I have to be honest. I find it slightly odd that it still affects me as much as it does. I mean, I hardly even knew her.
It's been a whole year since Caden's reunion with the Lord and I still find myself randomly bursting into tears while driving down the interstate or desperately searching for a Kleenex during the worship service.
I still vividly remember the conversation I had with Cari that morning. We had scheduled pictures to be taken of Cari and Caden the following week. They were going to be a birthday present for Andy. We talked about the location, the timing, and who I would coerce into watching my kids. She was excited. I was excited. And Caden was sick. I probably wouldn't see them the next morning at Bible study due to Caden not feeling well, but we'd see each other on Sunday.
Oh, sweet Caden.
Even though we had attended the same church for several years, Cari and I were never really close. Not that we were intentionally distant, but our friendship just hadn't really blossomed yet.
I think I first met Cari in the nursery at church. We were both pregnant at the same time (me with Reagan and her with Caden) and we chatted about baby names, January due dates, and parenting tactics as we watched the other babies. Cari had the most adorable pregnant belly and she hated when I told her that. I knew she felt miserable, but she was still adorable.
When Caden arrived in January, she was born with a ridiculous amount of hair. I don't remember much else about her arrival, but her hair was a defining characteristic that I'll never forget.
Cari and I went to the zoo once together last spring with our kids. A bird pooped on Cari's shoulder. She took a picture with her phone and sent it to Andy. It was hilarious. And if you don't believe me, there's proof. Cari cleaned up the mess with a baby wipe and we discussed how well prepared mothers are for life's unexpected adventures. Caden was probably too little to care or even take note of where we were or what was going on, but she smiled a lot.
She was always smiling.
As Caden grew, I enjoyed working in the nursery once a month and particularly loved holding Caden. She was a cuddler, something none of my children so far have been, and I enjoyed holding a baby who was content to just sit. She usually fell asleep. I usually rocked.
One week Cari came to playgroup at Cristi's house. Cari tells the story way better than me, but let's just say we had a pretty hilarious pacifier episode involving Caden, Reagan, and an identical "missing" pacifier.
Since I had just spoken with Cari that morning, the email came as a total shock. Not that it would have been any less shocking had I not just spoken with Cari, but the effect seemed magnified to me. I read and reread it. Several times. I just couldn't believe what I was reading. It was like someone was playing a cruel joke on me. Except nobody would joke about this. Nobody.
Daniel was in the living room watching tv and I called him over to where I was sitting at the computer. Unable to speak, I pointed to the screen. And the tears began to flow.
I don't know how many times in the past I've cried for another person's loss, but if there were many times before this one...this was the worst. I buried my face into Daniel's side and sobbed for what seemed like forever.
I just couldn't believe it.
As the next few days passed, I didn't know what I should do. I wasn't that close with Cari, so I didn't want to bother her by calling, but I wanted her to know I cared. So I left a card with the office staff for her and Andy. And I prayed for them. Constantly. I cried when I looked at my own children, not being able to even imagine mourning the loss of one of them.
At Caden's celebration service, I was trying to hold it together but was failing miserably. It just wasn't right. Caskets shouldn't even come that small. As I tried to pull my eyes away from the picture slideshow on the screen, I couldn't help but be reminded that those pictures we had planned would now never happen.
Even though I knew it was ridiculous, I felt like it was somehow my fault. I should have scheduled them earlier. It would have been such a beautiful gift for them.
I tried to choke back the tears and be strong for Cari and her family as I neared the family line. But when it was mentioned twice to me by family members that it was "too bad we wouldn't be able to get those pictures now", I couldn't hold it in any longer. By the time I reached Cari, I was a mess.
I couldn't manage to say anything and wouldn't have known what to say anyway, so I just hugged her tightly. She hugged back even tighter and then asked how I was doing.
She asked how I was doing. What is wrong with this woman? I thought.
I had to leave the ceremony with Reagan about halfway through, but what I distinctly remember what seeing Andy and Cari in the front row worshiping the Lord with all their hearts. I didn't know how they were doing it, but I thanked the Lord that they were able to do so.
After the ceremony ended, I offered to help with getting the food set up to keep my mind off of why I was really there. I didn't feel like I was close enough with the family to go to the cemetery for the burial but I wanted to stick around for a while.
When everyone returned and the eating began, it was the strangest atmosphere. Everyone was laughing, talking, joking, and carrying on in good spirits. Yes, there were tears. But it truly was a celebration of Caden's life and of her homecoming with Jesus.
For months, all I could do when I saw Cari was hug her. I never knew what to say and I honestly felt guilty for having my own children still here with me. It didn't seem fair that I had three perfectly healthy children on earth and her only child was now in heaven.
Six weeks after Caden's passing, Cari told me they had just found out she was pregnant. Six weeks pregnant. I couldn't believe it. I blabbered on about some conversation I had just had with a mutual friend and how I had wondered if she was pregnant because of a comment she had left on a blog before finally realizing that I hadn't even congratulated her! I'm such a dork sometimes. I was so happy for them, but the emotions were so mixed for everyone. Mourning the loss of a child and rejoicing over the conception of another is not something that often comes simultaneously in one's life.
Cari came along to a photo shoot shortly after that to watch my kids while I worked. I had hoped they would forget that she had previously always had a baby with her because Daniel and I simply didn't know how or if we should explain to our kids about Caden's passing. My worst nightmare came true when Cari got into the van and my son asked, "Where's your baby?" I could tell Cari was somewhat uncomfortable with the question (and rightfully so), but she very casually answered, "She went to live with Jesus." and we both cried a little. I felt like an idiot who should have duct-taped her kids' mouths closed that morning. But Cari understood. And thankfully that answer was sufficient for a 2 and 3 year old.
The months have passed and my children have slowly begun to understand that, while Andy and Cari (and even baby Rigg) are still here on earth in their own house, Caden spends her days playing with Jesus on streets on gold. They ask about her often when I browse Cari's blog and they catch glimpses of the picture of Caden on the sidebar. It's getting easier for me to say, "Yes, Caden is with Jesus now" and they seem comfortable with that. They are now old enough to comprehend that she "got very sick" (as I tell them) and then went to live with Jesus instead of with her mommy and daddy. But that they will all see each other in heaven again someday.
Rigg was born in June and has been loved and cherished by everyone who has met him. He has very clearly helped Andy and Cari to bear the pain of losing a child, not by taking her place, but by adding joy to their lives and reassuring them that their Savior does indeed love and care for them. Even in situations we may not understand.
Cari and I have grown closer as I have shared in this pain with her over the past year. She and Andy stand as a "Christian rock" to many, but - as they should - they credit it all to the Lord. He is truly what is holding them together and He is who will sustain them in the months and years to follow.
Just last week, Cari mentioned a quote she had recently read by D.L. Moody. I think it's absolutely beautiful and couldn't be more truthful:
“Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”
Praise God that we can know that Caden now spends her every moment with our Savior in heaven! She is NOT dead. She is now more alive than ever before.
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." - Job 1.21