I am writing this on the week Blakely was born – one year ago – in the city where Blakely was born, in the house that Blakely first called home. There is a lot of Blakely filling my heart right now. I keep thinking I am going to fly home tomorrow and see her. I keep thinking that she is only gone for a moment but reality hits hard as the permanency of her death strikes my mind like a hammer on an anvil. Blakely is gone and I hate it – I miss her, I love her, I want her.
Tonight at 12am, I found myself sitting in the NICU waiting room at Mercy hospital (the hospital where Blakely was born). It was a spur of the moment decision. I didn’t plan it out or anything, I just wanted to go there and sit in the space where so many of you sat and where so many people waited to see what Blakely was going to do.
I thought that I would fall apart sitting in that space, but when I sat in the stiff and small leather chairs and looked up at the tiniest tv screen of all time, I felt comfort. I felt safe. I felt like I was close to Blakely. It was not what I was expecting to feel. I kept thinking about all of you sitting in this space and how all kinds of people from all over the country came to sit in that space to meet Blakely. I was imagining each of you and I sat there and let my imagination of those moments carry me. This was the space where you prayed, this was the space where you ate gross hospital food, this was the space where you laughed and this was the space where you cried. How beautiful and mysteriously sweet it was to sit in a space where love for Blakely exuded. In the darkest moments there was love.
As I was sitting in the NICU waiting room one of Blakely’s nurses walked by and she recognized me. She stopped and walked right up to me and said, “Hi Michael, I was one of Blakely’s nurses”. I couldn’t believe she recognized me and that she remembered who I was. She then gave me a hug and just sat with me for a moment. I was honored to spend a moment with one of Blakely’s beloved nurses (Blakely’s nurses are our heroes). The NICU nurses fiercely loved Blakely. They gave themselves to us and they poured themselves out. They went above and beyond for her and for Emily and for me. They became more than nurses, they became family. I think the reason why I felt comfort in Mercy Hospital tonight was because I was home. I was in the presence of people who cried with us, asked questions with us, who stepped into our mess and tackled hard decisions with us. I was in the presence of people who loved me, who loved Emily, who loved my family and who loved Blakely. In the darkest moments there was love.
I remember leaving Mercy hospital with Blakely for the first time. It was a moment filled with joy and excitement and hope. I was thankful to be out of the hospital after three weeks and I never wanted to go back. But tonight when I left the hospital I weeped. As I walked through the doors that I hated walking in-and-out, I fell apart and I turned around to look back at the place where Blakely was born. I looked up to the brightly lit Mercy sign and allowed tears to well up and fall to the pavement. I was overwhelmed by the feeling of love – I love Mercy hospital, I love the nurses and doctors who loved us and all I wanted to do – in that moment – was turn back the clock and walk back in. I want to go back to the hard moments, the dark moments, the unbearable moments, because in those moments there was love.
I remember the first month home with Blakely. Emily and I were a hot mess. We would have never survived if it wasn’t for our beloved moms who rescued us over and over again. We were sleep deprived and our minds were being blown up by the copious amounts of medication and treatment that Blakely needed. We were hot messes and we were first-time parents and we were losing ourselves in the chaos. But our moms and our friends rescued us. They bought us time to sleep. They cooked us food and they washed our clothes and they cleaned our house. They talked to us and listened to us and cried with us. I felt wrecked in that first month home, but I would give anything to go back – to go back to the chaos and the madness. It was in the darkest moments that I still found love.
I remember moving to Citrus County Florida from St. Louis Missouri. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the task to move my family across the country, to a place where we didn’t know many people and to a place without a Chick-Fil-A (hahah). I remember the first moments when we arrived at our new home and there was a crowd of people from our new church (Seven Rivers) ready to move us in. It was within an hour that all our stuff was in our home and I paused in the living room and looked around to see strangers becoming good friends and to see Blakely lying in her rocker. I thought to myself, “We will make it here – these people are our family”. Seven Rivers church adopted Blakely as their own child. They offered their resources and their time and their lives to support us – to support Blakely. It was hard to move and leave St. Louis, but in the hard and dark moments we found love.
I remember the difficulties of being a first-time dad and a first-time youth pastor. I remember going to a high school camp with a bunch of students who I was getting to know for the first time. Blakely was having a hard week while I was gone, and I felt torn up being away from her. I remember sharing with these students about the pain I was feeling and them responding to my pain by drawing near to me. They literately got out of their seats and wrapped their arms around me and cried with me and prayed for me. It was in my pain and in my dark moments that I found love.
I remember the many trips we took to St. Petersburg to take Blakely to All Children’s Hospital. We would be there for weeks at a time, but our friends, family and church would come see us. They made sure that we never felt alone. They made sure that we knew they were in this with us and that we were not forgotten. I hated being in the hospital, but I would give anything to be writing this blog in Blakely’s hospital room. I would give anything to sleep on that uncomfortable couch and to wake up to the annoying beeps and buzzes. In the darkest moments we found love.
I remembered Blakely’s death day. It was the darkest moment of our lives. I remember the people who filled the room to pray, worship, cry, laugh and simply exist. I remember the hugs and the kisses and the love that showered the room. I remember the final moments when doctors would take the tubes out and instead of leaving the room the doctor stayed with us. We held Blakely together in her passing moments as one family and the doctor was right there with us. She was not only with us, but she was weeping with us. She was loving us through the darkest of moments. In the darkest moments there was love.
When I first reflected on Blakely’s death day I was angry (I still get angry). I was angry that I didn’t feel God’s physical presence in that moment. I was angry that it felt like he was really far away. I needed him to show up and I needed him to show up in the flesh. I didn’t want the Bible verses and the worship music in that moment – what I wanted was a physical God to hold me and cry with me, but what I felt was nothing. I was angry to have felt nothing. I was confused to have felt nothing and I was scared by the fact that death is deeply and hellishly dark.
I remember holding Blakely’s body and feeling her empty weight against my chest. Here I was holding Blakely’s body, my beloved, my duaghter but I felt so far from her. I felt like I was being emptied out as I rocked her body back and forth with tears hitting her skin. In my heart I was screaming, “Where are you Blakely? Where are you my love?” I knew she was gone and with her passing I thought that all my love had vanished. I thought that all meaning of life had disappeared. I felt like all that I knew and all that I thought no longer mattered. I unraveled.
One of the hardest things in Blakely’s death was I failed to rescue her – to save her. I wanted to be a daddy who rescues and who protects my family from pain, hurt and even death. But instead I had to tell Blakely that I couldn’t do it. I had to tell my little girl that darkness is coming and I can’t stop it. I had to tell her that the end is near and I can’t save you. But I did get to love her. I did get to hold her and rub her head and wash her hair and speak loving truths into her ear. I got to be her daddy still – even though I was not enough. I still got to love her – even though I was not enough. This matters because there is someone who is enough – it is not me and he promised to save Blakely even in the darkest of moments – he promised to love.
The reason why all of this hurts so much is because there was so much love. The reason why this pain is unbearable is because the love is unbearable. The reason why her death day was so dark was because her life was so bright. The reason why I miss her so much is because she mattered so much. The reason why I still cry when I think about Blakely is because I still love her. I love you Blakely.
In the darkest of moments there is love… in the darkest of moments there is God.