I thought it would be tremendously difficult to leave her here without any family members around to look after her place and visit her. Well, I have to say that I couldn't have been more wrong. I mean, it was tough to leave her, but I cannot even begin to describe the gratitude and joy I felt after receiving numerous text messages, pictures, emails, phone calls, etc., from friends who had stopped by to visit her while I was gone!!! It was overwhelming!
I received several texts from friends who took their kids by to visit Hailey, with pictures of how cute her place was decorated for the 4th of July. I received a video from a friend and her daughter who stopped by. I received a phone call from a dear friend who lost her brother in a tragic accident several years ago on the 4th of July. Her parents came down to visit and they all spent their 4th of July at Hailey's Place...with sparklers and everything! (Oh, and her father even found a dime as he walked out of the store from buying the supplies!) I just don't think I could be any more blessed with such amazing people in my life. How could I even imagined that so many friends of mine (and some I don't even know very well) would take the time out of their summer to go and visit my baby girl. What an honor it is for me to have you all in my life.
I also want to acknowledge those of you who don't live nearby and are unable to visit Hailey, yet continue to send me emails, comments, Facebook messages, etc., of encouragement. I literally read and save every single one and am touched over and over again by the support you all have shown me. I hope and pray that no one close to me ever has to go through something like this, but I can promise each of you that if it ever were to happen, I will pay it forward and take just as good care of them as you all have of me.
Lastly, I want to thank all of my family and friends whom I visited during this trip for handling our loss with such dignity and respect. Many of you I was seeing for the first time since Hailey passed away, however it was as if you were right here beside me this entire past year. I know most of you continue to read my blog regularly so you're always aware of where I am in this process and how I'm feeling. For that, I'm grateful. I think it made it much easier and less awkward to see you all.
I have to say that the most difficult part of my trip was the last week. We drove down and spent it with Sean's family. I think it was the most difficult because I wanted Hailey's grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins to be able to experience her. Many times I would just sit and watch Lexi and Ava playing with their cousins and just wonder where Hailey would have been in that mix. What would she have been doing? Who would she have bonded with and played with? More realistically, who would she have yelled at and tormented! :) I had several emotional breakdowns.
Sean's brother and sister-in-law have four adorable boys. They are seriously the sweetest, nicest boys you could ever meet. Their youngest, Sam, turned 3 while we were there. I have to admit that it was extremely difficult to watch him because he was the same age as Hailey was when she passed away. He talked and acted in a similar way to her and honestly, even looked a little like her. There were times when I just wanted to scoop him up and hug him just to feel a child that size in my arms again. However, amongst all the pain came an enormous blessing that I never could have anticipated. Sam's 3rd birthday fell on the Saturday that we were there and Hailey's 4th birthday is coming up on July 20th. My sister-in-law asked me if I would like to throw a joint birthday party for the two of them. I was thrilled! I knew it would be extremely emotional for me, however, I also knew what a precious experience it would be. While Sean and I were visiting some friends, she took Lexi shopping and let her help plan the entire party. Lexi was so excited and had a blast! When we got back, she couldn't wait to show us what she did. They decorated with Dora (one of Hailey's favorites), made a huge birthday poster, a plate of cupcakes for both Hailey and Sam, a bag of Lay's Potato Chips, party hats, balloons, goodie bags, and even a pinata. I have to say though, that the most touching part of the entire party were the two special chairs they had for Sam and Hailey. Sean's brother printed out an adorable picture of Hailey from her last birthday party and taped it onto her chair. I couldn't believe how thoughtful they were. They remembered everything!
The Birthday Party
(That other white chair was Sam's!)
We tried to get a family photo...
and yep, this is typical!
I'll admit that as they sang Happy Birthday to both of them, the tears flowed from my eyes. I tried so hard to keep it together, but the pain was almost unbearable. Yet beneath it all was that little glimmer of joy. Joy for Hailey and the fact that she was remembered. Joy for such compassionate family members who would include her at their son's birthday party. Joy for Lexi and the pride in her eyes for this party she helped plan. I could just see Hailey standing on that chair next to her little cousin, with the hugest smile on her face, yelling, "I'm here guys! I'm here! And I love it!" The pain was there...it was so raw, but the joy was there too. The gratitude I feel toward my sister-in-law for including us in that birthday party is beyond words and something that I will never forget.
I have to say that's the most important thing I learned from this trip. Acknowledge it. When around someone who you know is grieving...acknowledge it. I know that it is extremely scary and you don't have a clue of what to say or know how they'll react. I can say, however, from very personal experience that most people want you to acknowledge their loss and keep that person alive in your hearts and memories. When in doubt, just ask. Ask them how they're doing or if they would like to talk about their loved one. All they have to do is say, "No," and then you'll know what to do from there. Most likely though, I'll bet that they'll be so grateful that you remembered and acknowledged their loved one because I can promise you...they haven't forgotten for one second. Even when they aren't talking about it, it's there on their mind every minute. I have to admit that I could talk about Hailey all day, everyday. I love talking about her and remembering her. But, it's also scary for me because I don't want to be considered a "downer" or someone who can't stop talking about it. So, honestly, as awkward as it is for those who are on the other side of the situation, I think it's just as awkward for us on this side. (Again, just a reminder that I'm only speaking from my experience and perspective...I am well aware that there are some who don't like to talk about it...that's why it's so important to just ask.)
Well, this is getting quite long, so I'm just going to say that I'm so glad I survived and I'm even more glad to be home. We went and visited Hailey the day we got home and her place was gorgeous...so loved! There were flowers, balloons, flags, stars, etc., all left by those who stopped by to visit her. I love thinking that when people who don't know her walk by her spot, they'll think, "Wow, that little girl sure is loved and missed."
Hailey's Place when we returned!
She was so happy!
Thank you again to all of you who support me through whatever means you're able. I honestly would not be where I am today without you.