Grace's First Birthday in Heaven

Birthday celebrations. A lot of things come to mind when I think of a birthday celebration; things like cake, candles, balloons, creative invitations, a themed party with many loved ones around, presents, birthday hats and trinkets, and making a wish. These things are so much a part of our culture, every year for every relative we do some or all of these things to celebrate the life of our loved ones.

When Grace's first birthday was only a few months away I started to feel a sense of dread, panic and deep sadness. I love to plan big parties and I am always putting on some special event for the birthdays of my relatives and friends. And now here I had a significant date approaching for my first and only baby girl's first birthday and there would be no big celebration, no creative invitations, and no pictures to smile at remembering the first time Grace would have smeared her cake on her face.

Grace was born on a cold Minnesota morning and the thought of spending her first birthday in a cold and dreary place just seemed way too depressing. I needed a place that was warm and peaceful, a place where I could sit outside and reflect. The ocean has always been a good place for me to do just that. I also decided I had to be true to who I am as a mother to Grace. I still needed to make a creative birthday card, and have a special day to plan things just for her.

My husband Stephen and I worked on writing a birthday poem to put on her handmade birthday cards and we decorated little candles with pink and white iridescent ribbon. We gave these special cards and candles to our family and friends and asked them to light the candles on her birthday in honor and remembrance of our dear Grace.

My husband and I ended up going to California for the Christmas holidays and we had the most incredible time. Grace's birthday ended up being the most amazing day, far beyond anything I had envisioned. We actually had our best day since Grace's stillbirth. Those who have experience loss, understand what it is to have bad days and good days. On her birthday we had no heartache, no anger, there was no sobbing, just a sense of peace and a feeling of an encompassing love that surrounded us both. We felt like there were angels surrounding us all day and that Grace gave us a special visit....

As a present from my family for Grace's birthday, we were put up at a beautiful hotel with a room facing the ocean. From the moment we stepped into the hotel we were treated like royalty and everyone was so kind to us. We went to our lovely room and found we had a gorgeous view. We left to get some lunch and found a nice little restaurant on a pier that was built up high and right over the water. It felt like we were on a ship. The sun was nice and warm with perfect temperatures. We met our waiter and that's when we both had a sense that something was different. By appearances our waiter looked like a big, rough and tough Harley dude with his bald head and tattooed body. But he came up to our table and he knelt down and just looked us deeply in our eyes and quietly asked us, "How are you doing?" He kept his eyes strong and I saw something in his eyes and got the goose bumps all over my body. We told him we were doing ok and he just smiled, winked and we felt like he had known us a long time. He said "Well, I am here for you, and whatever you need I will take care of you guys. I will give you some time..." He left and we both had felt something. My husband and I just started laughing and shaking our heads. At the end of our meal I asked if by chance he had some matches. He turned around and handed me a brand new lighter. I explained that I needed them to light our candle later on and that I would not be able to use his lighter. I tried to give it back to him and he politely refused and said "You can keep the lighter, no need to give it back." We were treated as a guest in someone's home by this waiter and we so enjoyed our time together.

We walked along the beach and sat to watch the sun for an hour. We lit Grace's birthday candle and we talked about what she would have been like, how beautiful she was and we talked to her like she was right beside us.

We ventured on to look for a florist. After driving for awhile I saw a little shop and asked Stephen to quickly pull over. We walked in to the store and the owner greeted us with a smile and asked us how we were doing. She asked how she could help us and I asked her if she had any pastel pink roses. She said she had only 4 stems left, but she had hundreds of white, yellow and a bright pink. I asked how much they would be and she stated that they were $4.95 a stem. I said that I would take the 4 pastel and 4 yellow and 4 white. She asked me how I would like them prepared and I said that I just needed the petals and if she could put them in a plastic bag that would be wonderful.

She looked at me and studied my face, and then she turned to her assistant and motioned with her head to the 2 huge buckets of roses. She directed the assistant to give us the 2 buckets. I wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but she started to talk with us and distracted my attention away from her assistant. She ended up asking what we were going to do with the flowers petals. I explained that it was our daughter's first birthday in heaven and we were going to write Grace's name very large in the sand and sprinkle the rose petals around her name. She had tears in her eyes and she shared that she never was able to have children, and she was so sorry for our loss. She turned around and handed us a bag filled with the petals of over a 100 roses and she smiled at us and said, "I hope you find such peace and comfort in your time at the ocean and that you have the most beautiful day."

We left the store with tears in our eyes, and my husband realized as we closed the door that she had been closed for 2 hours before we had walked in! Again we got the goose bumps! Wow. What a blessing!

We drove onto our next destination, to find balloons at the store that the florist told us about. As we were walking in, my husband reminded of our time and that it would be getting dark soon. He asked me what kind of balloons I had wanted. We thought there might be a big selection, and we could both look. I told him that I wanted a Whinney the Poo Happy 1st Birthday balloon and a huge, friendly looking dolphin, with a bunch of filler balloons in the colors of the rose petals we had.

We found the balloons. They had only a small selection of 20 balloons on an end cap display. Our jaws dropped and we both started crying. There were the exact balloons I had just told him I was hoping to find with the exact number available!

As I went to get them blown up the cashier was being so sweet and helpful. She ended up asking, "So where's the birthday party at?" I didn't want to make her feel bad, but I didn't want to lie, so I shared that it was our daughter's first birthday in heaven. She started to tear up and she said how sorry she was and that she felt so bad. She ended up sharing that her sister and her are very close and her sister had delivered twins 3 years ago and one of the babies died at birth and the other is 3 years old now, but he has terminal cancer. She and I cried together and we held hands and our hearts went out to each other. She gave me a free Gerber Daisy which I love, and she said as she held my hand, "I hope tonight is the most amazing and beautiful night for you and your husband together with Grace."

We left and went to the hotel to get our camera and to change, and we proceeded across the street to the ocean. There was only one other couple on the whole beach and we walked a long while and talked, until we were the only ones on the beach. Then we wrote Grace's name really big in the sand and sprinkled the rose petals all over the ocean. We talked to Grace as if she could hear every word. We released all of the balloons except for the Dolphin balloon, which we had decided to release in the morning at the 24 hour ending of her birthday. We had an amazing time. It wasn't joyful but it was definitely peaceful.

When we got back to the hotel we set our alarm to wake us up at 4:45am. We wanted to release the dolphin balloon at the 24 hour ending of her birthday and she was born at 6:54am MN time and CA is 2 hours earlier. So when the alarm went off, I went and took the balloon string, pulled it down from the ceiling, and went out on the balcony to release the balloon. I said a bunch of sentimental things to my daughter and my husband stood with the camera, ready to capture the moment.

Much to our shock and surprise, when I released the helium balloon it stayed eye level with me and bobbed in the motion of a swimming dolphin and lightly tapped my cheek as if it gave me a kiss. Steve put the camera down and we both looked at each other and had a similar thought "What the heck is going on?" Immediately doubt filled my mind and walked back into the hotel to see if the balloon still floated to the ceiling. I let the string go and released it and it went right up to the ceiling. I went back out to the balcony but to a different side and the same thing happened and the balloon bobbed at eye level with me and looked me right in the eye. I had the goose bumps from head to toe and Steve and I both started laughing and we both knew she was with us. We knew that it was a special moment for just the 3 of us. We kept the dolphin balloon and it is still in our home.

We listened to our voicemail and read our emails and found almost 50 cards and emails from loving and thoughtful friends and family. People who shared that they lit a candle or released a balloon in honor and remembrance of Grace. So many prayed for us for our peace and comfort and that we would have a special time together. Well...there are many who certainly had their prayers answered.

The card we wrote and made for our daughter Grace's 1st Birthday.
Our niece Amanda
At the hotel leaving to release our baby's balloons
Deep in thought, soaking in the sensations of the ocean
Honoring Grace, petal by petal
She was as a rose, so beautiful, so delicate
Dad was showing his love for his precious daughter
Telling Grace how he loved her so
Her name will be written across our hearts forever
Soar! Up, up and away!
I watched until I could see them no more
Preparing to release the dolphin balloon
The day after Grace's birthday

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