Yesterday marked the one-month anniversary of Caden Joelle's death. I almost hate to use the word 'anniversary', for it conjures up thoughts of beauty to me - how many years you've spent with your spouse, a business's excitement and celebration of their accomplishments, or a really great sale at a department store. But an anniversary for death is an entirely different thing.
Perhaps some of you have not heard my end of the story, so I'll share it with you....just so you can follow along.
I don't know how long I've known Andy and Cari, but it's been a few years. We attend church with them and they are, by far, one of the sweetest, happiest couples I know. They are quite obviously in love and clearly desire to serve their Saviour every waking moment of every day. They are quite the inspiration, I must say.
Cari and I had been acquaintances for a while, but really started to develop a friendship when she was pregnant with Caden. The excitement of her little one soon entering the world was so obvious and I was more than happy to share with her my two cents about having babies, raising children, and the like. It would brighten my day to see that Cari was scheduled to be in the nursery with me some Sunday mornings.
Caden was born last winter and was the best baby on earth. And I'm pretty sure I mean that. I mean, my own kids were pretty darn good babies, but Caden was just...something else. She was content no matter what. If you put her down, she was happy to be down. If you picked her up, she was happy to snuggle. If you looked at her, she was happy to give you the biggest baby grin you'd ever seen. She was a true joy and one that nobody ever dreamed would be taken away in an instant.
As of late, Andy had been ushering every Sunday and Cari was working in the nursery every Tuesday and sometimes Sundays. They were actively involved in their church, their family, and their friends' lives, which proved to be a huge blessing when the unthinkable happened.
Several months ago, during one of our same-day nursery schedules, Cari told me that she wanted to do pictures of herself and Caden for Andy's birthday, which was the end of October. I agreed that that would be fun and we began to discuss details.
On September 21st, my precious Reagan's first birthday, I saw Andy at church and asked where Cari was. He told me that Caden had been really sick all week, that they had been to the ER with her the night before and had called several doctors, trying to figure out what temperature was too high for an 8-month old. I told him that Reagan had roseolla and that she had come down with it the Tuesday prior. She had similar symptoms and then got a rash on Saturday morning. I told him that if she got a rash in a day or two, it was very possibly the same thing since Caden and Reagan are in the nursery together often. He insisted that they thought it was something else, since she also had symptoms of a cold.
On the morning of Monday, September 22nd, I called Cari to see how Caden was doing. She did not answer her phone, so I left her a message to let her know that I was praying for Caden and asked that she call me back so we could discuss the final details for the photo shoot. She returned my call about a half hour later, as they were leaving the doctor's office. She informed me that Caden also had roseolla. We scheduled the photo shoot for October 1st, just 9 days away, and hung up the phone.
That evening, my husband and I were watching some TV and I got up to check my email during the commercial break.
I. Was. Stunned.
There in my inbox was an email from our Sunday School class teacher. It read: "We wanted to inform all of you that Caden Chastain died suddenly today (Monday, Sept 22). A number of us have been with Cari and Andy for the past few hours."
The email went on for a few more sentences, but I just kept reading that part over and over again. I just couldn't believe it. You know how sometimes you hear news that is just so unbelievable, you think someone must be playing a cruel joke on you? Well, that's exactly how I felt. Except I knew that nobody would do such a thing.
I called my husband over to the computer. I couldn't say a word. I just started crying as I read the email over and over. It couldn't be real. This could NOT be happening. As I continued to think about how Cari and Andy must be feeling, my crying turned to uncontrollable sobbing. My husband just held me.
Over the next several days, I staggered back and forth between weeping for Andy and Cari's loss and rejoicing that I had my own children with me. I think I might mark this time of my life down as one of the hardest. I've lost grandparents to death, but grandparents are supposed to die. They're old. They've lived a full life. Their time has come. But babies....babies are supposed to LIVE.
I felt so many emotions that I didn't know what to do with them. I felt guilty for not having scheduled the pictures sooner. "That would have been such a beautiful memory for them," I would catch myself saying over and over again. I felt like I shouldn't intrude, but I felt like I should do something to help. I felt anger toward the doctor who told Andy and Cari that Caden was fine. I felt pity toward Andy and Cari for their terrible, tragic loss. And then suddenly I realized....all of those feelings were pretty worthless.
Worrying about their situation would not do any good. Prayer. Prayer is what the answer was. So I began to fervently pray. But even in my prayers, I would find myself worrying, imagining what they must be going through. I began to pray comfort and peace over them and every time I started to worry about them throughout the day, I would turn to prayer instead.
Although I know there were activities taking place in our family life that week, the whole thing is a blur to me. I just remember randomly bursting into tears, wishing I could offer even the tiniest form of comfort to Andy and Cari. I imagined them to be completely distraught and, even though knowing that Caden was now in heaven with Jesus, feeling utterly hopeless.
Caden's funeral was Saturday and the turnout was huge. As I waited in line to hug the family, I could not even look at the paper I had been given about Caden's life. I tried, I really did. But tears would well up so big I thought I would burst out sobbing again. And somehow, I felt that would not be the most comforting thing to Cari and Andy. As I entered the sanctuary, I began to watch the slideshow of Caden's short precious life. I had to stop every so often to wipe the tears that were pouring down my face. Get a hold of yourself, I kept thinking. Cari and Andy appeared to be doing quite well, considering the circumstances. Their eyes were misty, but they weren't bawling as I expect I would have been in their situation.
As I reached the family, two relatives hugged me and said, "I guess we won't be able to get those pictures, will we?" Enough already, I thought to myself. I feel bad enough as it is! It was as if my eyes weren't leaking enough already that they had to mention THAT. But I digress. They were grieving too. And grieving much more than me. When I reached Cari, I'm pretty sure I broke down. She hugged me tightly. I was without words. She let go of the hug and looked me in the eyes. "How are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm supposed to be asking you that," I replied, mustering a small giggle through the jerkiness of my tears.
"Everyone's praying for me. I'm fine. But who's praying for you?"
There is something wrong with this woman, I thought. She just lost her one and only baby girl and she is concerned with how I'm doing?? I mean, seriously.
As the service began, I was astonished to see Andy and Cari take the stage. No way are they actually going to talk at their own daughter's funeral, I thought. But talk, they did. I missed part of it because I had to take Reagan out of the sanctuary, but the one thing I remember Cari saying that really stuck out to me was this: "You are witnessing a miracle."
There's really no other way to describe it. For any of you who don't believe there's a God out there who is intimately involved in our every day lives, please explain this mystery. How could two people lose their only child, an 8-month old baby, and stand up at their daughter's funeral and give God the glory for how He is working in their life? How could they sing praises to their Lord and not feel bitterness, anger and hatred toward a God who would do such a thing as to take their only child?
We don't know the Lord's plan. We don't know what He has in store for us, but we do know that it's good. He tells us plainly in His Word that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8.28). We know that the hairs on our head are numbered (Matthew 10.30) and that the number of days we live has already been determined by God (Job 14.5). We can see from these precise details that our God loves us. He cares deeply about us and how we live our life. And He does have a plan for our life.
We may never know why God chose to take Caden home so soon. My only guess is that He just couldn't resist those adorably chubby cheeks, that sweet smile, and her high-pitched squeal of delight any longer. He wanted her in His presence, and who can blame Him? As I said, she was the best baby on earth! But being jealous for her presence is obviously not the only reason He chose to take Caden home. God uses all things in a Christian's life to perfect us and form us into the image of Christ. And He has certainly done a great work in Andy and Cari's life already!
Now, lest I am giving you the wrong idea, Andy and Cari are weeping. Of course, they are terribly sad that their precious little one is with them no longer. Cari's honesty speaks volumes as she documents her new life without little Caden by her side. She daily proclaims her weakness and the strength of Christ in her blog. I can't get through a single post of hers without tears rolling down my face. I hurt for them. I ache for them. And I pray for them every time I think of them. But more than anything else, I cherish my own children just a little bit more.
This weekend our Sunday School class got together to watch the Colts game. Well, okay, the men got together to watch the game while the women socialized around the kitchen table. :) When I'm with Cari, I can hardly take my eyes off of her. I am still in amazement that she is not walking around in a constant state of depression with the ashes on her head cascading down onto a wardrobe of only black. I must not be the only one who watches her a lot because just as I saw a tear begin to well up in her eyes after glancing at my daughter, another woman subtly handed her a tissue. She is so real, yet so strong in Christ. When I saw her turn away to wipe her eyes, I wanted to rip Reagan out of the chair and rush her to the other room so Cari would not have to deal with the pain. But then I realized....it's part of the healing process. I held back my own tears and watched Cari quickly regain her composure and again realize the joys of living.
Perhaps one of the worst things for me (as if I should be so selfish as to think of myself) is that I know, from now on, every year when my precious baby girl has a birthday, I will not be able to help but remember that Andy and Cari are grieving over the loss of their own baby, who died the day after Reagan's first birthday. Or maybe that's a good thing - a reminder from the Lord to send them a card or call and let them know I remember and I'm praying for them.
If you're still reading this, you might be wondering why in the world I've turned this post into a novel. Per Cari's request, I have chosen to document my experience through this situation and share how God is working in my life because of the loss of precious little Caden Joelle.
Cari (and Andy), I love you. I admire you for taking the Lord's hand during this time and allowing Him to work in you a miracle. I am so grateful for your honesty about your pain and your desire to see the Lord glorified through it all. I know that the pain I am experiencing over the loss of Caden is absolutely NOTHING compared to what you are feeling, but I want you to know that you're not alone. I cry almost daily with you and for you, but I know that Caden is resting in the arms of Jesus, right where she is supposed to be. I want you to feel free to call me anytime with anything. Let's praise the Lord together, knowing that He never fails His promises. He will hear your supplications. He will satisfy your thirsty soul. He will not remove His lovingkindness from you. He will uphold you with His righteous right hand. He will NEVER leave you or forsake you. He will be your Rock. He will be faithful. He will comfort you. He will hear you when you call. He will strengthen your heart. He will be glorified.