFs. Almost a year later I am still asking myself these questions knowing full well that no one is going to be able to provide rationale. On those days where it all just seems like too much, I find myself repeating that phrase to myself over and over….”trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” While it may not always feel like it, I truly believe that there are good things in store for all of us. I have the most incredible husband whom I love an insane amount. I have family and friends that are always there to pick me up when I stumble or full-out collapse. I have friends that took care of our little girl whom I know will never let her memory fade. I have Charlotte's baby brother squirming around in my belly as we speak that I am so excited to meet and to tell all about his big sister. And most of all, I have a perfect little angel watching over me…always there when I need her most. It doesn’t make sense now…I’m guessing in 10 years, even 20, that it still won’t make sense. But I live each day in faith knowing that there are good things in store for us (for ALL of us) and that someday we will see our babies again.
Thank you Children's for a beautiful day full of "remembering." I am so honored that you thought to include me in the day, and even more honored that I could share a few pieces of our story with a room full of people who truly GET IT.