March 23rd, 2019 was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining, the weather was perfect. It was supposed to be the day of my baby shower, but instead we were holding a service for our son. We received many texts that morning from family and friends who couldn't be present, but we knew they were there in spirit. It still hadn't quite hit me.
As I walked up to those who were at his burial site, it was the first time I saw his stone. My already shattered heart, shattered even more. I didn't know what to do, what to say, what to think or feel. It was instant shock, all over again. I turned around and stared at the beautiful mountains. We chose the location in "Baby Land" because Carter will look over the mountains every day, and they're the same mountains we can see from home.
11am. It was time to start. It was time to honor Carter's life and the impact he had on so many people. It was a time I never imagined having. I can't explain the love we felt being surrounded with by our family and friends who were with us.
I knelt down in front of Carter's stone and put my hands where he was buried. My son is in this dirt, how could this be? The shock I had following his death hit me all over again. I know he's with us everyday, but physically he isn't here, he's in the ground and not with us. The pain, the heartbreak, the unexplainable feelings, consume me every day.
Although it was another one of the most difficult days, Carter was honored and after the service was celebrated, just as I had hoped that day.
The words to honor Carter at the service were beautiful. I am blessed for Jim, who poured his heart into putting it together and it showed through in the words he spoke. He has given me permission to share with you what he put together for Carter's service. We will cherish these words forever and I hope you do too, whether you're family and friends who couldn't be there in person or grieving parents who need the love and hope spoken about in this service.
"On Behalf of Dan and Justina I’d like to welcome you all. My name is Jim Feldbush, I am part of the spiritual care team where Justina works, and it is an honor to be here today to honor Carter, and his mom and dad.
Dan and Justina want you to know how blessed and grateful they are for each of you here today. Not just because you are here, but for all the support you have offered as they have gone through this unimaginable loss. And for all the support you will continue to give.
I’ll begin today with a Bible verse that is important to Dan and Justina.
This is Jeremiah 29:11. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. The Message Bible
If that verse is true, then why is it at times like this that we feel abandoned by God. Why does it feel like He isn’t taking care of us; because that’s the way it can feel. This is not the future we had hoped for. The feelings are real. We may as well recognize that while we try to make sense of such a tragic loss.
Loss is the way Carter’s life began; but his story is not over.
This will be a short talk. At times like these our brains can only take in so much. There will not be five points, or even three. There will only be two points.
This first point is love; and the second point is hope.
Justina and Dan, as I read your blog, the word and concept of love came out over and over again. Your love and support for each other is palpable. Your love for your family and friends, and their love for you, is clear today. Your love for Carter is beyond any words to describe it. And although I cannot say I understand why you are having to go through this, because I know there was nothing you did wrong, I believe that the God who made the statement in Jeremiah 29:11, is also the same God loves who you more than you can imagine. That even though He is not the author of death, He can bring good out of the worst case scenario; and that there is a hope for restoration, and a reunion.
Often while people are waiting for a child to arrive, they talk about the baby. But, from the beginning, you talked about Carter. You had waited so long. You thought it would never be possible. Carter was so real to you, far before you ever met him. He was as real as your love for him was. And then when you met him, weeks before he was due to arrive, you all fought for love. You fought to hang on to each other; all three of you. All of you here today fought for that love. He fought as well. He fought as hard as a little one could. He knew your voice during those 72 hours; he knew you loved him. He fought to stay with you because he loved you too.
And when you lost him, it was love again, that broke your heart. Grief is the price we pay for loving; and because you loved so deeply, you grieve deeply. It is the very reason why some put up walls and choose not to love fully and completely. Although you knew that loving Carter was risky, you did it anyway. He knew you loved him. And your love was not misplaced, or wasted. For those 72 hours he knew he was loved; deeply. And even now, the accompanying anger, confusion, constant searching for reasons, those tears, come from a deep place of love for the boy you held for those few moments. It is this same love that led Dan to bring Carter’s ashes home, that causes you to spend time in his room, laying on the floor with his blanket, crying out to anyone who will listen. It is this same love that continues to cause your hearts to ache and your tears to flow.
It is this same love, extended to others, that has caused you to set up your foundation: Carter’s Cause. It is love that causes you to state, “We're on a mission to provide comfort and support to those going through one of life's most unimaginable events. Through Carter's story, we'll provide resources to guide parents grieving from infant loss, parents living the NICU journey, as well as the family and friends who form their support group. We'll share tools to help everyone - parents, extended family, friends, and the world.” That is a statement that comes out of pure and deep love. A love you have chosen to give, despite the loss you are feeling.
All of these loves will support you and help you navigate your way through the day, months and years of grieving. You’ve stated it well in your blog when you’ve said, “there is no right or wrong way, no timeline and no directions on the proper way to grieve - you just grieve… you just be. This is going to be a lifelong journey. Each day is different, each moment is different. We will never "get over" or "move on", we will find a "new normal" and Carter will be a part of that. I can only hope as we find our "new normal" that we will be able to have a balance of celebrating Carter instead of solely focusing on the devastating loss.”
And you will celebrate him. Your grief won’t always be as constantly intense as it is right now; and you will find happiness in unexpected places. And Carter will always be a part of that. Dan, Justina told me that you said, referring to the verse we read at the beginning, Jeremiah 29:11, “Maybe that quote wasn’t for us and Carter; maybe it was from Carter to us.” It’s not hard to imagine Carter saying that there are plans to take care of you, to not abandon you, to give you the future you’ve hoped for.
And Now, for that hope:
Justina, you told me that your hope is that Carter will live on in the hearts of those who love him already, but also in the hearts of those who are served through your foundation. That others would know what you know: that Carter was here and that he was real. That he was, and is, your son. And while he was only here for 72 hours, that your mission of serving others who have gone through similar experiences will find the resources they need to navigate the most difficult times of their lives.
Others will find hope through your work; because of you two, Dan and Justina; and because of Carter.
Justina, you told me about some very vivid dreams that also give you hope. I’ll read a description of one dream, experienced by Dan’s cousin Kylee. Kylee said:
Carter was in my dream. I was in a big open park. It was crowded and he came right up to me and when I kneeled down to talk to him, he wrapped his arms around me. I knew exactly who he was. He was the perfect combination between Dan and Justina. He was a beautiful little boy who was around two or three and I asked him if he knew who I was.. and he said “I would know you anywhere and I just know that you love me. I just wasn’t ready yet. But I picked the perfect one out for them and she’s coming. But it wasn’t them. I just wasn’t ready. I love them so much. I just wasn’t ready.” And then he turned around and pointed. And Les (Dan’s grandfather) was waiting for him like 50 yards away and he waved at me and then Carter ran to him, grabbed his hand, and they walked away. And Les looked exactly like he did when I was four- gray hair, stocky build, tank top and a trucker hat on with board shorts.”
In that dream, we find more hope.
But I’d like to end today with an even greater hope. We’ll end, like we began, with a verse from the Bible. A few pages beyond Jeremiah 29:11 there are verses which promise a hope that is difficult to imagine. This statement, found in Thessalonians 4:15-18, describes a restoration, a hoped-for reunion, that can daily rekindle the love and hope that will sometimes flicker weakly.
This is what it says: “We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master's word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they'll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God's trumpet blast! He'll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they'll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we'll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.” There is a hope and a future.
You two are right when you say that life will not be the same. It will be difficult; very difficult at times. Hang on to each other. Cry with each other. Listen to each other’s anger and confusion; and try to reserve judgment. Support each other. Look for bright spots together. Love each other deeply; even though it’s risky. Talk to whomever you need to to heal. Although you’ve suffered an unimaginable loss, your love is worth fighting for; your love for Carter is worth fighting for. Just as you fought for Carter and he fought for you.
And never stop hoping as you live to make life better for others. Dan and Justina: you two, and Carter, will make a difference in this world.
May the God who loves you, bless you and keep you wrapped in His arms of love. He will give you hope and a future. Amen."