July 20, 2007 Zoey Mackenzie entered this world, never having taken one single breath. Thirty-six weeks into my sister's third pregnancy, this black-headed, tiny little baby who had the chin of her daddy, passed into eternity because of a tangled umbilical cord.
I thought the pink box was empty because it felt weightless, but when I opened the clasp, I found cards from friends, handwritten notes, and her obituary among other mementos.
The piece of paper laying on top of the small stack was a a computer printout with the title "A Granddaddy's Thoughts" written simply across the top. I remembered, then, that at some point during the numbing months that followed, someone sent me (or perhaps I found? I honestly can't remember) John Piper's "What I Said at My Granddaughter's Funeral," which you can read here. Mr. Piper captures, in a way only a family member can, the raw grief something like a stillbirth arouses.
With my own developing pregnancy and with July quickly approaching, tears came easily as I reread Mr. Piper's words. To honor the sweet girl we never had the opportunity to really know, I've decided to rewrite Mr. Piper's short piece with words that reflect my family's experience.
I never knew Zoey Mackenzie. My experience of her life was entirely through Erin's pregnancy. And my experience of her death, even though I held her tiny frame for a few brief minutes after delivery, is in every way affected by how other people experienced her death.
What it means for me to be Zoey's aunt is that I am living this loss with my family, and because of my love for these people, there is a powerful sweetness in this pain.
Being Zoey's aunt means that I have tasted her loss through the women in my family - Mom, Mamaw, JJ, Nona. The measure of her worth and greatness of her loss have been written on their faces, and they are more beautiful for it.
Being Zoey's aunt means that I have felt her loss in the shattered expectations of my niece Ashlyn and my nephew Austin. It was not easy to go back to school, but your teachers were kind and you shared bravely about the loss of your little sister.
Being Zoey's aunt means that I have felt the loss through her mother, my sister, Erin. For her entire life she depended on you more than anyone. You fed her, you supported her, you protected her, you knew her better than anyone. The grace that God has given you to love her greatly and let her go is amazing. Christ is on display in your life. Nothing, Erin, has gone deeper inside of me than your loss.
I believe that Zoey was met in the presence of Christ by others in our family that have passed into eternity. They may have taken her sweet, tiny hand and said, "Hello, Zoey. We know your mommy and daddy, but come, there is somebody I want you to meet. His name is Jesus. He's the reason you're here. You don't need to be afraid. Your Savior has led you all the way. And Jesus does all things well.
**Much of the phrasing is copied directly from Piper's message, so please credit him, not me, for what's written here in italics. Thank you, Mr. Piper, for giving me words to remember my niece.**