By: Tiffany Spede, Guest Blogger

“You mean my baby is dead?”
“I’m telling you her heart isn’t strong enough on its own, so we are having to help her.”

And so began the 45 minutes of praying and pleading and begging and bargaining with God that occurs when hospital staff is performing CPR on your precious 3-year-old daughter.

I am a grieving mom.

My beautiful Katherine Grace, affectionally known as CupKate to her many friends and family, passed away unexpectedly on September 28, 2019. I will save you all the details, but basically her bowels had unknowingly suffered some previous damage, and that paired with side effects of current constipation was enough to overcome her small body.

The shock was so complete and overtaking – I mean, we had gone to urgent care for an enema treatment, and now I was leaving the PICU without my child.

Grief came hard and fast, and I knew from the moment she passed that I was going to need help.

Full Circle Grief Center answered my desperate call and met me where I was. I participated in Hands on Healing groups and Individual Therapy, walking my grief path as best as I could with the support that surrounded me. Each path is as individual and as different as our fingerprints, but we can all learn from one another’s journeys.

One of the prevalent messages for grievers is the idea of “moving on”.

The very first thing my husband and I decided to do to honor Kate and carry her with us visibly every day was to get memorial tattoos. I know that tattoos are not for everyone, but for us the permanence was a necessary reminder that while we can’t see Kate with our eyes every day, she is still very much a part of us and our lives. Kate, like many little girls, adored Disney movies. Minnie Mouse was always her choice of toy, and her current favorite movie was Moana. So, my wrist ended up with Mickey and Minnie, and my husband ended up with a Moana Maui hook with Minnie bow on his back. Kate would be visibly with us wherever we went. 

I soon began to see bringing Kate with us as we moved forward was an easy task, and perhaps strengthening us as a family.

This was just the beginning. Many people set up areas of their houses as memorials to their loved ones. We are no different. But I really thought about what Kate would like to see, what would make her happy if she glanced into our lives.  Up went a pink Christmas tree, decorated in all things Minnie Mouse and Disney, with a handmade Minnie Mouse topper.  Over time, her little Christmas decorations from preschool have been added, as well as other ornaments people have gifted us. This tree continues to sit in our living room brightening our house with Kate’s light.

Here are some other ways we have continued to bring Kate with us:

Kate loved sitting around bonfires and in her little porch chair looking at seasonal blowups while watching for her Daddy to come home. We continue to set her little chair up around the bonfire and on the porch where she would wait. 

This is a special Chinese paper that is used during bonfires to send to loved ones who have passed on. The cultural idea is that money is still needed after you pass on, so the gold in this paper is used for that purpose. We don’t use it for that reason, but we do write little notes on this paper to Kate when we have bonfires and send them up to her.

Sometimes certain little notes will refuse to burn or stay in the fire, and we always say those are Kate’s messages back to us.

For Kate’s birthday and “angelversary”, we usually have a cookout or party of some sort with a bonfire (hmm, I think I see a trend here).

For these special occasions, we get paper sky lanterns, and everyone has an opportunity to write a message or draw a picture for Kate on them and we release them all together. I imagine her happy little face getting so excited about the beauty of these as they float into the air like the ones in the Disney Tangled movie. 

Every season, we get Kate a special gift. Usually it is Minnie Mouse related, but not always. She gets a Christmas present and a Valentine’s Gift, etc. At Thanksgiving, we light a candle for her and lay out her pilgrim headwear from her daycare. During birthday parties for my older daughter, Emma, we light a special candle that Emma made that says Sisters Forever. 

Whenever we go on a vacation, we have a specific Minnie Mouse plush doll that goes with is. We take pictures with Minnie in different locations as if Minnie is doing the various activities with us. It is easy to imagine Kate in these pictures cradling Minnie and smiling. 

We also have done more reactive remembering. We found a cookie and Cheez-It under Kate’s carseat when we were removing it. These particular snacks were her favorite, so we preserved them and placed them back under her seat. This may sound weird, but it is just “so Kate” and it makes her feel closer. Trust me, when it comes to grief, most anything goes to keep your loved one nearby. We have also kept her bed the same it was the last time she slept in it. Her room has moved around a bit, but her bed and her toys are the same. 

These are just some ways my family has chosen to bring our precious angel forward with us and this great big earth continues to spin. I hope you find some inspiration here as you travel on your journey or are walking beside someone on theirs. What are some ways you bring your loved one’s memory with you?

In Loving Memory and Honor of Katherine Grace Spede, our CupKate.

Follow my journey on Facebook at: A Grieving Mother’s Journey Through Life After Death.