When taking down Ginny’s nursery, our family asked us if we wanted to keep things for our future children. What if we have a girl? We have so many cute girl things. I agreed to keep the crib, stroller, pack-n-play, and other large items. We bought those with our whole future family in mind. But those clothes are specifically Ginny’s; those blankets are Ginny’s. If we have other children, we wanted them to have their own things. It was too hard to think of Ginny’s things sitting in storage for who knows how long to be kept for a child that may or may not ever exist. Someone could use these things now. We kept a couple keepsakes and gave the rest away. Ginny wouldn’t be handing down her things to her siblings as she likely would’ve if she lived.
The donation pile in our garage grew. Week after week, we never had the heart to take it to Goodwill. A few times I said, “We should just call someone from church and ask them to pick everything up and take care of it.” But we never had the strength to do even that. The donation boxes loomed in the garage. It was an emotional chore we were never ready for. We chose to give the stuff away so that it would be used and wouldn’t sit in storage, and here it was sitting. After months the garage was a place we didn’t even enter. It was a shadow that held a piece of our untapped grief.
A few months into pregnancy with Chet, Daniel decided it was time to tackle the garage. We entered with determination and started filling the trunk of the car with stuff. I saw the nursery decor. I saw the birdhouse sign that once had Ginny’s name but now was blank with a little glue residue. I saw her crib sheets. I saw her clothes and blankets and socks. We continued loading the car. I didn’t change my mind… except for two items…
The first item brought back a vivid memory of early grief. It arrived on our front porch two days after we got home from the hospital after delivering Ginny. It wasn’t a care package. It was the diaper bag that I ordered the week before. It was a last minute item that I ordered when the world was still right. When it showed up, it was a cruel reminder of what we had lost. Well at least we can return it and get our money back. I had ordered the diaper bag from Walmart on a baby sale day. The week after it arrived, Daniel and I decided we would venture to Walmart to return the diaper bag. That was a terrible idea. It was still too early. That shouldn’t have been our first outing without family.
In early grief, going in public feels sort of like an out of body experience. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I felt like no one could see me… or that everyone was staring at me. Everything was fuzzy and felt foreign. We walked into Walmart and were immediately greeted by two friendly greeters. They gave us a sticker for the return item. I’m sure I made an awkward effort at politeness, but I was thinking, “Don’t they find it strange that we are returning a diaper bag? Why would someone return a perfectly good diaper bag if not for the unnatural tragedies of a fallen world?” Now thinking back I know there are plenty of good reasons to return a diaper bag, but that was how my mind worked at the time.
We stood in line at customer service. When our turn came, the young woman at the counter informed us that since we bought this on the Walmart “Marketplace” we could not return it in store. I snapped at her, “So you’re telling me that I can’t return something I bought on walmart.com at Walmart?!” “That’s correct. You’ll have to go online and print the return label and send it through FedEx or something.” I wanted to scream, “I don’t even want to return this stupid diaper bag!! I want to use this diaper bag, but my baby died!!” I felt myself turning red and my eyes swelling up. I grabbed the diaper bag and quickly turned around. Tears started streaming down my face as Daniel and I walked as fast as we could out of there. The friendly greeters saw I was crying as I rushed by. One shouted, “Oh no dear! What happened?! I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry!” It wasn’t Walmart’s fault; we weren’t ready for that chore. When we got home, still wrapped in plastic, the diaper bag got tossed on top of the donation pile in the garage.
Months later when we were loading the car full of the donation items, I stopped on the diaper bag. It’s a perfectly good diaper bag that I carefully picked out. It’s still in the plastic. This wasn’t specifically Ginny’s; it never even entered the house before she was gone. I remembered that the lining was blue. I settled for a bag with blue lining because I liked everything else about it. Maybe this blue diaper bag should be Chet’s. Why not? Suddenly this item that brought a painful memory of crying in Walmart transformed into something that held a little hope for the future. We have a diaper bag for our new baby. It was bought for Ginny, but now it’s Chet’s.
The second item I saved took me by surprise. This item was a soft blue teddy bear. It was actually given to us at the hospital. It was part of the memory box that our wonderful nurse carefully assembled. The memory box means more to me than any other physical item. It is so precious to us. But I didn’t understand the teddy bear. It was very kindly donated by the parents of stillborn twins. This was before I knew that many grieving mothers hold a teddy bear to ease their aching empty arms. To me it was a reminder that there was no reason to have a toy bear in our house. We have no children to play with it. Plus it was blue; it reminded me of a baby boy, not Ginny. I thought it would be better for a little boy to play with it than for it to sit in a box, so I put it in the donation pile.
Months later when I saw that little blue bear in the garage it struck me. That bear reminds me of a baby boy because it belongs to Chet. It is Ginny’s gift to Chet. The rest of the items in the memory box were for Daniel and me, but that bear was for Chet. It felt like when Ginny died, she left behind a gift for her baby brother. A blue teddy bear.
These two items moved from the garage to the nursery upstairs, awaiting Baby Chet. The remainder of the items were donated and are hopefully being enjoyed by many other families with living baby girls. I wish we wouldn’t have dreaded donating the items or felt guilty for taking so long. It’s important to take all the time you need when grieving and to not feel bad about it. I’m glad we waited to finish that chore. Those months gave us the space to see the items not as sources of pain but as gifts.