If there was a word to describe Monday, August 26, 2013 and what I, what each of us privileged to meet my girl, experienced, that would be it. But really, I’ve been reluctant to even try to describe that day and those sacred moments because words will never even remotely come close or do them justice. I already know I will fail but I am equally aware that it is my duty to document it for her sister and to share with you the holy moments of the life of our Laurencia.
I am, as I said, so privileged to be yet so unworthy of being her mother. I pray that God continues to give me strength to share her in the way which most glorifies Him and most honors her life. He shared her with me and for that I will forever sing His praises and be thankful.
The evening before the c-section I was alone in my room. It was a dark time. I desperately tried to pray and couldn’t form words. I was almost in a state of panic at trying to find the right prayer to pray or words to say. I was, in a word, afraid. And I know fear is not of God. So I kept trying to repeat things I know and every time I faltered, a friend would send me a message of hope and of love. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
I began to say the rosary and wanted to focus on the Joyful Mysteries, but it was false, I couldn’t do it. So I instead focused on the Sorrowful Mysteries and with each mystery, contemplated the agonizing path of Jesus in the Garden and on his way to his death. And in a deep sense I felt what he was feeling, only not for myself, for my baby. She was still a part of me kicking and moving. I knew in a matter of hours she would have to make the ultimate sacrifice, my little lamb. While I am not her, she was still connected to me and I was her only lifeline. And not only was there nothing I could do to stop the ending of her life, I was playing a part in it, I had to. They told us she could live, but only for as long as she remained connected to me. Thirty-two weeks was enough for her sister to have a good chance, but no amount of weeks or months could have provided my sweet girl with any more chance at life on this earth. And I had to figure out a way to find peace with that. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” That was the reading for the day, from a book given to me by Rachel, Laurencia’s other namesake.
And I cried. And I still feared. I finished saying the rosary and just at that time a very old friend wrote me a message and said, “You must feel not unlike Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane”. It was as if God was speaking right to me, through her. And she left me with these words, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” And I kept repeating them to myself over and over until I finally fell asleep.
The messages of prayer were pouring in. Again, I felt so unworthy but so thankful as my girls are so very worthy. In the morning I had to begin the process of physically getting ready for the surgery, which was was delayed until about 1pm. Laura and Anna arrived and then Fr. Richards. I was so happy and grateful to see him (please remember his family in your prayers as his brother passed away recently). Just prior to Fr. arriving, a wonderful person by the name of Rachael (the other Rachael) walked in. I haven’t mentioned her before. She is a gift. Her work and her mission are a gift. I think her official title might be something like, “social worker” but to me she is just a blessing. She is the one who worked tirelessly to ensure that every single wish or hope we had for the birth of our girls would be met, if possible. It is truly amazing the support and love we have received from her and from the hospital. They have NEVER treated our girl with anything but the utmost respect. Rachael even told me yesterday that she has a nickname for Laurencia-ABG “angel baby girl”. How’s that for a plain old social worker? So blessed.
Eventually they had to take me to the operating room. Walking down that hallway I peered over at the family waiting room to see: My mom and dad, Matt’s mom, sister and sister in law, Rachel and Billy (Laurencia’s godfather), my brothers and my sister in law, Nellie (Benedict’s momma) and all of my kids along with Katrina and Analise (my nieces). And in I walked with the nurse.
The O.R. was overwhelming to me. I will summarize it by saying that eventually I knew that the anesthetic was going to work and once it did, I began to feel a sense of calm relief. I felt physically good and very aware of what was happening. They walked Matt, Laura and Anna in and Matt sat next to me.
Laura and Anna were behind me ready to videotape and take photos. And then I saw my other favorite person in this hospital. The man is a saint but goes by Dr. G (in the interest of protecting his privacy I won’t give his full name but once again I am so privileged to know him and blessed by his goodness).
He is brilliant and kind and compassionate and wonderful. And seeing him gave me even more peace. As far as I can tell, he’s the “Big cheese” neonatologist and it was not lost on me that he likely had a million other things to do yet here he was for my girls. Another priceless gift.
I could feel the tugging and pulling that they describe and before I knew it, I could feel them deliver Laurencia. I think I said, “A baby is out.” They took her to put her in a blanket. I felt more tugging and pulling and I knew Valencia was out. I think we heard a little cry and they showed Valencia to me, she looked big but no surprise to me, I knew she’d be healthy and “big”!
And then they handed Laurencia to Matt. I can only share with you a small portion of a portion of my thoughts and feelings because as I said, for some of those feelings, words are not enough. I looked at her and knew her instantly, she was the baby I had seen so many times on the ultrasound. Yet, here she was, for real. She was so still, so peaceful. I never saw her move. The most immediate thing I felt was, “It is ok, it is going to be ok now.” And then I saw Matt’s face. It’s very hard to describe. It wasn’t simple relief and it wasn’t happiness as in pure joy but it was a sense of calm and love and overwhelming peace in his eyes. For the first time in five months the look of helplessness was completely and totally wiped away. Gone. And all I saw was love in his eyes and he looked so, so proud of his girl.
I will never forget the image of my girl, it is burned into my being and I will never forget the look on my husband’s face. I know with 100% certainty that God hand-picked him to be the daddy to our Laurencia.
I touched her with my free hand and kept trying to see if her heart was beating, she was very still. I had to know if her heart was beating.
Finally, my sister, her godmother, Laura, felt her chest and said, yes, it is. I had to see her toes and her fingies. I felt her hand in mine.
I whispered some things to her. My only regret of the entire day was that I didn’t and couldn’t say a million more things to her, enough to span an entire lifetime, in those few minutes. I didn’t realize she would be gone so soon. I will live forever trying to show her and tell her everything I wanted to say, everything I wanted her to know.
I kept repeating, “It’s ok, she’s ok, I’m ok, it’s going to be ok.” And in those moments, and for some time after, it was. It was the peace that we, you, prayed for. It was God. And I heard another cry out of Valencia. I think Dr. G came over and gave me calm, reassuring updates about Valencia. I remember telling Matt, Laura and Anna that it was ok to take Laurencia over to her sister to get a photo of them together before they took Valencia to the NICU. I wanted them to do that and when minutes later I found out what had happened, I was so thankful that we made that decision.
About five minutes later Dr. G came over and told me that Laurencia had passed away. While tears streamed down my face, I was joyful for her perfect soul. To me, she is, was, and always will be, perfection. How many people can say they have been in the presence of perfection? It was as near to Jesus as I could ever hope to be while alive on this earth. The privilege of holding and knowing my girl is something I cherish. I felt as though I was suspended in a place between Heaven and Earth. It was holy and sacred and beautiful and I don’t know how else to explain it but I will never forget it.
Matt, Laura and Anna came back with Laurencia and told me that she was holding her sister’s hand when she died.
I learned later that prior to her time of death being called, Laurencia’s beloved godmother used her own tears to baptize her goddaughter.
They brought both of my girls to me before bringing Valencia to the NICU to be assessed. Dr. G reassured me that she would be ok but they just needed to make sure she didn’t need extra help with oxygen or anything else. I got to hold my girls together. My sister handed her to me and was fussing over our girl. She loves her like I love her.
When the doctors had me put back together and our Laurencia was bundled up in her beautiful blankie and her special hat put on, we all went to the recovery room. I took some time to fuss with my girl, it was like having a little dolly.
I could have held her forever. Fr. Richards said prayers over our girl and anointed her. We had many such special, sacred and holy moments and I share a small portion of this one with you.
After a short while, Laurencia’s siblings first got to meet and hold her. And they instantly fell in love. Hard. Mae kept saying, “That’s MY SHISHTER!” “I wanna hode it!” She always says the same thing — I wanna hode it! about Anna’s baby Maggie. Mae never questioned where or how this baby came to be, she just knew this was her sister and she really wanted her. As much as I tried to prepare the kids, I also knew that they wouldn’t fully understand until they met her. And indeed this was true. It was hard for them to understand (as it is me) how she could be so perfect yet not be able to stay. They still ask me why.
But before they had to say their first goodbye, we were so blessed by being able to have our whole family all in one room. Valencia was stable (no respirator!) and they brought her in from the NICU knowing our family would have very few moments all together. Another priceless gift which was aided by a professional photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a beautiful organization to whom we are forever grateful.
One by one those who love Laurencia came to meet and hold her. Eventually I was moved from the recovery room back to my room where Laurencia’s grandparents, aunties and uncles came to meet her.
Laurencia’s auntie Rachie and godfather Billy brought her the most beautiful pinky pink birthday cake. I had asked Rachie if she would get a cake and I wanted it pink. Well, this one was. It was beautiful and perfect for our girl. So many of us were gathered in my room and we sang Happy Birthday to Laurencia. The cake had two candles in it, one for her sister who was in the NICU. Mae Mae particularly loved the happy birthday part and was singing her own rendition over and over. It was cute and heartbreaking.
Later, in my room, after grandmas and papa and aunties left, the kids had to say goodbye. It was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever been witness to. I really don’t want to write about it or look at these images. My heart almost couldn’t bear it the first time and seeing it again…..their grief and pain at having to let go of their sister was indescribable. They kept asking for one more kiss, one more time to hold her, one more feel of her soft and perfect fingies, one more …. and soon I too, would know how they would feel. I tried to find the right time to tell them it was time to go. It was almost impossible. But I promised them they could say goodbye again at the funeral.
After everyone left, it was me and my husband and our girl. We did not at all have the heart or want to have her sent to the hospital morgue so we kept her in my room all night. I can’t talk about everything we talked about or describe our night with our precious child. It was and always will be the most sacred time in my life. I studied every millimeter of her and held her and rubbed her fingers over and over. She is burned into my soul. I took a few photos of my perfect girl.
In the morning I knew I could no longer care for her little body the best way it needed care. So I called the funeral home. It was very hard waiting and knowing they were coming to get her, to take her from my arms. I took this one last picture of her with her daddy.
Her daddy took this one last picture of her with me. I hesitated to share this photo as it means more to me than I could convey. This is me stripped down to nothing, holding everything. I once heard a mother talk about giving up her daughter for adoption. She said that she saved the tissues she cried into because they held the saddest tears she had ever cried. These were the saddest tears I have ever cried. I felt as though I was being torn in two.
And then he came. With a black box that looked like a big briefcase. And Laurencia’s daddy tenderly laid her in the box while I fell to pieces. And the man shut the box and waited for me to say it was ok. It was never going to be ok so I just told him to go. I had Matt walk with them out of the room and all the way to the car. Our girl was never alone or without us until the last moment. And so she left me, just like that and my arms were empty and my heart was broken, but it was full.
I was in a great deal of pain from the surgery, something I had never experienced before. I got up and started moving. I took a shower and was able to go visit my other girl. I was given two precious gifts and I do believe that what Wyatt said all those months ago is true. That God knew Laurencia was going to have to leave us so he made them identical twins because He also wanted us to have a baby to bring home. Of course I don’t have to say that Valencia cannot replace her sister, nor would I want her to. They may have been identical twins but they each have their own unique soul. Valencia is, however, the most precious reminder of her sister and a most precious gift all on her own. We experienced the greatest grief and the greatest joy all in a matter of one minute. I had been so concerned with our sadness overshadowing the joy of the birth of our Valencia. But it has not. It’s IMPOSSIBLE not to smile and feel amazingly blessed when I hold her.
We had great, GREAT news yesterday about Valencia and I called just now for more breaking great news. She’s off the cpap (which you see in the above photos) and was using only a nasal cannula (below) and breathing room air all night last night. I just got word that they removed the nasal cannula as well! She has a nasal gastric (ng) feeding tube which is now in her nose, making her more comfortable. So now it’s all about feeding and growing before she can come home. She has no other health issues. She is HEALTHY AND STRONG! I prayed so hard that I would be fine through the surgery and that my little Valencia would not require a respirator or have any other serious issues. And I told myself that I would remember to count those blessings should I receive them and not let them be overshadowed by grief.
Even greater is that within a few days, if she is able to continue breathing on her own with no episodes of apnea, they will transfer her to a hospital closer to our home. This is HUGE. No parking fees, long drive time through the city, or being so far from my girl who will need me close so she can start to eat like a baby should. Regarding her feedings, she’s simply too young to properly nurse so she’s being fed through the tube but that will all change soon and she’ll be well on her way to actually coming home for good.
Valencia is so special, because she is Valencia. But she is also special because she shares a unique bond with her big sister who, as I said, is perfection. She shares the exact same DNA as her sister and they shared my tummy for seven months. They are forever united. Her sister is now with Jesus and I imagine the magnitude of glory she is in is as vast as my love for her and as deep as my grief at losing her. And I also imagine she will be with Valencia forever until they can hold hands again in Heaven.
I will live the rest of my life missing my Laurencia, telling her how much I loved her and how privileged I am to be her mother. I will also do everything I can to live up to that honor, despite knowing I never can. I am humbled and I am blessed. I am the mother of Laurencia Rachel Witschen, the victorious little lamb.
I spoke about how throughout being pregnant with my girls I kept hearing the message, Joy Comes in the Morning. And when I looked it up I found this passage:
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
I talked about the weeping and I talked about waiting for the joy. But what I hadn’t noticed before and what strikes me now is the part about Life. Laurencia has the promise of eternal life. Whether we are grieving in our dark hours or joyous over new beginnings, each of these things coming and going sometimes minute by minute or hour by hour, what always remains is that she may live forever, for in His favor is Life.
We welcome those of you who loved her, who were in any way affected by her life or who would like to celebrate the Life of Laurencia and to say goodbye, to join us next Friday.
Laurencia Rachel Witschen, infant daughter of Mathew W. & Katrina A. (Dehmer) Witschen, passed away peacefully in the loving arms of her daddy and in the presence of her mommy and aunties while holding the hand of her identical twin sister, Valencia Katerina, on Monday, August 26, 2013 at Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Laurencia is further survived by siblings: Gabriella, Anabella, Wyatt, Paulina and Maebelina; grandmother: Joyce Witschen and grandparents: John & Julie Dehmer; Godparents: Laura (Dehmer) Nielsen and Billy Dehmer; many more aunts, uncles and cousins.
Preceded in death by grandfather: Alfred Witschen.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Laurencia Witshen will be held at The Church of St. Michael in St. Michael, MN on Friday, September 6th, 2013 at 6:00 P.M. Father Peter Richards will be the Celebrant.
Interment will follow at The St. Michael Cemetery.
A visitation will be held on Friday, September 6th from 5:00 P.M. till 6:00 P.M. at St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael.