Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Acknowledging Our Grief Anniversaries...5 Years


…not a single one has passed that I haven’t thought of her.

Five years. How has it been five years since the longest and shortest 26 hours of my life? So much has happened in the years since Kate’s birth. It sometimes feels like compassionate Father Time is smoothing the jagged, painful edges of the memories into something more gentle and palatable. I don’t know whether to say thank you or to lash out in protective anger. Part of me appreciates the dulling of the pain while a huge part of me is rebelling at its fading… wanting to feel every second of it, willing to bleed…to know and remember forever.

No matter how much time passes these yearly anniversaries are the biggest hurdle. They continue to be arresting and suffocating. Perhaps a disguised mercy is that because Kate’s life was so brief I was spared many of the more frequent, surprising triggers that affect others who have lost loved ones. We never shared mornings, milestones or a lifetime of memories...just brief moments that pack themselves into two unforgettable days. 

In the past five years I have been called upon to reach out to, support and counsel other grieving mothers. Also, I have been asked multiple times by my friends and family for advice or words of love and encouragement to share with grieving parents they know. My love and dedication to Kate has made these missions of support and understanding possible. In these moments, I have the unmistakable feeling that Kate is with me serving as my foundation of strength and support so I can in turn share strength, experience and an exemplified promise of tomorrow with others that are hurting.

I treasure these moments when I feel Kate is close, but I feel closest to Kate through my sweet Ben. Even though he was only two and a half when she was born he has the deepest most amazing connection with her.  While my body will forever have the most direct physical connection to her life and our hearts once beat together, Ben’s tender heart has a direct connection to her spirit for which I am so very thankful. (Their connection really is incredible to experience!)

My grief continues to and will forever be a journey. Kate’s life and death fractured my foundation and have forever changed my life, but I have found my path and continue to walk in the shoes of a grieving mother.  The painful shoes I put on five years ago are beginning to soften as I break them in more and more every day...every year. I am ready to take the next step in celebrating Kate’s life and legacy.


Thank you for your outpouring of love and support over the past five years. As cliche as it sounds, I could not have made it through without you. I look back at my "Drowning" post when things were the darkest and realize how far I have come.  I made it out of the rabbit hole, out of the trenches, out of the darkness.  I am forever changed, but I am okay.  I am stronger. I have been blessed with good, lasting and meaningful experiences that were made possible by Kate.  She continues to make a difference...she inspires me to be better and do better every day.

(Now...go forth and be kind!) 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Angels Among Us...In Angel Gowns

I had no intention of crafting another blog post so soon following my last entry on Kate’s second anniversary…but I never anticipated this…

Last Wednesday we were graced by a visit by one of Matt’s life-long friends, Katie Wildman, whom we had not seen in a few years.  Along with the smiles, warmth and love that always accompany Katie she brought with her a non-descript cardboard box.  Unbeknownst to me, the box was filled with handcrafted treasures made possible by a circle of love…all in honor of my sweet Kate.  Below is the letter I found inside the box from Katie’s mom Sandy.

Matt and Betsy,

The day Betsy posted information about NICU Helping Hands on her Facebook page I was taken with the idea of sewing in your Kate’s honor.  I volunteered immediately and waited patiently for instructions.   My reaction was sincere and didn’t diminish over the five months it took for the organization to contact me.  They had been very, very busy in the meantime.

Originally, a NICU doctor in Fort Worth asked his wife to organize support for the families of the babies he cared for.  Her small local group provided education, counseling and funds.  She knew her wedding gown wouldn’t be used again, for she had four sons.  The dress was used to make the first Angel Gowns.  After four years the organization was invited to do a local TV spot.  The spot was picked up nationally and internationally and NICU Helping Hands became an overnight sensation.  Within weeks they had 8,000 donated wedding gowns and 400 volunteer seamstresses.  That’s about the time I volunteered.  Since March of 2014 they have worked tirelessly to deal with the overwhelming challenges of becoming an overnight nationwide organization.  First, where do you store 8,000 dresses?

A family who had benefited from the organization’s care donated warehouse space.  The group spent Saturdays in an un-air conditioned warehouse in Texas heat, packing wedding dresses to be shipped to their volunteer seamstresses.  They built a Facebook page and a sewing support team to guide them. 

Finally, an official press release was posted and I asked Shannon Sloan Datitilo to post the NICU announcement on her Facebook page because she has 1,500 friends.  I received 15 weddings gowns as a result.

Shannon also has challenges for she adopted a daughter with CP.  She knew she would never marry and wanted to donate her dress, but wanted a picture of her daughter in the dress.  Adrianna, who is nine, nonspeaking and wheelchair bound was not happy with our attempt at a photo shoot and with tears in both their eyes, Shannon sent me home with her wedding dress.  I couldn’t bring myself to cut into her dress and sent a message that I was returning it.  Shannon called a professional photographer and the enclosed pictures are a result.  The photographer had also experienced NICU services.  She offered to take pictures of the finished Angel Gowns from Shannon’s dress.  They will be included in the NICU Helping Hands blog along with a story about you, Kate, Shannon, Adrianna and Hannah, the photographer.  This experience has created so many exceptional moments of love and kindness.  We have created a circle of love and it started with Baby Kate.

The idea of cutting into a wedding dress was tantalizing; I couldn’t resist!  Working with the fabrics, beading, lace and buttons has been a treat, but with every Angel Gown I finished I thought of your Kate and the day I could demonstrate my sincere sorrow for your loss.  I have donated 50 Angel Gowns and bonnets in Katherine Elizabeth Mitchell’s honor.  Each of the 50 families who receive the gowns will be comforted in her honor.  Her legacy is one of love.


I read the letter and cried with Katie.  Behind the letter I found the following photos and my tears were replaced with a huge smile.  What an incredibly beautiful photo of Adrianna and of her and her mother Shannon!  What a special memory!  What love!

After reading the letter and smiling at the photos I slowly, very carefully, admired each one of the sample selection of Angel Gowns Sandy had sent.   Holding each gown I held tremendous love…

…a physical manifestation of the love felt on one of the happiest days of a woman’s life...her wedding day…

…the love and hope a mother feels from the moment a she discovers she is carrying a new life and is expecting a baby…

…and the love and talent of a volunteer seamstress to help honor a brief life and immeasurable grief.

Below are just a few photos of the many gowns and bonnets Sandy sent to share with me. 

This is Kate’s gown and bonnet. The photo does not begin to do it justice!  It's beautiful!  It was made from one of my wedding dresses and I feel it embodies everything I pictured Kate to be…beautiful, classy, refined, elegant and simply lovely.  It warms my heart to know that I now have something that has been ‘passed down’ to Kate.  Matt and I have decided we will have Kate’s gown and bonnet mounted and preserved in a shadow box until she is interred with me.

I intend to keep a couple of the gowns and donate them to the Iowa City NICU/PICU.  Our family owes a visit to the hospital staff who so lovingly cared for us in the days before and after Kate’s time with us.  With Sandy’s help I will send the remaining gowns on to the Helping Hands organization in Texas who will then pass them along to other families.

And so continues Kate’s story of lasting love! are awesome!  Thank you for sharing your love and talent with us and so many others!  Your generosity and talented fingers have given us a lasting memory and will undoubtedly give the families who receive your Angel Gowns a little comfort knowing their baby was love, celebrated and remembered.   

Kate...Way to go baby girl!  Keep up the good work! ;-)  


About NICU Helping Hands ‘Angel Gowns’:  Our organization believes that every life matters and should be honored – no matter how brief that life may be.  We are honored to help provide a little piece of hope in the midst of these very dark days. Hope in knowing that someone cares and that grieving families are not alone. Complete strangers joining together to honor the life of a lost baby. A priceless gift in the form of a simple Angel Gown garment provided by a donating bride, a volunteer seamstress and NICU Helping Hands.

To read more about the organization, to donate or to request a gown please visit:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Time...Wounds...Pain Lessens...

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree.  The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  But it is never gone.”
                                                                                                                        ~Rose Kennedy

It has been two years…it has been 730 sunrises…it has been 17,520 hours since the longest and shortest 26 hours of my life.  In that time I can say, with absolutely certainty that not a single day has passed that I have not thought about Kate.  I think about Kate every morning when I see her picture and when I pull out of my driveway and my car faces “Kate’s tree” that is planted at the end of our cul-de-sac with her monument beneath.  I think about Kate when I see a little girl that is about her (would-be) age and resembles how I picture Kate in my mind.  I think about Kate when I’m snuggling a sleeping Lyla.  I think about Kate when I am asked how many children I have.  I think about Kate when I see and touch the physical scars left behind.  It’s safe to say I still think about Kate all of the time.

The familiar dread of this past week’s anniversary washed over me again yesterday, but it was nothing like the paralyzing heartache I experienced last year.

                              Pain Lessens…

Last year I relived every hour of every day of that week as if I was there again…starting with her diagnosis on Tuesday our day in Iowa City on Wednesday, her birth on Friday and our tearful good bye on Saturday.  That week last year was, excruciating, lonely and heartbreaking; however, once the week ended and the first anniversary of Kate’s short time with us passed I felt a weight lifted.  I felt as if I could walk a little taller. Last year I was eight months pregnant with a little girl whose due date was only one day after Kate’s.  Needless to say my emotions, hormones and fears were all running on overdrive.  Until I weathered Kate’s first anniversary week I had not realized how guarded and almost disconnected I was with Lyla’s pregnancy.  In hindsight I realized that emotionally I felt as though I needed to devote an entire year to actively grieving for Kate before I could look forward to the birth of another sweet little girl.  The passing of her first anniversary felt like a wave on the shore… it brought with it a new layer of peace and took away some of the emotional burden I had been shouldering for the past year.

                              Pain Lessens…

In year two I continue to become more and more comfortable in my ‘new normal’ and am beginning to see more and more of the person I was and the person I want to be.  There are still times I fight the fear and negativity that is often left in the wake of tragic loss, but I no longer feel guilty when I laugh and have a good time and I no longer face daily fears that something tragic will happen to one of my other three children.  (I know I will always be vulnerable to fears of losing another child, but I hope that paralyzing fear will continue to dissipate with additional time.)  I can (and did just last month) cry in the produce section of the grocery store with a total stranger who was gushing over Lyla and shared with me her heartbreaking story of losing a child, but after hugging her and walking away I smiled, sent a little prayer to Kate telling her I love and miss her and continued to have a day that was not overcome with consuming grief.  I have finally found an answer to the question, “How many children do you have?” that I feel includes Kate, but does not make the inquirer uncomfortable.   In the days, weeks, and years moving forward my goal is to be the most whole, positive and impactful person I can be.  I will forever strive to be someone that an angel would be proud to call ‘mom’!

My once shattered heart is being pieced back together and mended with scar tissue (and by Kate’s little sister).  Still, I have realized through my own experience and through conversations with other mothers who have lost children that the grief never ends.

“Grief never ends… but it changes.  It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.”   ~Author Unknown   

My Journey, my passage continues… A mother’s natural instinct is to protect her baby and her children.  When a child dies, the mother’s instinct is to protect their memory.  You are remembered Kate…You are remembered, and loved and missed! Thank you to everyone who continues to remember Kate.