In November, 2011, my brother Shaun and his wife Katie were expecting a baby, their second. We were all excited to see their little family growing. Somewhere along the line something happened, and we got the news that Katie had gone into premature labor. She was 21 weeks along when baby Elizabeth was born. She was so small, she did not survive the birth.
Elizabeth’s birth caught all of us by surprise. Her passing was even more of a shock. My Carolyn had passed away just three years earlier. Elizabeth’s passing reminded me in so many ways of my own experiences not so long before. My heart went out to Katie especially. Though I don’t live near the rest of my family, I knew I had to do something to help.
I am one of ten brothers and sisters, and we are all close. As soon as word got around about what was happening, everyone sprang into action, meals, babysitting, anything and everything that could be done was done. Being isolated from everyone during this time was hard, but as I sat and pondered what I could do, I thought about my lace. Elizabeth’s funeral was to be in just a few days. I had less than a week. What was needed? What could I do? How could I help?
California law at that time categorized children who died before 20 weeks as miscarriages, and after 20 weeks as stillborn. Elizabeth was stillborn. The state issued a death certificate, and added a bit of formality to this little life. She was given a name and a blessing, but instead of preparing for her life, we prepared for her funeral.
My eyes rested on a baby bonnet I’d made recently. It was my second bonnet, and it was beautiful, but it turned out too small for any baby I knew. As I looked at it, I thought of Elizabeth, and how she, being so young, was very, very small. An idea began to form.
Troy’s mother was in town with me, and we came up with an idea. I showed Mary the baby bonnet, she had the same thought I did. It could be for Elizabeth.
I’d made blessing dresses and other things for larger, full term babies, but for this tiny preemie, I had no idea what size to make things. I decided to just start, and as I did, ideas came. My brother Shaun was making the tiny casket. My mother and sister worked on the inside, lining it with some of my sister’s wedding dress material. What would a baby that small wear for burial? My mother supposed they’d just wrap her in a blanket. She was so small, too small for anything else. Most doll clothes were too bright and rough cut to be appropriate for such a special purpose. There were resources online, but there was not enough time to order something. Besides, we wanted it to be more personal than that.
We had a bonnet, and we wanted a dress to match. After some searching, we found a simple white slip for a doll dress we hoped would work. I modified it with a large enclosure on the back and tailored the dress to the size described by one of my sisters who had seen Lizzie at birth– her head was the size of a woman’s closed fist, and her shoulders were smaller across than the width of her mother’s hand. My heart ached visualizing that scene. How could anyone be so tiny?
Everything we put together, we made adjustable for size. I’d never made baby clothes so delicate before, but the dress turned out beautifully. I added tiny thread crochet lace for the sleeves and collar to match the bonnet, and made the waist adjustable with a matching pink ribbon.
Mary and I cut two fingers from a child-size white knit glove, and edged them with lace for foot coverings. Mary and I both worked on Lizzie’s blanket. It was lacy, like an altar cloth, but with a pink flannel layer underneath to protect her delicate skin. We threaded a pink ribbon through the bonnet edge to make it adjustable for Lizzie’s little head.
Mary Jo Stegeby, another lacemaking friend of mine, came over and embroidered Elizabeth’s name and date on the corner of the blanket. Mary Jo and I had both suffered the pain of childlessness, we knew loss, and how much the care of others meant to us when we went through those times. This work had our hearts in it.
Everything was so small, and so beautiful. Because of other issues, the lace we made wasn’t used in the actual burial, but my sister has it wrapped in a special box, as a keepsake of hers. Elizabeth’s life was so short, and she came so unexpectedly, Katie has few things of hers to remember her by. Our work was a gift she treasures and keeps, until they meet again– a reminder of the promise that this baby is hers, loved, eternal, and death doesn’t last forever.
For Elizabeth’s graveside service, my mother wrote and sang this modified version of “I Wonder When He Comes Again” by Mirla Greenwood Thayne. She writes:
“When we were preparing for Katie’s and Shaun’s graveside service for baby Elizabeth, I looked and looked for a hymn or primary song that talked about the resurrection of little children. There are none, except for one hymn on page 299 that came close, but the tune and words were very unsatisfying to me. So Aunt Janetta suggested that I write a verse to use… which I did. Its an add-on to verse one of “I Wonder When He Comes Again”.
These are the words to the second verse I wrote for Elizabeth. We sang them at Elizabeth’s graveside:
I Wonder When He Comes Again– For Baby Elizabeth
I wonder when He come again, will herald angels sing?
Will earth be white with drifted snow, or will the world know spring?
I wonder if one star will shine far brighter than the rest.
Will daylight stay the whole night through? Will songbirds leave their nests?
I’m sure he’ll call his little ones together round his knee,
Because he said in days gone by, “Suffer them to come to me.”
Our Heav’nly Father knows and sees, the smallest sparrow fall.
His plan is for our happiness; He loves and cares for all.
I know when Jesus comes again, the righteous dead he’ll raise.
With joyful voice the glorious throng will shout and sing his praise.
And children sleeping in the grave will rise to live and then
Will parents joyfully embrace their small ones once again.
—Last verse by Denisa Myrick (Elizabeth’s Grandmother)
Everyone has times of hard trial in their lives. The Lord is good to each of us during these times. Elizabeth’s life was short but there was beauty in it. We all banded together and sorrowed together. How wonderful it is to know, that as hard as these things are to travel through, this time doesn’t last forever. Until we meet again little Elizabeth.
Mary working the last square of the blanket lace.
Lizzie’s Lace, almost done.
Lace for Elizabeth. 2011