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Beauty from Ashes

June 23, 2015


One year ago on Wednesday was the worst day of my life – the day we found out we lost Mary Claire.

In the midst of a terrible, emotional experience it seems like you remember nothing.  But, over the course of the next year, memories trickle back.

I’ll never forget the nurse trying to find a heartbeat, trying to stay positive and let us believe that, surely, everything was going to be ok.  Our worst fears were realized in that tiny body slumped in the corner of the sonogram screen, her perfectly formed body mocking us, leaving us to wonder what went wrong (we eventually learned it was an umbilical cord accident).

Mary Claire was our fifth child.  We were blessed to have four near-flawless pregnancies before her.  The day we found out that she was born into heaven was our sixteen week check up – the exciting one – the one where you can first get a reliable read on the gender.

I took off work and we sent the other kids to friends’ houses for the morning.  They were beyond excited to have us home so they could find out whether baby number five would tilt the scales in the direction of the boys or girls (we have two of each).  It took a while that morning for Michelle and I to split up and collect the kids from their various locations.  We sat them down on the couch, trying not to cry as we let them know what had happened.  It was awful. Nothing prepares you for sitting in front of our your children to let them know that they are not going to get to meet the sister (or brother) they were so excited to hear about when you left the house a few hours earlier.  I never imagined what it would be like to have to be the one to introduce my children to real, substantial loss.  The older kids sobbed uncontrollably.  The two “little” ones cried as much in confusion as anything.

The next few days were as challenging as any I remember.  I hardly slept, expecting that at any moment Michelle would deliver the remains of our daughter.  We cried a lot. We prayed a lot.  And we both shared a sense of peace in the midst of horrendous pain that this little life was filled with great meaning, even if we couldn’t see anything but hurt in that moment. Family came and friends rallied around us.

Even as we dealt with our loss spiritually and emotionally, we were faced with all the unpleasantries of dealing with it physically.  It doesn’t take long before the conversation with medical providers turns from one of a baby to one of “tissue” to be removed. A good friend summed it up well when he said, “at every turn you just want to yell at people and say, dammit, that’s my baby you’re talking about!”

I understand that the goal is to help people compartmentalize and deal with medical realities, but I couldn’t help but feel like everything turned cold.  God bless the woman from the hospital who called, just hours after we found out that Mary Claire was lost, to let me know that payment would be due in full before we checked in a few days later.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I lashed out at her.  I know she was just doing her job, but no phone call has ever made me more angry in my life.

“Ma’am, I understand this isn’t your fault, but this phone call really sucks,” I told her, “I can’t imagine a less compassionate or more dehumanizing way of dealing with people than this.  I hope you’ll pass that message along to whoever thinks this is the proper way to deal with people in a time of loss”

“I know,” she said, “it’s the part of my job I hate the most.  I’m very sorry.”

We shared a moment of mutual understanding, and then I began reading my sixteen digit credit card number to her.

In the midst of all the difficulty and challenge, there was one bright spot.  Through friends we learned about a funeral home and cemetery that had special services for families like us.  After a few phone calls, I reached a man named Jimmy Shields at Our Lady of the Rosary cemetery.  He connected me with Gabriel’s funeral home in Georgetown.  After “the procedure,” Gabriel’s would pick up Mary Claire’s remains, dignify them, and deliver her in a small casket to the gravesite at Our Lady of the Rosary – where small 2×3 foot plots were available in a remembrance garden.  All of these services were offered to us free of charge.

We made the arrangements and, after some discussion, Michelle and I agreed that we’d love to be surrounded by friends when we interred our daughter a few days later.  I made one simple post on Facebook:

On Tuesday, Michelle and I learned that baby #5, Mary Claire Williston, was born directly into Heaven.

It has been a hard week, but we will celebrate her brief life in a small service at 9:30a.m. on Saturday at Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery in Georgetown, Texas.

All are welcome.

That Saturday, about 50 friends and family members showed up to stand by our side as we celebrate Mary Claire and laid her to rest.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Michelle and I started getting beautiful messages from people who attended the service that day, and even from a few who couldn’t be with us.  They shared not just condolences, but testimonies of the way that their lives had been impacted by Mary Claire’s.  People shared with us deep and profound truths God had showed them through our suffering. They told us about how Mary Claire had forced some things to the surface of their own hearts and how they experienced great healing as a result.  Time and time again, people thanked us for being so transparent with what we were experiencing.  The first laughter that really entered our lives again after the loss of Mary Claire was the crying sort of laughter of disbelief in the way that God was magnifying Mary Claire’s life through the impact she had on others.

We marveled at how the services that were offered to us through Our Lady of the Rosary and the Gabriel’s funeral home were not just a blessing to us,  they were the conduit through which we could offer her life to bear witness to others.

“If one little life could have so much impact,” I began thinking, “what would happen if burial of miscarried children became the norm?”

I sat on this thought for about nine months.  I watched as friends around the state experienced similar loss but struggled to find burial options.  One evening, I told Michelle what had been on my mind – “what if we formed a non-profit organization that sought to take what’s done in Georgetown and expand it around the state of Texas?”

She smiled in what seemed like disbelief.

“We have to do that…” she said.

This brings us to one year later.  One year ago we found out that our Mary Claire was born into heaven.  Today we announce that The Mary Claire Project is born into the world.

event-brite-logoWe’ve been busy over the last couple of months, jumping through all of the hoops to get organized in the State of Texas and recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 organization.  But we’re finished with all of that we’re ready to get to work, expanding the access of families impacted by miscarriage or stillbirth to low or no cost burial options.

To get this work underway, we’re looking to raise at least $25,000 in the next two weeks. In the next six months, it’s our goal to create a new, reliable source of caskets for grieving families (taking the burden off the 70 year old man who currently makes them for the Georgetown offering), expand the offering to at least one additional cemetery and partner with at least one additional funeral home to assist families in proximity to that cemetery.

Of course, our longer-term goals will be much loftier.  We’re working on a number of other sources of funding to sustain the work of The Mary Claire Project, but we need your help to get started.

Please take a few moments to prayerfully consider giving to The Mary Claire Project or sharing our story with your social media contacts and encouraging them to give.

Michelle and I believe that The Mary Claire Project must exist in the world.  Please help us make this dream a reality with your tax deductible gift!

Click here to learn more and to support The Mary Claire Project.

“Like” The Mary Claire Project on Facebook.

Visit our website.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2015 2:09 pm

    Reblogged this on beautifulfootsteps and commented:
    Michelle is our fellow pilgrim (my husband and I were blessed to be on pilgrimage with her in 2001). Please support this beautiful charity she and her husband have founded in honor of Mary Claire, their pre-born baby who was born into Heaven one year ago.

  2. June 24, 2015 9:06 am

    Was wondering if you would be including families who carry a child to term knowing that it has little chance of survival. Though she does not live in TX (I do!) my niece carried her child to term, and he died very shortly after birth. A miracle in itself, as none of the doctors thought he would make it that long.

    • Chris permalink*
      June 24, 2015 9:28 am

      Debbie – great question. Each arrangement with a cemetery partner will be unique. In cases where a baby is carried to term, they are usually too large to be buried in a communal garden area and require a personal plot or area in a family burial plot. One thing we will do is work with cemeteries to arrange much-reduced services in cases like the one you describe- if they’re not doing so already.

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