Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Planning a memorial

Dear friends,

Sorry for the long message. It’s been a hard couple of days. Realizing the task ahead of us of planning a memorial for our dear little daughter is a little much. However, we hit the ground running, making calls and trying to learn the first steps of what ones does in such a situation. We made good progress for a while, then we got tired and started bickering a little with each other. Then we regrouped and made more progress.

Most of the time it went well, making the phone calls and collecting information, until someone asks why we’re calling and we have to tell them that our daughter just died. Or if they ask for a name, the conversation just stops for a moment as we struggle to compose ourselves and speak. Sometimes I just want to avoid the topic all together to avoid any awkwardness.

It’s hard to figure out just what kind of memorial service to plan. We think of questions like: “What was Madeline’s life all about? What do we most want people to remember about Madeline?”. And we hadn’t even considered that we were supposed to do something with her body. The support you all have lent us has been incredible. You have given us ideas and things to think about, and even a really funny story.

The kids are taking this all too well. We worry sometimes that they don’t understand what’s going on, but they do. The know where Madeline is and they have what we all wish we had, the faith of a child. As I sit here typing this email, Miranda came in and started bouncing on the bed. I told her how much I appreciate her and her sisters letting mommy and daddy have all this time off to plan for Madeline’s memorial. Her reply: “But Madeline is in heaven with God!” I told her to always remind me of that.

There’s been this group of people on Facebook who have been going gung ho to help us. They are parents of children with CHD (Congenital Heart Defect), some who are with us, and some who aren’t. They are all over us like bees on honey, offering condolences, creating prayer chains, sending gifts, offering phone numbers in case we want to talk, making a special ribbon in honor of Madeline to raise money for us. Really it’s just incredible. They almost seem overwhelming in a way and I just couldn’t figure out why they were doing what they were doing until now.

I was driving around yesterday thinking about Madeline and missing her terribly. I became afraid that I might start to lose the memory of her. I was scared to death that one day, the sharp crisp memory of the life she spent with us and the awful pain we felt when her heart stopped might be replaced by a fuzzy memory of a daughter I once knew. I want to feel the joy of having her as a daughter, as well as the pain of losing her, each day for the rest of my life.

5 months, they go by in a flash. I don’t remember the first 5 months I was married and I don’t remember the first 5 months of each of my other daughters lives. It’s different with my other children, because even though I don’t remember everything that happened, I do remember the highlights, and we’re always creating new memories each and every day. With Madeline, these 5 months are all we’ve got, there aren’t going to be any new memories with her until we get to heaven.

I understand now wanting to reach out to others who will struggle as we have. I can’t wait to tell them “We’re here for you, we will help you, we will pray for you” and to ask them about their child and tell them about our daughter. And I want to rejoice with their joy and suffer with them in grief because it will help keep Madeline alive in the most active parts of our brain where we won’t lose her.

As Lisa and I think about Madeline and how and where to remember her. All we can think is how badly we want to get back to the hospital. Children’s Hospital was Madeline’s life, all that she knew and all the time we spent with her was there. And not just time spent with her, that is where we also made friends and comforted and prayed for others who were in the same situation as us. We encouraged one another and celebrated big when a baby got to go home. We’re going to have a gravesite, and we’re going to have a service, but we want Madeline’s memories to be at Children’s.

A lot of you have offered help and some of you have just started to help without any direction from us and we thank you for all you have done. Here’s how we would like you to help us now. Lisa and I have talked often of, when this is all over, taking our family on a wonderful vacation – somewhere sunny with a beach. We want to spend quality time with our kids to make up for all the time they didn’t get to have us, all the times that mommy or daddy didn’t come home from the hospital and they had to spend it somewhere other than home. They tolerated it well, but we do miss that time with them.

Also, we want to give money to the Children’s Hospital Foundation. If money is donated in honor of Madeline Grace Wiegel they will set up a fund in her name and we will get to decide how that money is used. Whether it’s to help families in the NICU, or provide services for families that lost a child, or to order comfortable pillows for all the moms that spend nights there to be close to their child (if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about). If the contributions exceed $1,000.00 then Madeline’s name will be memorialized on a plaque in the hospital. And we can always continue to have fund raisers (5K race anyone?) and contribute to her fund over the years to help others.

Another thing the hospital has offered us is that if we wanted to meet with their designer and pick out and purchase a piece of artwork for the hospital then we could have a small plaque with Madeline’s name on it next to the artwork. Lisa and I could think of nothing better than to be back in the hospital, on the 4th floor, in the NICU waiting room staring at a beautiful painting and a small sign that read “Madeline was here”. It would give us an opportunity just to be there and to say hi to Madeline’s nurses, and pray for those families who are struggling and for the babies in the NICU where our daughter once lived.

If you would like to contribute, and we would appreciate that more than flowers or gifts (although we won’t turn either away), you can send checks to Shanker & Lisa Wiegel, 460 Prairie Ridge Road, Highlands Ranch, CO 80126. If you would like the money to go the Children’s Hospital Foundation, simply write that on the check. If you would rather the money go to us, please use our names. The money we receive would go towards memorial expenses, a family vacation, artwork for the hospital, and the remainder we would include with our contribution to the Children’s Hospital.

You all have been terrific. You have been such a blessing to our family and to Madeline. I will keep telling you that, I hope you don’t mind. We appreciate all the support, generosity, love and prayers so much. Your notes of support back to us have been the most precious. I praise God for blessing us with such great friends. We are planning a memorial service for Madeline Grace and will include all of you in the details when we figure them out. In the meantime, please keep us in your prayers as we plan the memorial service, specifically pray for wisdom and calm hearts.

Shanker & Lisa.

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