By Sasha Stine
“You are extraordinary. You will do amazing things. I will fight for you.”
These are things I am told when I am at my weakest, at my proudest mommy moments, and when I’m drowning in my unimaginable grief. I have to sift through the chaos in my mind and the brokenness in my heart to listen to these words, really hear them without distraction, and believe them. Because God loves me more than anyone else, He will always carry me.
I’m no different than most mothers. I awaken to the sun’s rays through my blinds, or my daughter saying, “Wake up, Mommy! It’s 6:45. School day!”
I warm up a large cup of coffee and spend a few moments with her until her little brother stirs. I re-wear my favorite shirts. I crave chocolate. I am tired. I kiss my babies’ faces until they get annoyed with me. I gleam with pride and doubt myself all at the same time.
My beautiful, compassionate McKenna will be nine soon and is in the third grade, and my sweet, adorable Finn will be two years old in February. However, I’m a mommy of three. All three of my beautiful babies are three years apart. I have three, two whose hearts beat by my side, and one whose heart soars above me. I still write his name on medical forms, and in sibling spaces we fill out every new school year that McKenna begins. Liam. My beautiful Liam. And next to his name, I write December 13, 2010- December 20, 2012. I love writing the first date. I loathe the second. He was here. He was incredibly beautiful, brave, and loved beyond measure.
Three years have passed. I’ve now spent more time without him in my arms than I did with him in them. I never gave so much attention to numbers. Our wedding anniversary, the day my daughter was born, of course. Now numbers flood my mind. Two, he was two years old. 737, the number of days Liam blessed my life more than any other in my 36 years. 27, the day we laid my beautiful baby to rest. Three, the number of times I rub his hand molding each night before I lie down to sleep. My incredibly brave, beautiful little Liam. My first son.
That magical day when God gave us him changed me forever. He grew to have the thickest, wavy brown hair that I always styled into a mohawk, pouty lips of perfection and the most captivating green eyes that pulled you into his soul– the only green eyes in our family and my only baby to have my dark brown hair. The unspoken love he and his sissy shared was stuff of legends, epic stories, and fairytales. He showed us the deepest, most profound love, so profound that it needed no words. To simply love one another is what we were created to do, because He loved us first. To give love without boundaries, with no words, Liam showed me how to do that.
My Liam was special. He never uttered a syllable, but he spoke to thousands all over the world. He didn’t walk yet danced all over our hearts. He led people to Jesus. It was an amazing and humbling sight. We never got an answer for what caused his brain to deteriorate. Only the words “Cerebral Atrophy.” Two words that ended the life of my beautiful baby one week after his second birthday. We knew his life would not be long, yet his passing was sudden and unexpected. When his breathing became slow and shallow, I cradled him gently and whispered to God that if now was the time for him to go home, to please make his passing peaceful. I whispered to my sweetheart, “It’s okay, baby. Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.”
In the moment his chest stopped rising, my breath left my body. The wind outside blew so ferociously that limbs fell upon the house. He joined hands with our Savior, and even though my throat burned and my eyes swelled, and I found it unbearable to inhale, I felt a calm wash over me. He told me He was holding my baby, and he was safe and perfect in His arms. And so, it was there and then that I took refuge under His wings.
I don’t remember much about the following days. Tears and silence were my strengths. The only thing I knew was this: my baby boy was gone. My five year old daughter needed me. My husband needed me. We were all suffering. I told myself, “I will wake up and make today beautiful.” Even if it was the tiniest things, like painting with McKenna, or making her laugh, even just once. Telling my husband I love him, and thanking him for loving me when I was at my worst, and for his unwavering faith and giving us laughter.
I will choose joy. I will not add to McKenna’s story. She’s seen the unthinkable. I’ll never know what was in her mind as she watched her baby brother, her best friend, be buried. She was just five years old. I didn’t want my sweet girl to look back on her childhood and only remember how she watched her baby brother fight to live everyday. How she watched him be laid to rest. How her mother faded away. I couldn’t let her scars multiply. I had to be better. I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. I prayed every moment for God to heal my brokenness, my anger, my self-pity, my fear of the future, my anxiety of knowing Liam is gone, my doubt in my purpose.
“What do I do now, Lord? I was a special needs mom. I was his doctor, his nurse, his therapist, his protector. There’s no tube feedings, no oxygen, no therapies. What do I do?”
I sat in his room, nestled in his blanket I’d wrap him in and read. I wrote. I let my heart bleed onto paper. I wrote to Liam daily for an entire year. It was so amazing for my soul to share our days with him. I shared my fears, my sorrow, our joys. I told him that his sissy loved it when his framed photos fell over on the table, and how we kept finding little white feathers throughout the house. She thought it was all so magical. We drew him; we painted him. I thanked him for giving her those little joys. I told him how I yearned for him, to once again be rocking him in our favorite red rocker. How I missed running my fingers through his thick wavy hair and kissing his chubby cheeks. I told him about the wren that laid eggs in a nest on our front porch that summer and how McKenna and I cried when the babies grew and flew the nest to live their life. It was beautiful and so painful. Liam loved birds. Whenever he was in pain or uncomfortable, I carried him outside onto the front porch and rocked him. He adored the sway, the wind kissing his face, and the chirping of the birds. So, needless to say, when those baby birds didn’t return, we were devastated all over again.
I shared the moment we discovered he was going to be a big brother, but, of course, he knew him already. I was filled with joy and sadness and fear. My thoughts quickly became consumed with ‘What ifs.’ What if we lost this baby too? How can we go through that again? What will I say when he asks about his big brother? How will I keep Liam’s life shining in our home? I asked God to erase my fears, to please protect this beautiful rainbow and keep us safe from all the storms brewing in my mind. I will tell him everything about his big brother. From his bravery and endless love, to his perfect little nose. I will tell him forever.
After the storm, when the clouds part, pieces of Heaven shine down upon us. He showers us with His grace in the most amazing ways in every new sunrise. How will I come alive again? How will I keep shining Liam’s beautiful light? By sharing his name, his story, and our purpose with as many as I can.
From there, my prayers were answered, and “Feathers & Grace” was born. I began creating. I used my hands for something good, something beautiful and meaningful. I made bracelets and necklaces to make women feel beautiful in the midst of chaos and heartbreak. I reached out. I wanted to be the voice for those who had lost or could never use theirs. I wanted to help others see life’s beautiful little things. I yearned to honor the lives that were lost, to help share stories. I wanted to help others know how loved they were by Christ and so many more, even when they felt nothing but loneliness. Every life will be cherished as long as I am able to celebrate you and your beloveds. With each thank you note that I write, my heart soars knowing someone across the world now knows my beautiful Liam and everything he gave us. They now know how precious this life is. They make changes and readjust their focus to make their love known and their life extraordinary. They know how loved they are, by me, and by our Father. Creating beautiful jewelry has helped me come alive. The blessing of being able to give portions of our sales to foundations that empower, uplift, and celebrate children and families, has given me a renewed purpose and a new love.
To simply love one another has helped me come alive again. Above all else, love one another— Liam’s greatest legacy. It’s reaching countries thousands of miles away, and my heart is slowly beginning to mend. It will always be fragile. It needs great care. I still cry for Liam in the shower. I still sleep with the panda that Liam slept with in his crib. I still kiss his pictures. I still talk to him. I always will. Seeing Liam shine through his baby brother has helped me mend. Knowing how proud he is of his big sissy and her loving heart helps my heart mend.
I have survived the most devastating loss, the death of my child, by making the choice to be better than I was. I’ve given my fears and sorrow to God. He takes my pain and transforms it. I am redeemed. I survive because there is joy in every day. It may be fleeting, but it’s here. Hold onto the tiny bit you feel and make it snowball. I survive in knowing there is still so much more love to give. And, so I will keep giving, as long as I draw breath. For my Liam, my beautiful boy.
Sasha Stine is a beloved child of God, smitten wifey, and mommy of three, two by her side and Liam in Heaven. She is a lover of coffee and cake and is navigating this precious life with love, joy, and His grace. She is the owner and creator of Feathers & Grace, a unique and meaningful jewelry store that celebrates, encourages, and cherishes every life. Portions of each purchase are given to change lives worldwide, in loving memory of Liam. Find her Etsy, or follow her on Instagram.